- By Victor AsheVictor Ashe was United States ambassador to Poland from 2004-2009.
Turn on the news, and every night it seems that attacks happen around the world. Our enemies have been emboldened over the past seven years, under President Barack Obama. One of the most glaring examples is Vladimir Putin and Russia. The Obama administration has allowed Putin to pursue his “near abroad” strategy to reestablish control over former Soviet states and threaten our allies.
Just last month, a troubling video surfaced, of a Russian warplane buzzing a U.S. destroyer in a simulated attack in the Baltic Sea. From this simulated attack, to Putin’s invasion of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, to the Russian military’s escalating presence near an indispensable U.S. ally, Putin no longer feels restrained.
But how did we get here? It started when Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hit the “reset” button with Russia. The reset simply did not work. In fact, many allies worried that Russia was a higher priority than they were for the United States. Statements warning Syria not to cross the red line meant nothing and were noted by our foes.
The Associated Press reported that NATO is “considering establishing a rotational ground force in the Baltic states and possibly Poland, reflecting deepening worry about Russian military assertiveness,” in response to Russia’s aforementioned military maneuver in the Baltic.
This is a good first step to stop Putin’s bullying, but NATO allies are growing more concerned that the United States might not be committed to the partnership.
It is important to note that NATO requires each member country to spend two percent of its gross domestic product on defense. Not many do, but Britain, Estonia, Greece, and Poland make the mark, and signs point to Turkey hitting that threshold in a few years.
Recently, many United States senators are asking why America pays more that its fair share to fund NATO, compared to other member countries. It is a valid question. But to ensure a strong America, we must have a strong NATO. Our next president must focus on pushing back against Russia and strengthening America’s standing around the world.
I know firsthand how important NATO is to the strength and security of our allies, as ambassador to Poland from 2004 to 2009. Poland, a relatively new member of NATO, stood with the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq. Putin’s continued threat to NATO allies means we must have an America that remains vigilant and stands with our friends.
But Putin is not just behaving badly in Poland. Across the Black Sea from Ukraine, the Washington Post recently reported that “Russia is sending a new set of fighter jets and combat helicopters to an air base only 25 miles from the Turkish border,” in Armenia.
Just as Poland is important to ensure that Europe’s eastern NATO flank is strong, Turkey is an indispensable ally and is the NATO gateway to the Middle East. Turkey has also been taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees, and is reestablishing diplomatic ties with Israel.
I understand that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding hearings in the near future, with Obama administration officials, on Russia’s influence. That is a positive development. I am sure that Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the committee chair, will hold the Obama administration accountable. He will ask why the administration has been unable to restrain Putin’s violations of various nations’ national integrity. Corker’s stature in the Senate and his stand on important foreign policy issues will be a signal to our NATO allies that America will stand with them, and against Putin and Russia.
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