President Obama lives in a world where the truth in international affairs is defined by the sound of his voice.
"Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors not out of strength, but out of weakness," he said Tuesday at a nuclear security summit in The Hague when asked if his 2012 opponent, Mitt Romney, had been right in describing Russia as the "number-one geopolitical foe" of the U.S.
"They don’t pose the number-one national security threat to the United States," Obama said. "I continue to be much more concerned when it comes to our security with the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan, which is part of the reason why the United States, showing its continued international leadership, has organized a forum over the last several years that’s been able to help eliminate that threat in a consistent way."
But here in the real world, where the rest of us live, it's not that simple.
As I wrote last week, Romney was right. Russia's geopolitical threat to U.S. interests clearly showed itself when Moscow violated a written agreement and seized Crimea from Ukraine. Even if the tens of thousands of Russian troops now massed on Ukraine's borders stay put, Crimea alone should have been enough to wake up a serious leader.
But Obama's approach to foreign policy is not serious. He prefers glib pronouncements and snark to soothe gullible reporters and voters over actions that may prove to be politically risky. Phrases like "the tide of war is receding" slip easily off his tongue, then disappear down the memory hole when people point out that the only place on the globe where such a thing is true is in his imagination.
Dismissing Russia as a "regional power" ignores the many ways in which the Obama administration depends on Moscow for meeting its policy goals, not just globally, but in space -- U.S. astronauts fly to the International Space Station on Russian rockets because NASA no longer has a means to get them there.
And the most important item on that list — the one that cuts to the heart of Obama's fear of Manhattan turning to radioactive ash — is nuclear security.
The 1994 Budapest Memorandum violated by Russia when it grabbed Crimea from Ukraine was a deal in which Kiev gave up the world's third-largest nuclear arsenal in exchange for guarantees that its territorial integrity would be respected. So Russian President Vladimir Putin just proved he can't be trusted to keep a deal that was hailed at the time as a major victory for nuclear disarmament, one of Obama's pet causes.
Why does that matter? Because the country Obama just dissed as a "regional power" is an equal partner in negotiating efforts to control the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea. And because those countries -- and any others looking to go nuclear -- now have an example of what would happen if they give up their nuclear ambitions based on trust.
Meanwhile, New START, one of the president's signature achievements, allowed "regional power" Russia to lock in nuclear parity with the United States, ending the threat of U.S. nuclear forces becoming superior. And the treaty was so ambiguous and poorly negotiated it actually created a dispute with Russia over whether U.S. missile defenses against nuclear attacks from rogue regimes would be allowed.
Obama keeps talking about the price Putin's regime will pay for its actions and touting the pinprick sanctions, mostly against individuals, that he's imposed. But his own — and America's — interests have already paid a higher price, because they were based on trusting a foreign leader who's proven he can't be trusted.
If Obama really cares about protecting Manhattan, he's got to deal with that. Now.