McCain, Obama Team Agree: No Realistic Military Option on Ukraine

But the Republican faults the president’s foreign policy for the newly emboldened Putin.

Ukrainian soldiers (behind) stand inside the gate of a Ukrainian military base as unidentified heavily-armed soldiers stand outside in Crimea on March 3, 2014 in Perevalne, Ukraine.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
March 3, 2014, 8:11 a.m.

Mil­it­ary op­tions are off the table for the United States as it looks to counter Rus­sia’s mil­it­ary oc­cu­pa­tion of Crimea, Sen. John Mc­Cain said on Monday.

“There is not a mil­it­ary op­tion that can be ex­er­cised now,” the Ari­zona Re­pub­lic­an said, but he stressed that the United States should still have a wide vari­ety of op­tions in­clud­ing eco­nom­ic sanc­tions and tar­get­ing in­di­vidu­als re­spons­ible for the in­va­sion.

His com­ments, which came at the an­nu­al Amer­ic­an Is­rael Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee policy con­fer­ence, echoed those from a trio of ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials on Sunday.

“Right now, I think we are fo­cused on polit­ic­al and eco­nom­ic and dip­lo­mat­ic op­tions…. So we have not — and, frankly, our goal is to up­hold the ter­rit­ori­al in­teg­rity and sov­er­eignty of Ukraine, not to have a mil­it­ary es­cal­a­tion,” a seni­or ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said, when asked if the United States is cur­rently con­sid­er­ing mil­it­ary op­tions as part of its re­sponse.

An­oth­er seni­or ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial ad­ded that get­ting the mil­it­ary in­volved wouldn’t help de-es­cal­ate the situ­ation.

The United States, in co­ordin­a­tion with NATO and European Uni­on al­lies, is con­sid­er­ing a range of oth­er op­tions, the of­fi­cials said. Those could in­clude “isol­a­tion, po­ten­tial sanc­tions, and re­la­tion­ships between Rus­sia and in­ter­na­tion­al in­sti­tu­tions.”

But while Mc­Cain doesn’t be­lieve Pres­id­ent Obama has mil­it­ary op­tions, he does think the White House shoulders some blame for Rus­sia’s bold moves in Crimea.

“This is the ul­ti­mate res­ult of a feck­less for­eign policy where nobody be­lieves in Amer­ica’s strength any­more,” Mc­Cain said.

Obama spoke with Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin over the week­end, and Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden spoke with Rus­si­an Prime Min­is­ter Dmitry Med­ve­dev on Monday.

What dir­ect im­pact those talks are hav­ing is murky. U.S. of­fi­cials have re­peatedly called on Rus­sia to draw back its forces, but Ukraine said on Monday that Rus­sia is call­ing on the crews of two Ukrain­i­an war­ships to sur­render or face at­tack. Rus­si­an of­fi­cials have denied mak­ing that threat.

State De­part­ment spokes­wo­man Jen Psaki said Monday that if the re­ports are true, it would con­sti­tute a “dan­ger­ous es­cal­a­tion of the situ­ation, for which we would hold Rus­sia dir­ectly re­spons­ible.”

The U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil is sched­uled to hold an emer­gency meet­ing Monday af­ter­noon on Ukraine.

And Mc­Cain on Monday stressed that the situ­ation in Ukraine is also tied to cur­rent ne­go­ti­ations in the Middle East, in­clud­ing those over Ir­an’s nuc­le­ar pro­gram and the Syr­i­an chem­ic­al weapons deal. U.S. and Rus­si­an of­fi­cials have worked to­geth­er on both fronts.

Mc­Cain ad­ded: “The pres­id­ent of the United States be­lieves that the Cold War is over, and that’s fine if it is over, but Putin doesn’t be­lieve its over. He doesn’t be­lieve that this is a zero-sum game.”

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