April 20, 2018

Actions speak louder than words


Dear Editor:

In Orest Deychakiwsky’s comprehensive analysis “Ukraine’s security matters to Washington” (March 25), two points stand out:

(1) That President Barack Obama was rightly criticized for not providing lethal defense weapons to Ukraine, despite bipartisan Congressional support and the urging of key players in his own administration; 

(2) That actions such as sanctions and assistance matter.

Regarding the first point, there is now widespread consensus that Mr. Obama’s foreign policy was an unmitigated disaster, primarily because he did not have the interest or the backbone to stand up to Vladimir Putin when it counted. If he had only acted in a timely fashion, the crisis in Ukraine would likely have been greatly mitigated, if not ended. His rhetorical support for Ukraine, like his “red line” in Syria, was meaningless words and no substitute for action. 

Which brings me to the second point: lack of action. Although words are sometimes important, actions are what matter. In this respect, Mr. Obama was an empty suit, and it was unfortunate that so many “Ukrainians for Obama” had been twice deceived by this president who in the final analysis was no friend of Ukraine. Thus, instead of supporting John McCain (a proven friend of Ukraine) in 2008, and Mitt Romney (who said Russia is our number one geopolitical threat) in 2012, they opted for Mr. Obama both times. 

As for words, it is hard to defend President Donald Trump’s hesitation to criticize Russian actions, and I will not try. Neither will I excuse his inelegant behavior or uncontrolled tweeting. However, no matter how warranted the criticism, is it not unreasonable to conclude that if one wants to talk to an adversarial partner, he should not begin by vilifying him before negotiations take place? That is a well-known negotiating strategy. While Mr. Trump may be short on denouncing Russia’s transgressions, his actions since the summer of 2017 suggest the exact opposite. 

1. During the August 24, 2017, Independence Day parade in Kyiv, Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s presence on the reviewing stand sent an unequivocal message that America stands behind Ukraine. Moreover, the inclusion of a U.S. Army unit in the parade, spoke volumes. 

2. Soon after, the U.S. sent the lethal Javelins to Ukraine, something the 44th president refused to even consider for fear of provoking Mr. Putin. Both of these moves by the Trump administration were strong messages that enraged Mr. Putin.

3. After the Skripal poisoning, Mr. Trump approved the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats, letting the world know where he stood regarding Russia’s provocations and attempted murders. 

4. Finally, on April 6, the Trump administration unleashed additional sanctions aimed at 17 senior Russian government officials and seven Russian oligarchs with ties to Mr. Putin and 12 companies they own or control.

These punitive actions by the Trump administration were taken in response to ongoing aggression across the globe: in Crimea, eastern Ukraine and Syria. 

Bottom line: President Trump’s actions speak louder than his words.