March 24, 2014

FORKEN | The GOP Flip-Flops on Foreign Policy

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In recent weeks, escalating conflicts have arisen between Russia and Crimea, a region located in southern Ukraine. Preceding the incident, Ukrainians took to the streets in protest of then-President Viktor Yanukovych, rejecting a deal which would have resulted in greater economic integration with the European Union; a rejection that was seen as a symbolic move to represent allegiance towards Russia. Yanukovych eventually fled the country, at which point Russian President Vladimir Putin aimed to take advantage of the unrest by deploying troops into Crimea and subsequently laying claim to the area.

Currently, the situation remains as one that may eventually result in a military conflict if Putin decides to deploy troops further into Ukraine. President Obama has responded to the violation of international norms and treaty by relying on international diplomacy and imposing economic sanctions on Russia and Russian leaders, while also ruling out any possible military excursions by the United States.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Karl Rove have denounced the President’s policy as feckless and ineffective. Karl Rove related the incident to a similar clash in 2008 between Georgia and Russia, which resulted in France brokering a peace deal between the two countries, although Russia still has military occupation in some regions of Georgia. Rove declared that former President Bush sent a strong message to Putin by sending warships to the Black Sea while also airlifting Georgian combat troops from Afghanistan back to Georgia.

First of all, no, Mr. Rove, President Bush didn’t send warships to the Black Sea. A single ship loaded with humanitarian aid — not military equipment — was sent by the United States. The remaining Western presence in the Black Sea was due to NATO warships, which had formerly occupied the Sea for previously scheduled anti-terrorism exercises. According to Prof. Lincoln Mitchell, Columbia University, peace and conflict studies, this response was viewed as relatively weak at the time and in fact, Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili complained that the United States didn’t provide enough support throughout the conflict.

Secondly, Georgian troops were airlifted from Iraq, not Afghanistan, and as Pentagon spokesperson Byran Whitman told reporters, the troops were not airlifted to the war-zone and were not combat ready. It appears as though President Bush’s response to international aggression was no more muscular than that of President Obama.

Senator Rubio released a list consisting of eight actions President Obama should consider in response to Russia. Problem is, many of his proposals — such as increased sanctions and removing Russia from international associations — have already been implemented. Rubio calls for the reestablishment of Georgia into NATO in order to increase Georgia’s resources and ties with the West. As the Huffington Post acknowledges, this action is infeasible as Russian troops already occupy Georgia, which would mean NATO would have to act militaristically on behalf of Georgia should Georgia become a member. Senator Rubio’s rhetoric seems a lot more pressing than his proposals, as he offers no substantive alternative to President Obama’s actions.

Recently, Senator Graham tweeted:

I know what you’re thinking; it’s shocking the Republicans took this long to mention Benghazi. Senator Graham went on to declare President Obama as a weak and indecisive leader. By this logic, if Russia invaded Ukraine because Putin views President Obama as weak, then didn’t they also view President Bush as being weak when invading Georgia in 2008. I can’t recall the same panicked rhetoric currently embodying the GOP as being existent during the Georgia crisis.

Sadly, claiming that President Obama has lost his moral authority around the world is simply a cheap trick for Republicans seeking to gain momentum and support while heading into the 2014 midterms. Republican strategist Warren Tompkins points out that Senator Graham has been the beneficiary of boosts in the polls from attacking the President on national security and now Russia, attacks that make him all the more likely to fight off his primary challenger. The GOP has offered no tangible alternatives to President Obama’s current course. The options are to continue relying on international diplomacy and sanctions, or commit to military action, and I haven’t heard anyone recommend that military engagement would be in the United States’ best interests. Instead of focusing on solutions to problems, the Republican’s shouting about Ukraine is simply the latest political stunt to cast President Obama in a negative light and score points with conservatives heading into the midterms.