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March 18, 2014 11:21 AM Unregenerated Paulism Strikes Again!

By Ed Kilgore

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.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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