The Warsaw symbolism was useful and potent. World War II started in Poland, and this week is also the 25th anniversary of the first partially free elections that were followed by the collapse of Polish Communism. Vladimir Putin’s new military adventures threaten the independence of Ukraine but also once again the stability of post-Cold War Europe, especially Poland, the Baltics and other frontline NATO states that America is bound by the NATO treaty to defend.
President Obama’s Warsaw package begins to undo years of U.S. and Western European complacency. If Congress approves, and it should, the new $1 billion European Reassurance Initiative would pay for increased American training, military exercises and rotations of soldiers and ships through Europe.
The U.S. currently has 67,000 troops scattered throughout Western Europe, and those forces belong closer to the new threat in the east. The White House said Tuesday it is “reviewing our force presence in Europe in light of the new security challenges on the continent.”
But President Obama missed an opportunity to make an even bigger statement this week by failing to announce a redeployment eastward. The delay will give Putin’s many apologists in London and Berlin a chance to lobby against any forward troop movement.
Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Russia to keep its tanks out of eastern Ukraine and let the May 25 elections go ahead or face harsher sanctions.
It was easy for Putin to oblige, but those were the wrong bars for new sanctions. Russian and Chechen fighters are streaming into eastern Ukraine, and the Ukrainians need lethal aid to resist.
It’s good to see Obama discover that keeping the peace in Europe requires an American commitment, but Putin is the kind of leader who only understands military facts on the ground.