When it comes to the mounting crisis in Ukraine, President Barack Obama is stuck playing an old role. Since World War Two, U.S. presidents have steadfastly held to the same course when it comes to Russia.
Obama is but the latest interpreter of the Truman Doctrine, which pledged the United States “to support free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressure.”
When President Harry S. Truman threw down that challenge to Congress in 1947, he didn’t use the phrase “Cold War.” He didn’t name the Soviet Union. But everyone knew what he was talking about.
Today, the communist “bloc” has vanished. The nuclear-powered rival that was determined to “bury” the West is no more. Russia competes cannily and strenuously with other nations, but has no economic, political or territorial interest in upending the world system. The United States needn’t — and shouldn’t — turn local struggles into a test of its own credibility and strength.
Yet that old dynamic continues — as this Ukraine crisis demonstrates. It’s being painted as a battle between the West and Russia. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, duly elected in 2010, is using the nation’s police forces to suppress dissidents seeking a fuller democracy and stronger ties to the European Union. Both the EU and Russia are anxious for a closer relationship with Ukraine. Many look to see what United States will do.