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“Country First, Fellas, Country First”: Republicans Blow The Response To Putin’s Aggression

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

March 4, 2014 - Posted by | Foreign Policy, Republicans, Ukraine | , , , , , , ,

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