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“Unregenerated Paulism Strikes Again!”: What Changed In The Last Six Years For “Paul The Younger”?

Last week MoJo’s David Corn drew attention to the rather large flip-flop being executed by the junior senator from Kentucky with respect to America’s relationship with Russia:

Earlier this week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) slammed President Barack Obama for not doing enough in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s incursion into Crimea….

Paul went on to outline a number of steps he would take, were he president, including imposing economic sanctions and visa bans (which Obama has already implemented), kicking Russia out of the G-8, and building the Keystone XL pipeline. (He did not explain how helping a Canadian firm export tar sands oil would intimidate Putin.) He added, “I would reinstitute the missile-defense shields President Obama abandoned in 2009 in Poland and the Czech Republic.” He griped, “The real problem is that Russia’s President is not currently fearful or threatened in any way by America’s President, despite his country’s blatant aggression.”

This was, Corn noted, a million miles away from Rand Paul’s reaction to Russian aggression towards Georgia.

[W]hen Russia sent troops into Georgia (on George W. Bush’s watch), Paul didn’t want to provoke Russia by placing missiles in Poland. Yet today, when Russia moves into Ukraine (on Obama’s watch), he’s all for dispatching missiles to Poland to send a message to Putin. Does Paul care more about Crimea than Georgia? Or does he care more about keeping a foot on the GOP’s anti-Obama bandwagon? Paul’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

It appears that Paul, an isolationist who doesn’t want to be isolated within the GOP, spotted the opportunity to develop some Obama-bashing hawk cred as the presidential campaign nears. “I stand with the people of Ukraine,” Paul declares now, though that was not what he said about Georgians. What’s changed in the past six years: geopolitics or Paul’s own political calculations?

Paul the Younger can safely survive exposure of his flip-flop by David Corn. But it’s a little more difficult for him to ignore Paul the Elder, who sees no need to change his own take on U.S. foreign policy, as indicated by his pungent op-ed at USAT today:

Residents of Crimea voted over the weekend on whether they would remain an autonomous region of Ukraine or join the Russian Federation. In so doing, they joined a number of countries and regions — including recently Scotland, Catalonia and Venice — that are seeking to secede from what they view as unresponsive or oppressive governments.

These latter three are proceeding without much notice, while the overwhelming Crimea vote to secede from Ukraine has incensed U.S. and European Union officials, and has led NATO closer to conflict with Russia than since the height of the Cold War.

What’s the big deal? Opponents of the Crimea vote like to point to the illegality of the referendum. But self-determination is a centerpiece of international law. Article I of the United Nations Charter points out clearly that the purpose of the U.N. is to “develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.”

Why does the U.S. care which flag will be hoisted on a small piece of land thousands of miles away?

Critics point to the Russian “occupation” of Crimea as evidence that no fair vote could have taken place. Where were these people when an election held in an Iraq occupied by U.S. troops was called a “triumph of democracy”?

Perhaps the U.S. officials who supported the unconstitutional overthrow of Ukraine’s government should refocus their energies on learning our own Constitution, which does not allow the U.S. government to overthrow governments overseas or send a billion dollars to bail out Ukraine and its international creditors.

Suffice it to say that “What’s the big deal?” is not a terribly popular position to take in contemporary Republican politics towards the infamous “weakness” of Barack Obama towards the rapacious Russian Empire. I suppose it’s possible Rand Paul is going to triangulate on his old man as a definitive illustration of his acceptability to the conventional conservative movement and its militaristic tendencies. Otherwise, there may be some tense moments at the next Paul family dinner.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 18, 2014

March 19, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Rand Paul, Ukraine | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Putin’s Aggression Is Not America’s Fault!”: Yes, Pundits Are Arguing That We’re To Blame

One of the biggest flaws with the neoconservative view of the world is the idea that the United States almost always has within its power the ability to affect change. It isn’t merely that the United States should try to promote democracy or maintain an empire; it’s the idea that doing what it pleases, ably, is within the realm of possibility.

An ostensibly converse but ironically similar view comes from many on the left. Muslim extremism? The result of American foreign policy. Warmongering world leaders? Well, they feel hemmed in by the United States. This mindset, which is echoed by a number of realist scholars, has arisen most recently because of President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Crimea. Several realists want us to understand the actions of Putin through the prism of the United States. For these thinkers, as with their neocon opponents, everything is always, in the end, about us.

A good example is Jack F. Matlock Jr.’s piece in The Washington Post. According to Matlock, a former ambassador to the Soviet Union, Putin’s actions can be explained by the way a bullying United States has treated Russia. Specifically, Matlock writes, America made Russia feel like the “loser” of the Cold War after that war ended. Here is Matlock:

President Bill Clinton supported NATO’s bombing of Serbia without U.N. Security Council approval and the expansion of NATO to include former Warsaw Pact countries. Those moves seemed to violate the understanding that the United States would not take advantage of the Soviet retreat from Eastern Europe.

Matlock appears to be arguing that Russian anger over U.S. action in Kosovo was the result of America acting in Russia’s sphere of influence. But would Russia have felt the same if we had supported Serbia, Russia’s ally? Almost certainly not; Russia was upset that we took the opposite side in that conflict. Moreover, it’s slightly bizarre to say that we should have left Kosovo to Slobodan Milosevic just to maintain our high standing in Russian public opinion polls.

Matlock mentions the United Nations in the above quote, and he brings it up again when he notes that America’s catastrophic war with Iraq did not have U.N. approval. As touching as it is to view Putin as a great proponent of internationalism who was outraged by American breaches of the law, I think it’s probably fruitful to look elsewhere for clues to his behavior. Matlock himself quickly turns to NATO expansion, which certainly does seem to have had some impact on Russian attitudes towards the United States. As Matlock writes:

When terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, [Putin] was the first foreign leader to call and offer support…What did he get in return? Some meaningless praise from President George W. Bush, who then delivered the diplomatic equivalent of swift kicks to the groin: further expansion of NATO in the Baltics and the Balkans, and plans for American bases there; withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; invasion of Iraq without U.N. Security Council approval; overt participation in the “color revolutions” in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan; and then, probing some of the firmest red lines any Russian leader would draw, talk of taking Georgia and Ukraine into NATO.

Whatever one wants to say about the intelligence or wisdom of American foreign policy—and the policies above were probably at best a mixed bag—it is bizarre to say that Putin was so angry we might try to offer Ukraine NATO protection from Russia that he…invaded Ukraine. Isn’t there something rather ironic about Putin being so angry by our concern over something that he goes and does the thing we are concerned about? It’s all part of the same mindset that sees the behavior of other countries as literally reactionary: We act, they react. (It is also worth noting that in 2008 NATO denied Membership Action Plan (MAP) status to both Ukraine and Georgia. Somehow this didn’t mollify Putin.)

Moreover, reading Matlock’s account you would think that Russian policy at home and abroad—Putin has cracked down heavily on dissent at home—was determined entirely by the United States. It is awfully solipsistic to look at the world this way.

Matlock has more trouble with the Obama administration. He writes:

President Obama famously attempted a “reset” of relations with Russia, with some success: The New START treaty was an important achievement, and there was increased quiet cooperation on a number of regional issues. But then Congress’s penchant for minding other people’s business when it cannot cope with its own began to take its toll. The Magnitsky Act, which singled out Russia for human rights violations as if there were none of comparable gravity elsewhere, infuriated Russia’s rulers and confirmed with the broader public the image of the United States as an implacable enemy.

No doubt the Magnitsky Act did infuriate the Kremlin, but Putin’s aggressiveness abroad and undemocratic tendencies at home were visible well before it passed, which severely weakens Matlock’s argument. (Direct retaliatory steps against the United States, like banning American adoptions, were certainly connected to the Act, but that doesn’t mean Putin’s entire worldview is shaped by American actions.)

These same tendencies appear in n+1‘s editorial on the Ukraine crisis. “What role has the American intellectual community played in this saga, if any?” the editorial asks. “Certainly we failed to prevent it.” I didn’t realize that the American intellectual community had the power to stop foreign dictators from invading other countries. They continue:

We have indulged ourselves in a bacchanalia of anti-Putinism, shading over into anti-Russianism. We turned Pussy Riot into mass media stars. We wrote endless articles (and books) about how Putin was a mystery man, a terrible man, a KGB ghoul who lived under your bed….It’s hard to know how much of what gets written in various places leads to American policies in actual fact. Does it matter what’s in the Nation? What about the New York Review of Books? The New Yorker? It’s impossible to say. And the media or publishing game has its own rules, irrespective of politics. Evil Putin is just going to get more airtime than Complicated Putin or Putin Who is Running a Country in a Complex Geopolitical Situation.

Whatever one thinks of this analysis, the most striking thing about it is the power it imparts to Americans. Putin is the leader of a foreign country. The idea that what’s written in American magazines leads to American policymakers making policy that in turn enrages Putin that in turn aids and abets his thirst for aggression is, again, almost laughably solipsistic.

American policy toward Russia going all the way back to the First World War has often been shortsighted or worse. But when thinking about how to respond—or not respond—to Russia’s actions today, it’s probably best to stop viewing those actions as the direct result of American foreign policy.


By: Isaac Chotiner, The New Republic, March 17, 2014

March 19, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Magical Thinking Run Amok”: Now Is A Good Time For The Administration’s Critic’s To Just Shut The Hell Up

Now that the Crimean “referendum,” such as it was, has produced its preordained outcome, and probably even the most intense Ukrainian nationalists have given up hope of ever recovering that territory, the big question now is less one of “punishing” Russia for an undoubted violation of international law, than of losing any influence on what Putin does next.

In that context, all the howling for U.S. “leadership” and “toughness” we hear is more than a little incoherent. As Michael Cohen points out at the Guardian, nobody among the many critics of the Obama administration is willing to advocate military action:

[O]ne is hard-pressed to find a single person in Washington who believes the US should send actual American soldiers to Ukraine – even if Russia truly escalates the crisis and send its troops into Eastern Ukraine.

All of which raises a quite serious and legitimate question: what the hell are we arguing about?

If the US is not prepared to put troops on the ground? If we’re not willing to use military force? If we’re content with taking the biggest tool in the US toolbox off the table, then how exactly is the United States supposed to reverse Russia’s seizure of the Crimea? Our vast military capabilities won’t mean much to Putin if he knows we aren’t willing to use them.

Here’s the dirty little secret of the foreign-policy pundit/expert orgy on what to do about Crimea: the US has at its disposal very few levers with which to change Russia’s behavior, at least in the near-term. We can cancel multilateral summits and military training (already done); we can deny visas to Russian officials (just beginning); we can even ramp up bilateral economic sanctions and try to build support among key European allies for a larger, more invasive sanctions regime (under discussion).

But as our long effort to bring Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear ambition reminds us, such steps will take time and diplomatic effort to bring results. They won’t offer the guarantee of a satisfactory result, and they could produce significant economic backlash for US companies – and, more directly, US allies.

In the end, we’re stuck arguing over policy responses that largely dance around the margins, and a situation in which Europe’s actions likely matter more than America’s.

One thing is for certain sure: all the high-volume demands we are hearing from American pundits and Republican politicians that Obama magically change the situation by “standing up” to Putin (without, of course, even contemplating military action) aren’t helping. If there were ever a good time for an administration’s critics to shut up for a brief while and await further developments–from the Russians, from the Ukrainians, from the Europeans, and from our own diplomats–this is it.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 17, 2014

March 18, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Ukraine | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Don’t Call Yourself Reagan Republicans”: Whatever You Think GOP, “Reagan” Is Not An Action Word

In all likelihood, it’s probably too late to think the political world will remember any of the details of Ronald Reagan’s actual presidency. Indeed, the mythologizing will almost certainly get worse – I half-expect “Reagan” to become a verb, to mean “to stop all foes through force of will and stern looks.”

But the Republican preoccupation with doing whatever they think Reagan might have done in any given situation occasionally gets a little silly.

A proposed U.S. aid package for Ukraine’s fledgling pro-Western government stalled Thursday amid festering Republican Party feuds over foreign policy.

Tensions erupted on the Senate floor late in the day after the chamber did not advance the measure, with Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) berating the dozen or so of his Republican colleagues who, for various reasons, objected to the legislation.

“You can call yourself Republicans. That’s fine, because that’s your voter registration. Don’t call yourself Reagan Republicans,” McCain said on the Senate floor. “Ronald Reagan would never – would never let this kind of aggression go unresponded to by the American people.”

Look, the 1980s were a while ago and the political world has a notoriously short memory, but Reagan wasn’t a comic-book character. He was a president whose record is readily available to anyone who bothers to look.

And the notion that Reagan “never let this kind of aggression go unresponded to” is wholly at odds with how the Republican icon actually governed.

Kevin Drum flagged some helpful tweets from Dan Drezner, himself a center-right scholar on international affairs, who offered a quick history lesson for those who don’t remember the Reagan era quite as well as they should.

 * When Soviet-backed Polish leaders cracked down on Solidarity activists, Reagan didn’t do much of anything.

 * When the Soviets shot down KAL 007, killing 269 people – including a member of the U.S. Congress – Reagan went to the United Nations, but not much else.

 * When terrorists hijacked TWA Flight 847, the Reagan administration had no qualms about negotiating with them.

 * When terrorists killed 241 Americans in Beirut in 1983, Reagan didn’t do much of anything except run away.

I’d just add that this terrific chart from Adam Serwer shows the number of attacks on U.S. diplomatic outposts abroad soared during Reagan’s presidency.

How is this possible? Didn’t these people realize that the U.S. president at the time could Reagan them with his Reaganness?

Russia’s moves in and around Ukraine represent a crisis, but let’s not assume Reagan had some magical leadership powers that could stop these provocative acts or prevent these kinds of developments from happening in the first place.

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 15, 2014

March 16, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Ukraine | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Dark, Heartless And In No Position To Criticize”: It’s Time For Dick Cheney To Get Off The Stage

In the midst of the Crimean crisis, Dick Cheney saw fit to undermine the commander in chief. “I also think he hasn’t got any credibility with our allies,” Cheney said Sunday on a CBS News broadcast, speaking of President Obama.

That’s unseemly, to say the least, in a foreign policy crisis. A once-high official simply does not say such things about a sitting president, by protocol; George W. Bush is scrupulously silent these days. It’s just Cheney’s latest outrage; keeping track is like counting cattle.

Who asked him, anyway? Charlie Rose, hosting Bob Schieffer’s Sunday show, “Face The Nation.” Rose apparently had not heard of a famous declaration by a Republican senator, one swell Arthur Vandenberg, that “politics stops at the water’s edge.” Cozy with his Southern charm, Rose did not challenge Cheney’s bald, ugly assertion about President Obama, laced with an edge malice. Old pro Schieffer, my favorite CBS Newsman, wouldn’t let an unpatriotic line go by so easy.

Why wasn’t Cheney back home on the range in Wyoming, where the deer and the antelope play — all the better to hunt? Let him leave us in peace and spend more time with his family.

The country knew of Cheney’s glaring influence inside the Bush White House and its wars of choice. Less known is that the former president and Cabinet colleagues had grown weary of Cheney’s sharp style and he’d eventually lose his place in the power scheme. The man who ducked every chance to serve in uniform during the Vietnam War seemed to see himself leading “on the field of battle” in a dark shadowy conflict. He took the tragedy of September 11 into other spheres as well and masterminded scaring us into surrendering our civil liberties.

Yet Cheney’s star began to wane about six years into the Bush presidency, according to Peter Baker, the author of “Days of Fire.” This was about the time Bush himself fell out of public favor.

By then, the nation was weary of war, especially the empty grounds for the Iraq War. At home, Bush’s cavalier reaction to the 2005 Hurricane Katrina drowning of New Orleans awakened the nation out of a slumber. So, of course, not all the failings of his presidency had Cheney’s fingerprints on them.

But back home on the Texas ranch, Bush himself wrote in his memoir that Cheney had “become a lightning rod for criticism from the media and the left. He was seen as dark and heartless — the Darth Vader of the administration.”

Cheney has not lightened up since.


By: Jamie Stiehm, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, March 11, 2014

March 13, 2014 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Foreign Policy, Ukraine | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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