March 13th, 2014
09:29 PM ET

Why (this time) Obama must lead

By Fareed Zakaria

Beyond the near abroad, Russia’s relations with countries such as Poland and Hungary, once warming, are now tense and adversarial. NATO, which has been searching for a role in the post-Cold War era, has been given a new lease on life. Moscow will face some sanctions from Washington and, almost certainly, the European Union as well. In a rare break with Russia on the U.N. Security Council, China refused to condone Russia’s moves in Crimea. Moscow’s annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia was recognized by Nicaragua, Venezuela and two island nations in the South Pacific. That might be as many as will recognize the annexation of Crimea.

I have generally been wary of the calls for U.S. intervention in any and every conflict around the world. But this is different. The crisis in Ukraine is the most significant geopolitical problem since the Cold War. Unlike many of the tragic ethnic and civil wars that have bubbled up over the past three decades, this one involves a great global power, Russia, and thus can and will have far-reaching consequences. And it involves a great global principle: whether national boundaries can be changed by brute force. If it becomes acceptable to do so, what will happen in Asia, where there are dozens of contested boundaries — and several great powers that want to remake them?

Read the Washington Post column

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine

soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. DP

    Fareed is stupid as usual... Putin can clearly see that a pro-Russian president, even democratically elected by a popular vote, will be always in danger from Western sponsored putsches and decided to take a logical path – cut Crimea now (and may be Eastern Ukraine)... thus 1) no need to pay rent for Sevastopol base 2) no need to give cheap gas to Ukrainian thiefs 3) increase territory and population 4) unresolved territory dispute with Russia is just one obstacke for Ukraine to be accepted in NATO 5) etc, etc...

    March 13, 2014 at 9:46 pm |
    • john smith

      America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
      In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
      During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
      In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
      Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

      March 17, 2014 at 2:27 am |
  2. Ron

    I have to disagree with you, Fareed, on this one. I think Obama could show real courage by not reacting. Crimea is in Russia's backyard, not ours. We have enough problems at home, and don't have time and resources to be the world policeman. Also, arguments that Putin will continue to invade other countries is very unlikely. This type of worst possible scenario speculation is only serving to increase the price of gold: a useless yellow metal, and disrupt the behavior of the US economy.

    March 13, 2014 at 10:34 pm |
  3. It´s time for FRANCE

    FRANCE should be the leader for NATO, not Obama, not USA. In the last decades of US leaderships, false wars were faught, many innocent lives were lost, large territories were destroyed, Hong Kong was lost to Chinese, and in the neighbouring Mediterrannean region – one peaceful and vivid – destruction set in. Now it is time for new leadership, and FRANCE has the cultural, political and technological resources to do a way better job.

    March 14, 2014 at 12:37 am |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Thank you, It's time for France. 80% of the world's problems today stem from U.S. leadership or better said, interference. If this country continues it's ignominious "leadership" it will lead only to more death and destruction and who in their right mind wants that?

      March 14, 2014 at 10:14 am |

    Lead to where? to The WWIII? Is this really what American people want?

    March 14, 2014 at 1:56 am |
    • Alan Parker

      Sounds like it doesn't it. This brute that alternately calls itself the "West" or "the International Community" (a dead giveaway on their mindset) seems to have the same delusional ambitions about global domination that has been the bane of many a megalomaniac. And they have this trail of pipsqueaks from crony journals cheering them on.

      If Ukraine is a crisis, the crisis is the creation of this community of hegemons and ex-imperialists – strikingly, all of the same race. Apart from the fact that there is no longer any antisemitic embellishments in this endeavor, it is simply a continuation of what occurred in the last century – you've got to be blind as a bat to not see that apart from a brief window in the 1950, it never really stopped. The march continues.

      March 14, 2014 at 6:21 am |
      • Joseph McCarthy

        Well said, Alan. Thank you.

        March 14, 2014 at 10:16 am |
  5. arvay

    What this "call for action" ignores are the provocations and arrogant unilateralism of the US.
    When Russia was flat on its back after the USSR's collapse, we intervened against its wishes and established a new Muslim state in Europe.
    Rather than disband NAO, the US provocatively pushed it eastwards. We are on the hook to engage in a nuclear exchange to defend - Lithuania? Poland?
    A missile defense shield in EAST Europe to protect against a non-existent Iranian ICBM threat?
    That comic-opera Georgian fiasco?
    Putin's ham-handed responses come in light of this behavior.
    Yes, the man is a reactionary nationalist who could have strangled the Ukraine economically but chose instead to take these stupid moves.
    But we stand on a record of gross interference and have taught him that we believe in force as a solution.
    Now he's acted on that.
    And what, exactly, were our people doing in Kiev during the riots? “F” the interests of the EU.
    The regime in Kiev has exactly the same legitimacy as the current Egyptian government.
    Sanctions will be toothless, and everyone knows that.
    There is no military option.
    Putin is reckless, and this move continues to be deeply unpopular in Russia.
    Let’s be smart: as the Russians did with our Afghan and Iraq fiascoes — let him undo himself.

    March 14, 2014 at 5:38 am |
  6. MadSat

    And Obama will wiggle his magic fingers, and suddenly Congress will make him an acting WAR President, in an election year no less. LOL. I suppose it's OK to eat ham from those pigs flying past the window? Really? With the current TeaThug focus on "gut the budget and create more tax cuts" you've got ZERO chance of any military action, and just what else would Putin pay attention to?

    March 14, 2014 at 6:58 am |
  7. j. von hettlingen

    It's not entirely right to say that "the crisis in Ukraine was produced by two sets of blunders..... The European Union’s vacillations and — most significantly, of course — Russia’s aggression". Viktor Yanukovich and his cronies shared much of the blame. It was his jailing of the opposition leader Yulia Tymoschenko and his incompetence to balance Russian and European interests, that got his country into this crisis.

    March 14, 2014 at 8:35 am |
    • j. von hettlingen

      Putin has flouted the UN Charter and should not get away with impunity. Putting boots on the ground would only escalate the conflict. Isolating Russia economically and politically is the only option and Obama can "rally the world" to jump on his bandwagon.

      March 14, 2014 at 4:31 pm |
  8. palintwit

    Tea party patriots believe that Sarah Palin is always breaking new ground in American politics. The rest of us believe that Sarah Palin is really just breaking wind.

    March 14, 2014 at 9:25 am |
  9. bobcat2u

    I usually am pretty much in agreement with your opinion Fareed, but this time we are on opposite sides of the fence. This is totally an internal issue and needs to be handled as thus. We cannot and should not be expected to jump into every fray that comes along. How about we let the EU take care of this, if they are so inclined. This is their backyard and we need to let them clean their own yard for a change. Our warriors have been through way too much over the last decade and counting. So unless you are endorsing the reinstatement of the draft, you really need to take into consideration the present state of our troops before you advocate for our involvement.

    March 14, 2014 at 12:29 pm |
  10. kafantaris2

    Neither referendum option is status quo, but for all concerned, one option is better than the other.
    Don’t think so?
    See if this story helps:
    When a ship’s captain was about to be hanged, he yells out to the pirates, “Give me two weeks and I’ll make your dog talk."
    “And just how you gonna make that dog talk?” whispered his seaman.
    “Look, in two weeks, I may die; the pirates may die; or the dog may talk."

    March 14, 2014 at 12:34 pm |
  11. Simonzee1

    Russia us making ready fir full blown conflict and according to The Guardian Putin has withdrawn over 100 billiin in the last week from U.S treasuries.

    As I said this conflict will not just unite Russians it will bring on the BRICS earlier talk for an alternate currency. But it will also accomplish what Putin could not do and that was the return of capital from the rich Russian billionares that have deposited their money overseas. We heard overnight that even though the coup led government was not seeking a Ukrainian tied to Gasprom he was arrested in Europe by authorities being directed by the F.B.I.

    And this is the Obama administration part which is a SERIOUS CONCERN. He works well by stealth using agencies as he does against Republicans and political opponents in his own country to create the highest levels of conflict. What is the end effect? Just look at Congress and all the animosity and lack of unity there. And that is American to American. Now think about how this vindictive maliscious administration fed by a shared E.U mindset could lead us to full blown conflict. Not looking good....not at all.

    March 14, 2014 at 8:05 pm |
  12. servceman

    Mr Zakaria,
    What the Hell are you talking about? The American people are tired of this sh1t. Everybody was gung-ho for every engagement the US has had over the last 50 years, while our allies generally give a token measure of support or not. Then what happens? The US pays all the bills, pays with blood, gives worthless nations the greatest opportunity it has ever been given by another nation, to do something right for it's own people. And what do we the US get for our sacrifice? Jack Sh1t. F all of them. Let's do like Sweden for a few decades and watch the continents burn. It should be fun for a change.

    March 14, 2014 at 8:55 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Thank you, serviceman. You nailed it good!

      March 15, 2014 at 9:05 am |
  13. ✠RZ✠

    Ukraine reminds me of Charlie Brown trick or treating. The West and Russia will make sure of their loot is as sweet as possible. But when Ukraine checks their bag, well, you know.

    March 15, 2014 at 9:54 am |
  14. Simonzee1

    I see Putin has sent three lots of $50,000 to Anthony Ruiz an MMA fighter that got punished by the Russian champion Alexander Shlemenko.

    That seems a lot more considerate and sensible than America beating up on their taxpayers by sending billions to the Ukraine for Kerry...McCain and the goons to appear on the streets. This in order that they can frame these billion dollar photos up on their plush office walls. The money is going to Russia to pay Ukraines gas bill anyway.

    Maybe it is Putin's way of giving back to the American people as a metaphor to illustrate how the taxpayer is beaten up by America's policymaking but at least he will give them something back.

    A thoroughly decent act that Americans do not have the luxury of getting from their own leaders. Meanwhile America's infrastructure crumbles and people remain homeless and cold on the streets of major cities.

    Interesting to see that the French can't get anyone to help them in their colonialist "peacekeeping" expansion in the CAR region.

    People are waking up like in New Caledonia to how these French play their games.

    Round 1 Putin.

    March 15, 2014 at 9:11 pm |
  15. chrissy

    Oh good grief @ john smith give it a freaking rest already! And deport yourself somewhere else! Youre like a broken record and are just making yourself look like a LOON!

    March 17, 2014 at 4:25 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      You have to admit chrissy, that what he posts here are only too true. Murder, bribery, the politics of hunger and military force have all became staple in our foreign policy. This ignominy sorely needs to end.

      March 17, 2014 at 5:05 pm |
  16. chrissy

    I dont have to admit any such thing @ Joseph and neither do you! You are an American is THAT how you treat people? Its not how i nor anyone i know treats people! Yes there are some who do and it is our DUTY to oust them from our government as they are a blight on our country. A country that i still believe to be the home of the free and the brave!!! And its up to us to make sure that the politics of the egotrippinmaniacs gets exterminated, and QUICK!

    March 17, 2014 at 11:49 pm |
  17. Allan Kinsman

    I enjoy a brisk discussion as I believe it is the beginnings of seeing through a delusion of what goes for civilization. The fix has been in for sometime. Lincoln said, "you can fool some of the people some of the time, all the people some of the time but you can't fool all the people all of the time". I paraphrase and excuse my inaccuracy if I miss quote the former president. I believe his point though refers to a fact of our government. In a democracy you only need to fool a majority most of the time. The availability of tremendous amounts of money creates very clever bag men. Every democracy in history has suffered from a failure from within.

    March 18, 2014 at 2:42 pm |
  18. chrissy

    Lol @ Alan, nicely said. Sometimes i should tone it down just a bit huh? I tend to let things i feel passionate about get the best of me. Lol

    March 19, 2014 at 4:46 pm |
  19. chrissy

    And the one thing i feel most passionate about is when someone who has so much feel they need to take advantage of those who have so little! And that is my summation of our congressional clowns treatment of the american citizens! And i detest greed with a passion!!

    March 19, 2014 at 4:50 pm |
  20. Ron

    Ukraine was a country on the verge of a civil war before Russia invaded. Pulled between the East and the West. If Russia stops at Crimea and the remainder of Ukraine is allowed to move closer to the West: the invasion will paradoxically create a more peaceful Ukraine.

    March 20, 2014 at 11:00 am |
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