Dangerous but unchallenged nonsense is what listeners heard from U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson in his September 30th interview on Georgia Rewind with Bill Nigut. After performing the ritual of joviality between elected officials and journalists with Bill Nigut and Jim Galloway that is expected on the program, the third term Republican got down to the serious business of evading questions and promoting militarism.
Asked about legislative gridlock in Congress, Isakson was allowed to reduce the problem to budgeting and then blame it on House Republicans and President Obama. Nothing about the obstruction practiced by Isakson’s fellow Senate Republicans. Not even a peep about that conspicuously empty seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Pressed ever so gently about the differences on trade deals between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and himself, Isakson was allowed to claim that he only worried about candidates that he was competing against. In reality, down ticket Republican candidates are fretting that they may be weakened by Trump. That Isakson is worried about being associated with Trump in the minds of voters is evident in comments that came close to endorsing Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Close but not quite. In the end he repeated the weakest of pro forma endorsements of Donald Trump.
Before doing what was required to avoid punishment for party disloyalty by Reince Priebus and the Republican establishment, Isakson went on the geopolitical warpath. Complaining that President Barack Obama had not been bellicose enough, the senator demanded “boots on the ground” to defeat ISIS. What is needed, he opined, is presidential leadership to assemble another “coalition of the willing” and commit American troops to defeat the latest threat. His interviewers did not dare to ask whether that wasn’t the sort of approach that had produced ISIS and various iterations of al-Qaeda in the first place. Thinking about unintended consequences is for liberals.
The bellicosity didn’t stop there. Isakson also complained bitterly that the Obama administration had not invoked Article 5 – the collective defense provision – of the NATO Treaty to send in armed forces in response to the Russian “invasions” of “Crimea” and “Ukraine.” By “Ukraine” he probably meant “Donetsk,” something he would have been briefed on as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. What’s more important than that momentary lapse in memory is the shocking revelation that Isakson was arguing for invocating Article 5 to ‘defend’ Ukraine, which is not a NATO member state. His seeming willingness to see the United States use military force against Russia ought to give any sane person pause. Like the United States, Russia still possesses enough a nuclear weapons to destroy every major city on the planet. Would Isakson really be willing to risk a civilization destroying nuclear exchange to prevent Russia from annexing two majority ethnic Russian regions in a country that the U.S. is not obliged to protect by treaty?
Rather than conclude that Isakson actually is as delusional as his comments about Crimea and Donetsk would suggest, remember that he is counting on there being a Democrat rather than a Republican in the White House for at least the next four years. He and his fellow Republican Senators have been free to indulge in as much irresponsible talk as they wanted so long as calm, reasonable ideologically centrist Barack Obama was calling the shots as Commander-in-Chief. With Hillary Clinton as President, Isakson and the other rhetorical warriors get to continue their vacation from foreign policy making in the real world.
If you doubt this interpretation listen carefully to that moment in the interview when Isakson pretends not to understand the traditional diplomatic term rapprochement means. He purposely mispronounces it as “repulse-mont” in an obvious appeal to good ole boy anti-intellectualism. Beneath the attempt at cheap humor, the message in Isakson’s feigned ignorance is clear: “I don’t have to take my job as U.S. Senator seriously…because a Democratic President is going to take his or her job very seriously. So go ahead and vote for me fellow white conservative Georgians and we can be as irresponsible as we want. Because someone else will have to come along up the clean the mess for us.” Appeals to conservative irresponsibility still work well in heavily gerrymandered safe Republican House districts, but it likely to begin wearing thin in statewide races.