Outrage over Russia’s invasion of Crimea should not be an issue dividing Republicans and Democrats. When one country invades another in an act of naked aggression, seizing part of its territory, all Americans should unite behind their president, condemn the invasion, blame the enemy and support whatever the United States can do to set things straight. That’s the way things used to happen. That’s what we did when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
But no longer. That’s not how Republicans responded to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Instead of blaming Putin, they’re blaming President Obama — practically accusing him of calling up Putin and inviting him to invade his neighbor.
Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) called the invasion “the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy where no one believes in America’s strength anymore.” Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, accused Obama of “playing marbles,” while Putin was playing chess. And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told CNN the problem was that “We have a weak and indecisive president that invites aggression.”
Graham suggested Putin was emboldened to invade Crimea by the fact that, so far, Obama has not personally tracked down those responsible for attacking our consulate in Benghazi. That’s a stretch, but not as big a stretch as Sarah Palin, the Sage of Wasilla, Alaska, and the Republican Party’s leading foreign policy expert, who blamed it on Obama’s pants. “Lookit,” she lectured Fox News, “people are lookin’ at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans.” And Palin oughta know because, remember, as the now famous “SNL” skit joked, she can see Russia from her house!
Turning an international crisis into a political football has turned off at least one prominent Republican. In an exclusive interview with columnist David Ignatius, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates lamented: “It seems to me that trying to speak with one voice — one American voice — seems to have became a quaint thing of the past.”
But clearly, too many Republicans can’t help themselves. They hate Obama so much, they have to blame him for everything. Still, it’d be a lot better if they’d just stop for a minute and remember what they said yesterday — before spewing out another unfounded attack today. If, according to Sen. Graham, Putin only invaded Crimea because “we have a weak and indecisive president,” does that mean George W. Bush was also “weak and indecisive” because of what happened on September 11? And what about when Putin invaded Georgia in 2008 and President Bush did — nothing? Was that also because Bush was “weak and indecisive”?
What McCain and Graham don’t seem to understand is that, short of sending in the Marines and starting World War III — which nobody wants — the United States has few options to reverse Putin’s invasion of Crimea. Yet President Obama is employing every option we do have: canceling trade deals; pulling out of the G-8 summit scheduled for Sochi in June; sending financial assistance to the new government of Ukraine; dispatching Secretary of State John Kerry to Kiev; helping Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states prepare against any future Russian moves; and trying to persuade our European allies to declare strong economic sanctions against Russia. In other words, he’s doing everything a strong leader should do.
On that point, too, it would help if Republicans took time to consider the inconsistency of their red-hot, anti-Obama rhetoric. It was only a week ago, as the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reported, that Republicans were attacking Obama for being a bully. At a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, Republican congressmen lined up to accuse him of acting like a “king” and turning the United States into a “dictatorship” with his exercise of “imperial” and “magisterial power.” By his “unparalleled use of executive power,” they charged, Obama had created an “uber-presidency.”
That was last week. But suddenly, last week, they’re accusing him of being too weak. OK, which is it? It’s time for Republicans to make up their minds about Barack Obama. Is he a tyrant or pussycat? He can’t be both.
Bill Press is host of a nationally-syndicated radio show.