U. S. Foreign Policy
March 31, 2014
Can U.S. diplomacy bring lasting solutions in Ukraine, Syria and other hotspots?

In March, just a month after anti-government protesters in Kiev, Ukraine, toppled President Viktor Yanukovych, Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region. The move prompted sanctions from the United States and its Western allies, but Putin clearly was unlikely to back down. In Syria, after the government of President Bashar al-Assad allegedly used chemical weapons against civilians, U.S. President Barack Obama in September seemed poised to attack military targets in the war-torn nation. But at the last minute, under pressure from Russia and the United States, Assad agreed to dismantle his chemical arsenal, and the threat of U.S. military action receded. In another apparent diplomatic victory, negotiators convinced Iran to temporarily freeze its nuclear enrichment program in exchange for loosened economic sanctions. The deal strained U.S.-Israeli relations, however, casting a shadow over a new round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. In Egypt, the military ousted the country’s first democratically elected president. The move earned only a mild rebuke from the United States and a partial cutoff of U.S. military aid, raising questions about America’s commitment to Egypt’s fledgling democracy.

A Pro-Russian demonstrator holds a placard depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin during a March 23 rally in Ukraine’s southern seaside city of Odessa. (AFP/Getty Images/Alexey Kravtsov)
      	  A Pro-Russian demonstrator holds a placard depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin during a March 23 rally in Ukraine’s southern seaside city of Odessa. Now that Russia has annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, which is only a few hours’ drive from Odessa, Ukrainian leaders warn that Putin may have designs on other areas of Ukraine, including Odessa. (AFP/Getty Images/Alexey Kravtsov)

U.S. foreign policy has faced daunting challenges in the past year, from Ukraine to the volatile Arab Muslim world. The Obama Doctrine — calling for diplomatic rather than military solutions to international challenges — seemed vindicated when, after tough talk by President Obama and pressure from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed in September to dispose of his chemical weapons under a U.N. resolution. Diplomacy also carried the day when U.S. and other international negotiators convinced Iran to agree to freeze its nuclear enrichment program in exchange for the easing of crippling economic sanctions. Then, in March 2014, Putin seized on turmoil in Ukraine after the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych and annexed its mostly Russian-speaking Crimea peninsula. The United States and several of its Western allies imposed sanctions on Russia, but Putin stayed firm. Along with America’s foreign policy achievements and failures came questions about its loyalty to its allies, its commitment to democracy and its legacy after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Turmoil in Ukraine

The dramatic overthrow of Ukraine’s president in February was quickly followed by the even more stunning — and surprising — annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region by Russia in March. The United States and other Western allies condemned the move and promptly imposed sanctions on Russia and members of Putin’s inner circle, but Putin showed no signs of backing down. Indeed, some observers feared he was preparing to make additional aggressive moves.