Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates pushed back on Sunday against conservatives who’ve blamed President Obama’s “weak” foreign policy for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Crimea.
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, Gates dismissed arguments that Obama’s handling of the conflict in Syria or his efforts to trim the defense budget emboldened Putin, arguing that the Russian president also invaded Georgia during the George W. Bush administration.
“My own view is, after all, Putin invaded Georgia when George W. Bush was president. Nobody ever accused George W. Bush of being weak or unwilling to use military force,” Gates, who served as Defense Secretary for Presidents George W. Bush and Obama said. “So I think Putin is very opportunistic in these arenas. I think that even if — even if we had launched attacks in Syria, even if we weren’t cutting our defense budget — I think Putin saw an opportunity here in Crimea, and he has seized it.” Earlier this week, Gates told the Washington Post that the GOP lawmakers should “tone down” their criticism and “try to be supportive of the president rather than natter at the president.”
Though most Republicans agree with Obama’s policy for handling the Crimean crisis, some conservatives have argued that Obama’s perceived “weakness” on the global stage has given Putin the space to move Russian troops into Crimea. “We have a weak and indecisive president” and that “invites aggression,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said last week. “Putin is playing chess and I think we’re playing marbles,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee claimed, adding that Russia is “running circles around us.”
During his appearance, Gates also dismissed criticism of Obama’s weekend vacation. “I’ve seen this happen year after year, president after president. President takes a day or two off and plays golf. Doesn’t matter whether it’s President Obama or the first President Bush going fishing. I think you’ve got to give these guys a little time off, you know, mostly they are working 20 hours a day.”
Gates said he does not believe that “Crimea will slip out of Russia’s hand.” “I think it’s part of a long-term strategy on Putin’s part to create a Russian sphere of influence, a Russian bloc,” he explained. “I don’t think he will stop in Ukraine until there is essentially a pro-Russian government in Ukraine, in Kiev.”
On ABC’s This Week, Ted Cruz (R-TX) reiterated the claim that Obama’s foreign policy gave Putin the green light to invade Crimea:
A critical reason for Putin’s aggression has been President Obama’s weakness. That Putin fears no retribution. Their policy has been to alienate and abandon our friends and coddle and appease our enemies. You better believe that Putin sees in Benghazi, four Americans are murdered and nothing happens, no retribution. You better believe that Putin sees that in Syria, Obama draws a red line and ignores it.