“The Hawks Do Love Those Hitler-Era Talking Points”: Take John McCain’s Russia Advice And You Might Get Another Cold War
I’m not sure what we should do about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I am, however, dead sure about what we shouldn’t do. Please, Washington—don’t listen to John McCain!
The leader of the capital’s bombs-away caucus spoke exclusively over the weekend to the Beast’s Josh Rogin, who nailed the scoop. It was a relief to see McCain acknowledging that there is no plausible military option. So that’s progress. But the steps McCain advises are certain to heighten tensions and probably start a new Cold War, which is surely what the thuggish Putin wants. It’s most definitely not what the United States should want, at exactly the time when, as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has proposed, we should be reducing the size of our military and the reach of our global commitments.
McCain floated three notions: tougher sanctions against Russia and its higher-ranking officials; NATO membership for Georgia; expanded and sped-up missile defense systems in Europe. The first is unobjectionable. The world has to do something here, and sanctions are that something. If we can’t prevent Putin from engaging in this kind of aggression—and face it, we can’t—we can at least do what we can to harm his economy and limit the foreign travel of his high government officials.
But Georgia in NATO and missile defense? McCain and other hawkish types (including, very distressingly, Joe Biden back in 2008) have been banging that gong for years now. Calls for Georgian entry into NATO go back to the mid-2000s, when “Rose Revolution” president Mikheil Saakashvili made it a top priority. It was a horrible idea then—expanding a military alliance right up to the doorstep of a certain country, all but surrounding it, is bound to be seen in that country, and not unreasonably, as a provocative act. It’s even worse when that country happens to have 8,500 nuclear weapons.
And don’t forget NATO’s famous Article 5: an attack on any NATO country will be taken as an attack on all. What would the implications of that commitment have been in 2008, during the Russo-Georgian war in Ossetia? It’s true that Georgia moved first in that conflict, but pretexts for such action are absurdly easy to establish. Would the United States and the other NATO countries have been forced into war against Russia in 2008 if Georgia had been a NATO member then? It’s not at all an idle question, and it’s one well worth keeping in mind now.
As for missile defense, the United States is already scheduled to install missile interceptors in Poland in 2018, which is mistake enough. But at least Obama has drawn back here from stronger commitments to Poland (a charter member of the coalition of the willing, remember?) made by the Bush administration. The Bush commitment was for interceptors of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Obama scaled that back to interceptors of intermediate-range missiles. There will now be pressure from McCain and others to go back to Bush’s plan, and to get them there faster than 2018, which is the Obama timetable.
I’m hardly an expert on the different types of missile interceptors, so if the question is which one to deploy, I readily confess I’m not your man. But I have a better question: What in blazes does Poland have to do with this anyway? Is Putin set to invade Poland—a member of the European Union and of NATO? Is this 1939? The hawks do love those Hitler-era talking points. Yes, certain parallels can be drawn between what Putin is doing here and what Hitler did in the Sudetenland. But do we really think he wants to drag all of Europe into a war, wipe Germany off the map, put Russia’s and Europe’s gay population in concentration camps? Putin is a hideous person, but a latter-day Hitler he is probably not, and even if he did want to do those things, trillions of dollars in trade are at stake for him in his relations with Europe in a way that wasn’t at all true in the 1930s.
In fact, yesterday Putin accepted Angela Merkel’s mediation offer for a contact group to discuss the crisis, suggesting perhaps that his aims here, however repugnant, may fall short of world domination
We have to express our disapproval, and we should impose sanctions. Beyond that, there just isn’t much we can do, and there isn’t much we should do. Timothy Snyder, a leading expert on the region, writes in The New Republic that the EU should undertake a series of moves designed in effect to banish Russia’s upper classes from European banks and cities and private schools and resort playgrounds, which might well get the attention of the only people (Putin-approved kleptocrats) who can possibly influence Putin’s behavior.
And as for McCain and his Cold War caucus: McCain wants the United States to do the things he wants it to do so that the United States remains the world’s only true hegemonic power. For almost all of John McCain’s sentient life, we had a bipolar world, and then, after 1991, a unipolar world. The McCains of America think the bipolar world was a freak accident of history and the unipolar world is the default way things ought to be.
But the unipolar era of U.S. dominance is—increasingly, was—itself a product of particular historical forces, and those forces are changing rapidly. We’re returning to a multipolar world in which there will be other powers that can operate more or less on the United States’ level. Far from resisting this we should welcome it. I’m not a liberal isolationist, and certainly no pacifist either. Although it’s not possible to quantify—it’s like trying to measure how much rain didn’t fall—I think there’s no doubt that our global military presence has prevented more problems than it has created, and we shouldn’t pull too far back. But we should start sharing that burden with other nations and multilateral organizations more than we have.
And most of all, recreating a bipolar world of U.S.-Russia conflict is at the very bottom of our global “to do” list. We don’t have to like Putin or what he’s doing here, but let’s not pretend that who controls the Crimea is a question of first-rank global importance, and let’s not play into Putin’s grubby hands. Demagogues only gain power when they can whip their people into a frenzy about an outside enemy. Obama must not help him, and must’nt let himself get cowed by a hectoring neocon right into saying things he shouldn’t say.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 3, 2014
With nothing to offer beyond what the Obama administration is already pursuing in terms of tough economic recriminations in response to Russia’s offensive moves on the Crimean Peninsula, leading GOP elected officials took to the airwaves on Sunday to do what they always do when they have little in the way of constructive ideas—blame Obama.
The favored GOP meme pursued on the Sunday morning talk circuit revolved around suggestions that Obama’s tendency to draw “red lines”, only to back away from confrontation when possible, has led foreign leaders—including Russian strongman Vladimir Putin—to disrespect the American leader and presume they can do as they please without interference or response from the USA.
Appearing on CNN’s State of The Union, Senator Lindsey Graham had this to say when giving a bit of unsolicited advice to President Obama:
“Well, number one, stop going on television and trying to threaten thugs and dictators. It is not your strong suit. Every time the president goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everybody’s eyes roll, including mine. We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression. President Obama needs to do something. How about this, suspend Russian membership in the G-8 and the G-20 at least for a year starting right now. And for every day they stay in Crimea, add to the suspension. Do something.”
Of course, had Senator Graham reserved comment in a manner more befitting of one who is alleged to be a seasoned statesman and foreign policy ‘expert’, he would have discovered—in but a few short hours—that the White House was way ahead of him. Indeed, the administration had already been hard at work lining up support from the G-8 to suspend preparations for the upcoming talks in Sochi, Russia and was doing so well before Graham threw in his two cents.
But then, I suppose that there is no such thing as statesmanship and commitment to the Commander–In-Chief during a foreign crisis when it is an election year, right Senator Graham?
In a joint statement from the G-8 countries issued on Sunday afternoon, the organization condemned Russia’s “clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” and informed Putin that the remaining G-8 nations were suspending their participation in preparing for the upcoming summit “until the environment comes back where the G-I is able to have meaningful discussion.”
We are now left to await the Republican effort to take credit for the American policy—despite the fact that achieving such an agreement had to take the White House considerably longer than the couple of elapsed hours between the GOP criticism-fest and the jointly made G-8 announcement.
Even more interesting is the fact that Graham’s idea of playing hardball with Russia, as expressed on CNN, involved suspending the nation from the G-8 group for at least a year plus however many days Russia remains in Crimea.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry was on television suggesting that Russia’s actions could actually lead to a far, far tougher punishment for the Russians—the potential that the country could be permanently tossed out of the G-8. This would mean that, after years of effort on the part of Russia to become a member of the economic elite, they would permanently be booted from the fraternity of top players in the world’s democratic nations and left to take a seat at the loser table after once being a part of the “in crowd”.
The simple reality is that were you to apply any sort of logic to the scenario, it becomes more than clear that a ‘tougher’ US policy towards Russia before the Ukraine crisis might have given John McCain some emotional satisfaction, but would have had zero impact on Putin’s decision to move against Crimea. This is the reality due to a very simple reason—the Russians, Americans and Europeans all know that there is not a viable military option to be pursued in this situation.
While Vladimir Putin is many undesirable things, he is likely not an idiot. He knows his importance to Europe is waning now that Europe has developed other ways of obtaining natural gas. Where Europe might have been far more timid when it comes to administering some pain on Russia in the past, they are in a far better position to do so today given their growing ability to stick their noses up at Russian energy. And while Putin may not have known the degree to which the West might turn the economic screws on his country, he had to know that his actions in Ukraine would bring an economic response in some measure.
This being the case, just what do these Republicans believe would have been different had President Obama taken a harder line against Russia during his years in office?
Making the GOP reasoning all the more ridiculous is their willingness to pretend that any weakness Putin may have sensed was the fault of Barack Obama.
If, somehow, Putin was led to believe that there would be no significant economic price to pay in response to his actions—as noted, nobody, including those in the GOP who never met a war they didn’t like, believes there is a military option on the table—why would he be looking at Obama?
It wasn’t President Obama who failed to do much of anything at all when Russia invaded Georgia in 2008. That would be President George W. Bush. And while I know that the reaction to this statement on the part of some will be to carp that I am just one more Obama apologist who wants to blame Bush for everything, I’m afraid one cannot escape history—and history tells us in great clarity that, just six years ago, Putin experienced the opportunity to invade a neighboring nation without any real US or European response whatsoever.
It may be great political fodder for Republicans to blame a president that super-hawk John McCain has now called “the most naïve president in US history” but it certainly appears that it is actually the John McCain line of reasoning that has been hobbled by naivety. Your first clue that this is the case would be the unwillingness of any of the President’s critics to offer up anything in the way of a sophisticated explanation as to how things might have been different had Obama played it rough and tough with Putin.
Given that the White House is showing signs of taking a much harder line and showing a readiness to enforce economic and political sanctions against Russia that go beyond what most Republicans spent the weekend proposing, would it not have been the wise political move for Republicans to simply chill on the useless criticism as the “go to” response and get behind the President? It might, in fact, have very much helped Republicans running for office this year—like Lindsey Graham—to show their constituencies that they can be reasonable and supportive of the President during a crisis, thus adding credibility to their positions where they have opposed the President.
Of course, to do that requires an actual commitment to the advancement of the national interest rather than advancement of personal, political interests—and that is something that has long been in short supply in Republican circles.
Country first, fellas….country first.
By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, March 3, 2014
“Cherry Picking The Facts”: Why The Right Doesn’t Really Want European-Style Reproductive Health Care
U.S. conservatives want Europe’s abortion restrictions, but they oppose the generous systems and legal exceptions that support women’s health.
Earlier this month, Texas lawmakers witnessed and participated in passionate debates about one of the nation’s most sweeping pieces of anti-choice legislation. That legislation, known as SB1, was initially delayed by Wendy Davis’s now-famous filibuster before Governor Rick Perry signed it into law last week during a second special legislative session. It bans abortions after 20 weeks, places cumbersome restrictions on abortion clinics and physicians, and threatens to close all but five of the state’s 42 abortion clinics. Throughout the many days of hearings, anti-choice activists relied on religious, scientific, and political evidence to argue that the new Texas law is just and sensible.
Many of those arguments are tenuous at best, but it is the continued reference to European abortion laws that most represent a convenient cherry-picking of facts to support the rollback of women’s rights. Many European countries do indeed regulate abortion with gestational limits, but what SB1 supporters conveniently ignore is that those laws are entrenched in progressive public health systems that provide quality, affordable (sometimes free) health care to all individuals and prioritize the sexual and reproductive health of their citizens. Most SB1 advocates would scoff at the very programs and policies that are credited with Europe’s low unintended pregnancy and abortion rates.
Members of the media have also seized on European policies to argue that Texas lawmakers are acting in the best interests of women. Soon after the passage of SB1, Bill O’Reilly argued that “most countries in the world have a 20-week threshold,” and Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, wrote, “It’s not just that Wendy Davis is out of step in Texas; she would be out of step in Belgium and France, where abortion is banned after 12 weeks.”
It’s hard to imagine any other scenario in which O’Reilly and Lowry, and most conservative politicians and activists, would hold up European social policies as a beacon for U.S. policy. After all, the cornerstones of Europe’s women’s health programs are the very programs that conservatives have long threatened would destroy the moral fabric of American society. One cannot compare the abortion policies of Europe and the United States without looking at the broader social policies that shape women’s health.
Both Belgium and France have mandatory sexuality education beginning in elementary school (in France parents are prohibited from removing their children from the program). France passed a bill earlier this year that allows women to be fully reimbursed for the cost of their abortion and guarantees girls ages 15 to 18 free birth control. Emergency contraception in both countries is easily accessible over the counter, and in Belgium the cost of the drug is reimbursed for young people and those with a prescription. Both countries limit abortion to the first trimester but also make exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and fetal impairment, to preserve woman’s physical or mental health, and for social or economic reasons. None of these exceptions are included in the new Texas law, and I’d guess it would be a cold day in hell before the likes of O’Reilly and Lowry advocate for more expansive health policies or for including such exceptions in abortion laws.
But it would be wise if they did. This availability of preventative care contributes to the overall health and wellness of women in Europe and enables them to make free and fully informed decisions about their bodies over the course of their lifetimes. The demonization and lack of progressive sexual health policies in Texas, and in the United States more broadly, drives high rates of unintended pregnancy, teen pregnancy, maternal mortality, sexually transmitted infections, and abortion.
Unfortunately, Texas couldn’t be further from France or Belgium when it comes to the care it provides to women and families before, during, and after delivery, as I’ve written about before. The Texas teen birth rate is nearly nine times higher than that of France and nearly 10 times higher than that of Belgium. Nearly 90 percent of all teens in France and Belgium reported using birth control at their last sexual intercourse, compared with only 53 percent in Texas. The infant mortality rate in Texas is twice that of Belgium and France. The poverty rate among women in Texas is a third higher than that of women in Belgium and France, and the poverty rate among Texas children is 1.5 times higher. Less than 60 percent of Texas women receive prenatal care, while quality care before, during, and after pregnancy is available to nearly all women throughout Europe.
None of those hard facts were compelling enough to amend – let alone negate – the new law. It seems impossible these days to find a common ground between anti- and pro-choice individuals, but if conservatives wanted to have a conversation about enacting European-style sexual and reproductive health policies in the United States, that just might be something that could bring everyone to the same table. The more likely scenario is that once conservatives have plucked out the facts that help advance their anti-choice cause, they will promptly return to tarring and feathering Europe’s socialized health system.
By: Andrea Flynn, The National Memo, July 24, 2013
“The Last Thing Egypt Needs”: The Problems Are So Daunting That The Lack Of Democracy Is Not The Top Priority
In addition to all the experts, thinkers, pundits and others who have been cited about the loss of democracy in Egypt, let me quote a certain West Point expellee who, in a different context, uttered words that now fit the situation: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Rhett Butler neatly summarizes my position on democracy in Egypt.
I hope not to sound too cynical. I have always had a soft spot for Egypt. The people are gracious and aware that theirs is a storied and wonderful civilization. But the issue is not whether Egypt is a democracy or something else. The issue is whether Egypt provides for its people and keeps out of trouble. After that, if Ramses II returns, it’s okay with me.
For 34 years — under three regimes now — Egypt has kept the peace with Israel, which is worth a yearly Nobel Peace Prize. For all but the past two years, this peace was maintained by authoritarian regimes — Anwar Sadat’s and then Hosni Mubarak’s. They had their imperfections, but bellicosity was not one of them.
Democracy is nice, but it is not a panacea. The American insistence that the world mimic us — ain’t we pretty close to poifect? — has always struck me as both patronizing and contemptuous of history. The overriding challenge of all incipient democracies is how to handle minority issues. For a very long time, the United States did not do very well in this regard. We disenfranchised African Americans and used all sorts of devices to keep them in penury and politically powerless. Southern states insisted on Jim Crow laws, and their representatives in Congress — many of whom loathed racial segregation — voted to maintain it lest they wind up losing at the polls. It took the often non-elected courts, Supreme or less so, to remedy the situation. The people are not always wise.
In many cases, the democracies that emerged in Europe after World War I evolved into intolerant, rightist regimes. Hitler — the überexample — had enormous popular support even though Germans were well aware that he was enamored of violence and a bit unbalanced about Jews. To the east, the popularly elected governments of Poland and other nations treated their various minorities roughly — the Jews roughest of all. All sorts of restrictions were imposed on Jews throughout Eastern Europe, everything from “seating ghettos” in Polish universities’ lecture halls to a requirement in Romania that Jewish medical students learn their profession only on Jewish cadavers.
The Holocaust and the ethnic cleansing that followed World War II reorganized Eastern Europe into neat ethnic enclaves — otherwise who knows what would be happening today. The Middle East is not so well-ordered. The Jews are gone — 75,000 or so booted out of Egypt in the 1950s and ’60s, 120,000 out of Iraq around the same time — but Shiites rub up against Sunnis, and Christians against Muslims. In Egypt, the Coptic Christians felt endangered by a government — elected or not — run by the Muslim Brotherhood.
America’s interest is in a stable Middle East. If stability can be combined with democracy, all the better. But it was the authoritarian governments of Egypt and Jordan that signed peace treaties with Israel when, you’d be assured, popularly elected ones would never have done so. (As it was, the treaty cost Sadat his life.)
For Mohamed Morsi, sooner or later he might have had to balance the $1.5 billion that Egypt annually gets from the United States — most of it military aid — against a popular clamor to repudiate the peace with Israel. The Israel question, abetted by an appalling amount of anti-Semitism, is just too easy to demagogue. It is what race was in the Jim Crow South or, to wax truly esoteric, what Belorussians were in inter-war Poland.
After the collapse of Weimar Germany — a democracy but an extremely messy one — some intellectuals, including Hannah Arendt and Theodor Adorno, questioned whether democracy was always a wonderful thing. The answer, of course, is nothing is always wonderful. The Egyptian democracy was tending back toward authoritarianism and, no matter what had happened, the country might have seen its last real election. In the short run, no government can reverse the population explosion, provide jobs for young people or ameliorate what climate change is doing to the Nile Delta. Egypt’s problems are so daunting that the lack of democracy is not the top priority. First things first. Before Egypt needs a democratic government, it just needs a government.
By: Richard Cohen, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 8, 2013
A Mediterranean diet, the New England Journal of Medicine reported Monday, can lengthen one’s lifespan. So inhabitants of southern Europe can look forward to long lives — of anxiety and privation.
Already mired in a depression comparable to that of the 1930s, Spain, Greece and Portugal are going to see things grow worse this year, according to an annual economic forecast released by the European Commission on Friday. Unemployment rates in both Spain and Greece — where a quarter of the populations are unemployed and the share of jobless young people exceeds 50 percent — will rise to 27 percent.
At least the leaders in power in 1930 had an excuse when the economy began to collapse. Then, there was genuine bewilderment among economists and governmental chieftains across the political spectrum about how to induce a recovery. From British Laborite Ramsay MacDonald to the German centrist Heinrich Bruning to American conservative Herbert Hoover, leaders cut spending to bring their budgets into balance.
These austerity policies proved an unmitigated disaster. By reducing government spending while business and consumer spending were tanking, these heads of government constricted all economic activity. In turn, unemployment continued to soar. Frustrated with the inability of mainstream political parties to stop the collapse, voters in some nations turned to extremes — most notably, of course, in Germany.
Unlike their predecessors, today’s leaders have models on how to revive depressed economies. The example of Franklin Roosevelt, whose public investments in jobs and defense turned the U.S. economy around, and the writings of John Maynard Keynes, who demonstrated that the solution to depression is boosting demand, are plain for all to see. Seeing isn’t believing, however, when ideology dims the eye.
Today, in the spirit of the Bourbon kings who reclaimed power in post-Napoleonic France, having learned nothing during their years in exile, many European leaders are repeating the mistakes that their predecessors made in the ’30s: demanding that governments reduce spending even as their private-sector economies limp along. Only this time around, the miracle of the euro has greatly the reduced the autonomy of many continental nations while giving their creditor, Germany, control over their destinies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is imposing austerity budgets on other nations, even Spain, which had a string of balanced budgets before the 2008 collapse.
The economies of Mediterranean nations, the Merkelites complain, lag behind the productivity rates of their northern European neighbors. But boosting productivity — a goal that everyone embraces — requires more, not less, public investment in worker training, education, new industries and unemployment support. The relationship between austerity and heightened productivity, whose existence Merkel continually proclaims, is real enough — but in Europe’s current economy, the association is inverse.
As in the 1930s, despair about the economic options before them has driven many voters to bizarre extremes. A quarter of Italian voters cast ballots this week for the anti-austerity xenophobic party of a professional comedian. In Spain, a movement for Catalonian separatism is growing. More ominously, in Greece, an avowedly racist, fascist party involved in numerous instances of violence has won a bloc of seats in parliament. You might think Merkel would be cognizant of the links between economic hopelessness and the rise of fascism — but if she is, it hasn’t affected her austerity economics by so much as a pfennig.
The euro zone isn’t the only part of Europe where austerity is turning out to be a disaster. Britain is the one European nation that, since Prime Minister David Cameron’s conservatives came to power in 2010, has deliberately opted for punishing austerity to bring its budget into balance. As a result, the British economy has slowed to a crawl, and its budget remains in the red. Last week, Moody’s stripped Britain of its AAA credit rating. In anti-Keynesian theory, austerity economics are supposed to protect one’s triple-A rating, not endanger it. So much for anti-Keynesian theory.
The United States isn’t immune to Europe’s madness. The sequester slated to begin taking effect Friday is a particularly mindless form of an already stupid policy, poised to inflict a kind of blindfolded austerity at a time when unemployment remains high. Republican opponents of government spending, not to mention tea party activists, like to think of themselves as true-blue Americans while disparaging the Democrats as Euro-socialists. But it’s the Republicans who are embracing Europe’s failed economics while Democrats attempt to adhere to the American success story of the New Deal. Republicans might want to bone up on American history; it contains all kinds of valuable lessons.
By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 26, 2013