NixonWhile we debate the proper method for handling Putin's resurgent Russian imperialism, it seems wise to examine one of the 20th century's premier practitioners of American foreign policy for guidance. Even to his most devout critics, Richard Nixon is generally considered one of the more brilliant foreign policy minds of the Cold War. Through his actions opening up China, surrounding and containing the Soviet Union, enabling the Egypt-Israeli peace process, signing the first significant arms control treaty with the Soviets in US history, and ending the war in Vietnam, Nixon helped make the world a more stable place.

Having established his credentials, what would Nixon's response be to the current crisis? What would he do about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea by way of a sham plebiscite?

Obviously, Nixon cannot speak to us from the grave. However, based on my own personal relationship with President Nixon and my knowledge of the man's worldview, I suspect his thoughts would roughly correspond as follows:

First and foremost, the empty threats to Russia must stop. As any informed observe can tell you, western Europe is cripplingly dependent on Russian oil and gas – this is the reason for the perceived "weak" response from western Europe to the Russian annexation. Put simply, the already-fragile economies of Europe's largest countries cannot survive a Russian cessation of oil or gas exports in the near term. For proof of this, look no further than the lukewarm German response to Washington's efforts to impose meaningful sanctions on Russia. Merkel hates Putin (despite, paradoxically, being the world leader Putin most respects); however, she is well aware of German, the German economy's, and the European Union's crippling dependence on Russian energy exports.

While we're discussing Frau Merkel and Russia, let's touch briefly on the arguments from some quarters that now is the time for Ukrainian (and absurdly too, Georgian) accession to full NATO membership. Americans should be pleased that Mrs. Merkel has the strength of character to stand against extending Article 5 protections to Ukraine (Article 5 of the NATO charter being the provision guaranteeing mutual defense against invaders). Those who argue for pushing NATO further east cannot seriously think that if called upon the US, as well as such NATO allies as Germany, Italy, Greece, and Turkey have any willingness to defend Ukraine with military force. To add Ukraine to NATO would be to tempt Putin to undermine the central tenant of NATO.

Having pointed out what should not be done, let us turn to what a Nixon-inspired foreign policy would call for. First, Russia has forfeit any trust from the United States on the issue of missile defense. If Russia cannot be trusted to uphold treaty guarantees, the US must make clear that it will take any and all steps possible to defend its allies from Russian aggression. The renewal of plans for Eastern European missile defense must be a key part of US foreign policy moving forward.

Likewise, while we cannot punish Russia as they so deserve we can maintain the pressure on other rogue states to show the US has not backed off the world stage. Iran sanctions cannot be relaxed until and unless the country has been denuclearized, promises cannot be enough if we are to restore our international credibility. Likewise, North Korea must remain isolated and punished for as long as its leaders flout international conventions on non-proliferation. We should seek not to provoke our enemies, but we cannot appear weak or dithering either.

Finally, we must recognize that the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea is not a sign of strength, but of weakness. A weakness that is borne of fear of losing her traditional sphere of influence, and a weakness borne of falling global power and influence. All the taking of Crimea gains Russia is international notoriety and another poor dependent region, which Russia must somehow find a way to support with their dwindling oil and gas revenue. We must remember that Crimea is neither a rich region, nor one that has capacity to support itself. In fact, prior to its occupation Crimea's power and food have been wholly supplied by Ukraine – now Putin must find a way to replace that infrastructure for his newest subjects.

Nixon would also see that a strong dollar would lower world oil prices -and put intense pressure on the Russian economy. As John McCain said "Russia is like a big gas station". Indeed gas and oil is all they have.

There are those who argue that the Cold War is over, and we should treat the world differently than we did then. And clearly they are correct that Russia of 2014 is not the USSR of 1970. However, we can learn lessons from policies and worldviews that have proven successful in the past. Further, while the Cold War may be over, we must remember that Putin and many of his inner circle grew up as part of the old Soviet security state, and were trained to view the world through Soviet interests. Nixon's successful policies towards the Soviets can and should be extrapolated from for the purposes of formulating a response to Putin's aggressiveness. As the saying goes – time does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.