Russia's invasion and occupation of a region in Ukraine demand a unified and robust response from the United States and its allies that imposes serious penalties on Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin. The West must deliver a message that deters further hostile moves by Russia's military.
Forget the exhortations of armchair strategists who would take American military forces to DEFCON 1 combat status immediately. Russian forces cannot be dislodged at this point without raising the stakes to the level of a possible showdown between nuclear powers. No one wants that.
Forget, as well, the lame excuses of apologists who say Putin's action was necessary to protect Russia's vital national interest in an area of strategic importance to his country. That's bogus.
Ukraine is a sovereign country that has rejected the Russian bear's embrace in no uncertain terms. Its people have been demonstrating since November against the puppet government of the pro-Russian Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych, forcing him to flee when he realized his situation was untenable.
His flight exposed the failure of Russian policy in the Ukraine, an embarrassment that the Kremlin's leaders apparently found intolerable.
If Russia has a complaint about the treatment of the Russian-speaking majority among the Crimea's 2 million residents - or any other issue with Ukraine, for that matter - there are ways to resolve the problem short of a full-scale military takeover.
President Obama raised the possibility of using U.N. peacekeepers to protect ethnic Russians in the Crimea if it became necessary, but Mr. Putin decided that a show of force would satisfy his personal needs and Russia's interests much better, regardless of the cost.
The Russian leader needed to remind political adversaries inside Russia and pesky neighbors on the periphery that he's the boss. For that, he needed a macho display of forcefulness and was only too willing to use troops and weapons to get the point across. His dream of creating a greater Russia along the lines of the old Soviet Union remains very much part of his driving ambition.
The response from the United States and its allies should be twofold: Help Ukraine's fragile new government create a stable economy and impose significant sanctions on Russia.
Congress can offer Ukraine the kind of bilateral loan guarantees that this country has provided to Israel and other nations in times of need. Nothing would do more to show American resolve in support of Ukraine in this moment of crisis. If Ukraine slips into economic chaos - it's broke and sinking fast - only Putin and his friends will benefit. Congress can make a vital contribution here.
President Obama's first task is to persuade European allies to present a united front, along with the United States, to get Russia's attention. That's not an easy task, considering Europe is dependent on energy supplies that come from Russia, but Putin is counting on political divisions within the European Union to stymie a response. Disunity among the allies plays into his hands.
The economic and diplomatic sanctions should be quickly forthcoming, including targeting Putin's friends in Russia's new economic elite and refusing to do business as usual in international forums until a resolution to the Ukrainian crisis is found.
Aggression unanswered is aggression encouraged. That's reason enough to move swiftly.