complete twaddle

Lindsay and John

That hawkish Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have once again blasted President Barack Obama for an insufficiently bellicose foreign policy barely qualifies as news. Of course they did. That is what they do. The scorpion always stings the frog halfway across the stream. What is worth noting is the rationale offered they present for a much riskier American foreign policy.

The August 28th press release from the un-dynamic duo is a complaint about President Obama not doing enough to punish President Putin for violating Ukrainian sovereignty. Seems they are outraged that the President of Russia dares to assist beleaguered ethnic Russians in a neighboring country that was ruled by Moscow not so very long ago. What they demand is “real sectoral sanctions” against Russia and transferring “defensive weapons” to Ukraine, as if anything short of a direct military intervention by the United States is going to stop Moscow from defending Russian national security interests. Too timid to demand their end goal of deploying U.S. military units eye to eye with units of the Russian military along a vast border – what could possibly go wrong? – McCain and Graham are instead doing their best to realize the sort of alliance commitments that can’t be abandoned without humiliation. They want economic sanctions and light weaponry now, but they will be asking for military advisors and air strikes in the future. There is a political term for getting what you want by taking one slice at a time: salami strategy.

McCain and Graham failed to persuade many of their fellow Republican politicians and pundits to begin repeating the adjective ‘feckless’ in describing President Obama, but they have gotten many of them to repeat the phrase ‘leading from behind.’ Republicans are doing their best to heighten anxiety about foreign affairs because they are losing traction on domestic policy. Increasing economic confidence and growing awareness that Obamacare is actually a good thing for working Americans is depriving the GOP of issues to appeal to independents. Good news for the America people is bad news for Republicans.

That is why we may begin to hear Republicans repeat the historical distortion at the conclusion to the McCain and Graham press release. What they wrote was that a, “sovereign nation in the heart of Europe is being invaded by its larger neighbor. This runs contrary to the civilized world America and our partners have sought to build since World War II…” Are they correct? There are actually several ways that the cleverly worded statements might be true. Let’s take a look at each of them.

Since World War II, has the United States actually respected the borders of other sovereign nations by not invading them? The answer is ‘no.’ The list of counties invaded by the United States includes the Dominican Republic in 1965, Cambodia in 1970, Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, Iraq in 1991, Afghanistan in 2002, and Iraq in 2003. The Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 probably deserves to be included. Note that this list does not include the many deployments of the U.S. military in humanitarian interventions that were not opposed initially, armed rescue missions, covert operations to support ‘freedom fighters,’ and punitive air strikes. Of course America had reasons for not respecting the sovereignty of all of those countries. Today, Russia has its reasons.

Even if the United States military has been regularly marching, flying, disembarking and/or secretly traipsing across the borders of sovereign nations since World War II, has it at least stopped other countries from annexing the territory of their neighbors? The answer is ‘not very consistently.’ Washington winked at the invasion and annexation of northern Cyprus by U.S. ally Turkey in 1974 and the invasion and annexation of East Timor by U.S. ally Indonesia in 1975. Then of course there are the de jure annexations of the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem and the ongoing annexation of the West Bank by U.S. ally Israel.

Setting aside the rest of the planet, could it be that McCain and Graham are correct that the United States has protected sovereign nations “in the heart of Europe” from being deprived of their territory by military force since World War II. Alas, the answer is ‘no.’ In 1999, the United States conducted an air campaign against little Serbia to force that country to relinquish control over its sovereign territory of Kosovo. Serbia and Kosovo are rather closer to the heart of Europe than are Ukraine and Donetsk.

Is it possible then that two U.S. Senators issued a press release with a sweeping historical claim that is complete twaddle? Well, it is true that a still militarily occupied and much territorially reduced Germany has not invaded France since the end of the Second World War. Berlin has been content to dominate France and the rest of Europe economically. In keeping with the good news that Germans now vacation rather than blitzkrieg around Europe, it is also worth noting that Italy is unlikely to invade Albania and Greece again and that the only country hiring Swiss mercenaries is the Vatican.

There is one way in which the memories of World War II are relevant to the current conflict on the Russian-Ukrainian border. Among the troops that the Ukrainian government has deployed against the ethnic Russian separatists are units of fanatical neo-Nazis. McCain and Graham plead the need to defend friends who “share our values.” What students of World War II know is that large numbers of Ukrainians volunteered to serve in the Wehrmacht. They also know the role played by Ukrainian fascists in helping Nazi Germany perpetrate the Holocaust. Perhaps a contemporary Ukrainian government that is willing to deploy units of neo-Nazi shares the values of some in the GOP, but it does not share the values of the American people. This conflict is none of our business.

Image: Composite created for from caricatures of Lindsey Graham and John McCain by DonkeyHotey via his Flickr photo stream and used with grateful appreciation under a Creative Commons license.
John Hickman

John Hickman

John Hickman is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Government and International Studies at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, where he teaches courses on war crimes, comparative politics, and research methods. He holds both a PH.D. in political science from the University of Iowa and a J.D. from Washington University, St. Louis. Hickman is the author of the 2013 Florida University Press book Selling Guantanamo.