When asked about President Obama's statements concerning Ukraine, Vladimir Putin retorted, "Who made him judge?" Nobel laureate, hero of democracy, and former Polish Prime Minister Lech Walesa ruefully put it more bluntly -- the United States is no longer a world leader.
President Obama talks of limiting Vladimir Putin's ambitions and showing American strength. Meanwhile, Canada, has a suggestion: Approve Keystone XL.
Of all the weapons in the West's arsenal, its energy power is perhaps what Putin fears most. An energy-independent West would radically upset the balance of power in the world, undercutting Russia's natural-gas monopoly.
Yet after five years of "review," the pipeline is still awaiting approval from the president. Keystone is now in its final decision phase -- the 90-day "National Interest Determination" -- during which key federal agencies weigh in on whether the pipeline is in our nation's interest.
The choice should be easy. President Obama and his administration can side with green activists to further embolden Putin and his anti-American coalition, or, they can stand with the American people and a major ally and finally approve Keystone. Once approved, the project will strengthen the U.S. economy, loosen Russia's grip on its neighbors, and provide needed resources at home and abroad.
Americans already recognize the benefits of accessing the world's third-largest oil reserves -- Canada's Alberta oil sands. The public supports the project two-to-one, and it enjoys strong backing from governors whose states the pipeline will pass through. Both houses of Congress have endorsed the project in a bi-partisan move. So why the lack of leadership when Americans so clearly get it? Putin and Walesa know why. We have no leader.
The Departments of Homeland Security and Defense should support the pipeline too as it will bolster our national security. As global competition for energy resources intensifies, Keystone would convey 900,000 barrels of oil per day to Texas refineries. Secure access to Canadian imports -- coupled with our own domestic energy boom -- would allow us to cut ties with hostile oil countries.
For our allies, Keystone would mean more Canadian oil shipped to Europe, particularly in light of the recent Canada-Europe free trade agreement. Currently, Europe relies on Russia for up to one-third of its natural gas. Adding energy supplies would loosen Putin's chokehold on the region.
But Putin has a strong ally. American environmentalists are doing their best to cover Putin's policy with their irrational opposition to Keystone. Rest assured, if President Obama yields to their demands, Russia benefits -- America and Europe suffer.
Putin is counting on this. As the world's third-largest producer of both oil and natural gas, Russia uses its energy supply and pricing power to leverage concessions -- and even territory -- from European countries.
Putin also knows that energy insecurity breeds political weakness. Sanctions are moot as long as Europe relies on Russia to power its economy and heat its homes. If the Department of Justice wants to hold Putin accountable, it should break the energy cartel that holds Europe hostage.
Obama's green supporters shouldn't fool themselves into thinking that if Keystone isn't approved, Canada's oil sands won't get developed. Instead, refiners will get the oil they need by other means, including by train and truck -- far more dangerous and carbon-exhaust-producing methods than a pipeline. Safer oil and gas transport should give the Department of Transportation ample reason to support Keystone.
The Environmental Protection Agency might also consider what the State Department found in its final environmental review of the project: that Keystone would add fewer carbon emissions than the alternatives. Plus, of America's top five import sources for oil, Canada is also the only one with our greenhouse-gas standards in place.
The merits of the pipeline for the United States -- and the world -- are clear. But for President Obama and the green lobby, the Keystone decision was never about the merits, but about politics. It's time to stop playing politics -- and playing into Putin's hands.
If President Obama is serious about checking Russian aggression and advancing American leadership, he will have to admit what Americans already know is obvious -- that Keystone is in our national interest. Mr. President, approve the pipeline. America is counting on you.
Lt. Col. Steve Russell, US Army (Ret.) is running for the United States House of Representatives in Oklahoma's 5th congressional district. He is the author of We Got Him! A Memoir of the Hunt and Capture of Saddam Hussein (Simon & Schuster, 2011).