It would be hard to say that the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, were a resounding success for America. The United States finished fourth in the total medal count behind Russia, Canada and Norway, and failed to win some events in which American athletes had hoped or even expected to dominate. But what has made America the greatest country on earth is not that we always win; we have suffered our share of losses, as a people, as a nation. What makes this country great is its resolve, its courage, its willingness to confront adversity and survive. Our athletes upheld those values under often challenging circumstances in Sochi, and their country can take unmitigated pride in their effort.
Unfortunately, while our U.S. Olympic Team was making Americans proud in the mushy snow of Sochi, our president was failing us by hiding from confrontation, by abandoning the ideals of resolve and courage that should be the hallmark of presidential leadership. During the second full week of the Olympics, an international crisis of historical proportions was playing out less than 900 miles from the athletic venues of Sochi, in Ukraine’s capital city of Kiev. It was a crisis that cried out for an unambiguous display of leadership on the part of President Barack Obama, the sort of leadership that all of his recent predecessors had displayed without hesitation when called upon to defend human rights and freedom around the globe.
But Obama was a no-show. The 34th president of the United States failed one of the most crucial tests a commander in chief can face. When the American people and the world needed the most powerful man on the planet to stand up for democracy, he shrank from the task. As surely as the Olympic ski slopes melted in Sochi’s warm winter sun, Obama wilted in the harsh glare of the international spotlight that so often shines on America when oppressed peoples need a helping hand. Obama failed his country and the world by not challenging Russian President Vladimir Putin on the podium of ideals, on the slopes of human rights issues, in the arena of principle where democracy goes head-to-head with tyranny. As freedom-craving rebels in Ukraine fought to overthrow the corrupt and oppressive government led by Putin puppet Viktor Yanukovych, the world looked to Obama for action, or at least for words of inspiration that might propel the rebels to victory. Instead, Obama offered up his secretary of state, onetime presidential candidate John Kerry, who “warned” Russia that we were watching closely and it had best tread softly.
Kerry’s words were as mushy as the speedskating course in Sochi, as tepid as the speech by former President Jimmy Carter that prompted the infamous (and mistakenly published) newspaper headline: “More mush from the wimp.” But even Carter, one of the worst presidents of my lifetime (who I voted for, once) was a gold medal winner compared to Obama. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and installed a puppet government there in December 1979, Carter stepped up. He emphatically denounced the Soviets’ action in his January State of the Union address. He suspended negotiations for a Soviet-American nuclear weapons treaty. He even went so far as to initiate a boycott by the U.S. and other countries of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. The Olympic boycott was ill-advised, much-criticized and ultimately pointless but as part of a firm and decisive response to Soviet aggression, it showed that Carter was willing to accept the mantle of international leadership. When Carter’s legacy shows more decisiveness than Obama has demonstrated, we have a serious problem. Obama did not have to call for a boycott of the Olympic Games in Sochi. All he had to do was publicly call out Putin, one of the world’s premier thugs – a leader cut from the despicable mold of Soviet dictators who ruled the Russian empire during the dark days of the Cold War. Obama’s condemnation likely would not have moved Putin to do the right thing but it would have intensified the pressure on him from a world community that always takes its cue from America. Obama could have simply followed the example of Cold War presidents who stood up to the Russian bear. “I am a Berliner,” John F. Kennedy said, challenging the Soviets’ suppression of freedom in East Germany and declaring U.S. solidarity with the oppressed people of that war-torn country.
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Ronald Reagan demanded as he stood in the shadow of the most notorious symbol of Soviet tyranny, the Berlin Wall, which divided the German capital and drew an intimidating line between freedom and oppression. While Putin was enjoying the Olympic Games and watching Russia lead the world in medals, government protesters in the Ukraine were gunned down in the streets. Is there any doubt that Putin and Russia were behind Yanukovych’s campaign to distance Ukraine from the West and return it to the arms of Mother Russia, perhaps laying the cornerstone for a new Russian empire? Now, the deposed president is being given safe harbor in Russia and vowing to reassert his power despite his countrymen’s rejection. Yanukovych is a war criminal; he should be captured and prosecuted. Less than a week after the Olympics ended we saw Russian sympathizers in an armed takeover of government buildings in Crimea, which was ceded by the Soviet Union to the Ukraine in 1954. The Kremlin had Russian troops on alert as it watched the mayhem. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, meanwhile, joined Cabinet-mate Kerry in “warning” Russia to keep its hands off Ukraine. This is the same Chuck Hagel, sad to say, who just announced a Pentagon budget that slashes the U.S. Army to its lowest troop levels since before World War II. Hagel’s warning surely must have Putin shaking in his boots. The Obama presidency is a disaster in every way. Obamacare, the president’s signature legislative and social policy achievement, is punishing more people and businesses than it is helping. The economy continues to struggle despite Obama’s much-heralded “stimulus” programs. And, daily, U.S. prestige and respect erodes around the world as the nation that won the Cold War declines to so much as speak out forcibly against tyrants, bigots and thugs. I hope I always believe that our country and our government are self-correcting at the will of our voters. Things get bad and then they get better. Democracy works. We are the strongest, greatest country in the world. One bad president cannot bring us down. I hope.
Richard Connor is CEO of the Business Press’ parent company, DRC Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.