John McCain is one of the prominent Republicans using the crisis in Ukraine to call Barack Obama weak, again. Photo via Flickr user Gage Skidmore
The millennial generation is often accused of being narcissistic, of inhabiting an imaginary world where events and actions are only real and important insofar as they touch on us, the super special ones who actually matter. There’s probably a kernel of truth to that stereotype—hey, young people can be shitty and self-centered. But even the most hashtagging, selfie-taking, Thought Catalog–contributing 20-something can’t match the sheer ego of Republican foreign-policy hawks, who think that there's no problem that American bombs can't solve.
In case you need some background: Late last week, Russia sent troops to Crimea, which is a big deal because Crimea is in Ukraine, a country that has recently gone through the bloody process of overthrowing its government and getting a new one. According to some prominent GOP politicians, this is Barack Obama’s fault.
Onetime presidential candidate John McCain said that the crisis in Ukraine is “the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy where no one believes in America’s strength anymore.” Senator Jim Inhofe got on his high horse to announce that the president’s “disarming of America over the past five years limits our options in Ukraine today.” House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers went on Fox News to say that Putin was playing chess while Obama was playing marbles. And Lindsey Graham, a sack of skin currently serving in the Senate, thinks that if we had killed more Libyans in response to the Benghazi embassy attack Vladimir Putin would have stayed away from Russia’s weakened neighbor:
Obviously this is just a repetition of that old Republican narrative about Obama's being a weak president. Sure, he sent a lot of young soldiers to fight and die in Afghanistan, he oversaw the expansion of using drone strikes to kill people in Pakistan and Yemen, he bombed Libya without Congressional approval, he sent a SEAL team to assassinate Osama bin Laden in Pakistan without the cooperation of the Pakistani government (supposedly a US ally), and he’s continued the long-standing American practice of spending a staggering amount of money on the military (though he just proposed some cuts to defense spending)—but he’s bowed to dictators and other foreign leaders when greeting them, so he must be a pussy! He won’t even go to war with Iran!
Sometimes these hawkish critiques of Obama veer into territory that is legitimately terrifying, like when the Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote that the US Navy should deploy some ships near Russia. (As transparent, empty militaristic muscle flexing? As an actual precursor to maybe potentially getting into a war with Russia? Just because it’s no fun to have these big ole battleships if you don’t use them?)
More often, the Republican hawks are just kind of vague. Putin is clearly winning this game of chess/marbles—he's basically a genius, as far as Republicans are concerned—but it's not clear what moves Obama needs to make to decisively beat him at whichever board game is being played. “Do something,” Graham helpfully suggested on CNN, adding that maybe Russia’s membership in the G8 should be suspended.
“You’ve got to exert energy,” former NSA director Michael Hayden told conservative media outlet Newsmax. “We just can't pontificate and condemn Russian activity.”
Except the White House is already doing a bunch of stuff, including canceling a G8 meeting in Sochi and considering freezing the assets and banning the visas of some Russian officials, which is exactly what some Republicans have suggested. Meanwhile, investors are panicking about the invasion of Ukraine, damaging Russia’s economy, and the US is coordinating with European countries to impose sanctions on the country. It sure seems like Putin’s aggression was a terrible idea. But don’t take my word for it—here’s the Guardian’s Michael Cohen:
Putin has initiated a conflict that will, quite obviously, result in greater diplomatic and political isolation as well as the potential for economic sanction. He’s compounded his loss of a key ally in Kiev by further enflaming Ukrainian nationalism, and his provocations could have a cascading effect in Europe by pushing countries that rely on Russia’s natural gas exports to look elsewhere for their energy needs. Putin is the leader of a country with a weak military, an under-performing economy and a host of social, environmental and health-related challenges. Seizing the Crimea will only make the problems facing Russia that much greater.
If the GOP acknowledged that Russia's actions are more of a problem for Russia than the US, it would problematically leave the party with nothing to yell at Obama about. It would also fly in the face of the Republican tendency to see geopolitics as a high-stakes dick-measuring contest: If America isn't constantly threatening to go to war with multiple countries, it means Obama is telling everyone he's weak; if Obama had only bombed the shit out of Syria, Putin would have been too scared of America's big guns to threaten Crimea.
The last time a Republican was in charge of foreign policy was during the administration of George W. Bush, who disastrously invaded Iraq and Afghanistan (and who was once buddies with Putin). The politicians and talking heads telling Obama to “do something” are the same ones who have yet to meet a war they didn’t like: Graham, for instance, has gone on the record as wanting to intervene in Syria while keeping troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. In their view of the world, whoever is doing the most posturing is winning. No wonder they seem to admire Putin's tactics so much.
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