With Russian tanks and troops swarming into Ukraine, the president finally sees the light.
As headlines go, “ Obama Moves Close to Calling Russian Action in Ukraine an Invasion,” from a weekend story in the New York Times , must surely rank among the year’s most revealing. The Obama presidency has long been at odds with the obvious. Once this was called hope.
Now it is generally recognized as farce.
Mr. Obama’s move comes after eight months of semantic obfuscation conducted in the service of political expediency. “I consider the actions that we’ve seen in the last week a continuation of what’s been taking place for months now,” Mr. Obama palavered in late August, as columns of Russian tanks moved into eastern Ukraine. And what, exactly, had been “taking place for months”?
It was, he said, “this ongoing incursion,” as if the Russian seizure of Crimea was just a temporary problem. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki helpfully explained why “a discussion about terminology” was all but beneath administration notice. “Our focus is more on what Russia is doing, what we’re going to do about it, than what we’re calling it,” she said.
Now the president is toughening his tone. Speaking to reporters in Australia on Sunday, Mr. Obama deployed the “i” word with the same delicacy an Orthodox Jew might use to spell “G-d.” “We’re also very firm on the need to uphold core international principles, and one of those principles is you don’t invade other countries.”
That’s nice. The only pity is that the statement came days after NATO confirmed that Russia was pouring “multiple columns” of tanks and troops into Ukraine, thereby violating a September cease-fire agreement. If Ms. Psaki can now explain what the administration’s previous rhetorical cartwheels accomplished, it would be good to hear it—other, that is, than to convince the Kremlin that an American president too timid to call an invasion an invasion is no serious impediment to Russia’s territorial ambitions.