DATELINESorryville, Apr 30 –  Only 34% of Americans in the latest poll approve of President Obama’s handling of the escalation of hostilities in Ukraine. Many more believe that the hostilities are handling him. The larger group is right and here’s why.

It seems like a year ago, but it was only on March 17 that President Obama imposed sanctions for the annexation of Crimea. Seven Russians, including two in Putin’s inner circle, had their assets in the U.S. frozen. They were also banned from entering the U.S. If you’re Russia, that was a pretty good trade off.

The President was criticized in many quarters for his particularly ineffectual response. Even when the EU sanctioned 13 Russians and 8 from Crimea, policy experts doubted that Russian President Vladimir Putin would pay any attention. They were right. Russian aggression continued unabated.

On April 10, President Obama specifically accused Russia of supporting a separatist movement in Ukraine in order to destabilize the country. Obama threatened sanctions.

On April 16, with tensions building, Ukraine, Russia, the EU and the U.S. agreed in Geneva to defuse the explosive atmosphere in Ukraine. Violence was to end, militias were to stand down and amnesty was to be granted. The agreement was short on key details. Crimea was not mentioned.

The next day, Putin signaled his lack of cooperation in remarks made against Ukraine in a nationally televised chat with his countrymen.

On April 24, Obama claimed that Russia was failing to respect the feckless Geneva Agreement. Rather than militias in Ukraine disarming, tensions had increased. Russia and Ukraine were blaming each other for the deterioration. Obama threatened sanctions.

On April 25, Kerry accused Putin of aiding Russian separatists in Ukraine, this time in violation of the Geneva agreement. The day before, Putin had begun military drills near the Ukraine border and promised to invade the country, if necessary, to protect the separatists. Kerry characterized Russia’s conduct as a “grave” and “expensive” mistake. He threatened sanctions.

On April 28, after multiple threats, the U.S. issued sanctions against 7 Russians and 17 Russian companies. The sanctions, like those on March 17, consisted of asset freezes and U.S. visa bans. Putin was not targeted. This time, the EU, dependent on Russian energy exports, did not follow suit. In an odd twist, Obama questioned the effectiveness of the sanctions as he was announcing them.

Yesterday, President Obama defended his handling of Russian aggression against more claims of ineffectiveness. He described his foreign policy game plan as small ball and avoiding errors. According to Obama, singles and doubles are preferred over “disastrous” moves.

The President always characterizes his choices as extremes, singles or disaster, inaction or war. This persistent mislabeling is a manifestation of his basic foreign policy problem. After five years in the Oval Office, Obama is still as nervous as a novice in foreign affairs. His policy is driven by fear of failure. Political and military leaders, both here and abroad, have known it for quite some time.

Allowing Russia to annex Crimea with virtually no response was an invitation to further aggression, which has now happened, again with no real response. The Syrian government continues to kill its own people with chemical weapons.

As of this week, prospects of Middle East peace are dead for the remainder of Obama’s second term. Perhaps they weren’t very good anyway, but a bumbling U.S. Secretary of State sealed the no-deal. The President couldn’t even strike a new trade agreement with Japan during his recent “pivot to Asia” diversionary tour.

A pat Obama reply to his foreign policy critics is to question what their response would be if they were President. But that inquiry also betrays his inability to function in the leadership role he’s been given. His critics aren’t in charge. He is. So far he’s letting the world become a more violent and dangerous place.

Obama’s not playing small ball. He’s not even on the playing field. Some would say he even needs directions to the stadium.