When Will Obama Force Putin to Stop, Without Using Force?

John McCain, who convinced 59.9 million people and most of the old Confederate States of America to vote for him to be president of the United States, expressed some strong opinions about this country's foreign policy this morning:

In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, McCain (R-Ariz.) said the "blatant act" by Russian President Vladi­mir Putin "cannot stand," even as he acknowledged that the United States does not have a realistic military option to force Russian troops to withdrawal.

The back end of that sentence, supplied by the Washington Post, captures the ridiculous of the American war party after a decade of open-ended failure of armed foreign relations. On the one hand, they are committed to the idea that military action is the truest, most realistic expression of national strength and the natural interest—and that President Obama, despite his willingness to blow things up, is unacceptably reluctant to call out the troops.

Yet on the other hand, no one is quite prepared to go so far as to demand a genuine shooting war with the Russians. What we get then, is a branding exercise: the rhetoric of muscular and fearless action, despite the absence of any such means of acting. The warmongers cannot stop mongering...something.

Thus as Putin apparently prepares to carve the Crimea off of Ukraine through open imperial invasion, McCain was demanding sanctions, which is basically the White House position. But unlike the White House, McCain was proposing military non-action from a position of undaunted boldness:

"Why do we care? Because this is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy in which nobody believes in America's strength anymore," McCain said to the annual gathering of Jewish leaders in Washington.

America's strength, then, is like an internet currency. It exists if enough people believe in it. Why can't Obama persuade Vladimir Putin to buy #Warcoin?

In this, McCain was picking up where the Post's own editorial board left off yesterday. Under the headline "President Obama's foreign policy is based on fantasy," the Post editorialists argued that the Obama administration has acted according to an unrealistic vision of international affairs:

It was a world in which "the tide of war is receding" and the United States could, without much risk, radically reduce the size of its armed forces. Other leaders, in this vision, would behave rationally and in the interest of their people and the world. Invasions, brute force, great-power games and shifting alliances—these were things of the past.

Obama, the Post argued, embodies this country's recurring bad habit of retreating from "global engagement." Sometimes, often after a particularly useless and bloody war, America becomes reluctant about jumping into the next war. But this mood passes, because our heroic national destiny demands it.

Not, mind you, because we want to fight wars. The Post wouldn't go so far as to say, in its argument about the inevitability of war and the necessity of staying on perpetual war footing, that this country should be fighting a war:

The White House often responds by accusing critics of being warmongers who want American "boots on the ground" all over the world and have yet to learn the lessons of Iraq. So let's stipulate: We don't want U.S. troops in Syria, and we don't want U.S. troops in Crimea. A great power can become overextended, and if its economy falters, so will its ability to lead. None of this is simple.

This is the alternative to fantasy, the serious, realistic position: that there is some form of bold, resolute action that will stop Russia from taking Crimea, but without any deployment of troops. Either the Post is asking for a nuclear exchange with Moscow, or, like McCain, it has no idea what it is asking for.

[Image via Getty]