No, American Weakness Didn’t Encourage Putin to Invade Ukraine

If you’ve listened to President Obama’s critics in recent days, you’ve almost certainly heard two claims. First, that under Obama, America is in retreat around the world. Second, that America’s retreat emboldened Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine.

Let’s take the second claim first. Obama’s critics differ as to which moment of White House fecklessness spurred Putin to act. “Ever since the [Obama] administration threw themselves in [Putin’s] arms in Syria … I think he’s seen weakness. These are the consequences,” insists Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, by contrast, suggests, “The big one that started this was the absolute retreat on our missile defense system in Poland and Czechoslovakia.” Either way, there’s a causation problem. If it was Obama’s weakness—in the Middle East or Eastern Europe—that encouraged the Russian president to invade Ukraine, then how do Corker and Rogers explain Putin’s decision to do something similar in Georgia in 2008, back when George W. Bush was president?

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