GOP: Blame Biden — for What?
Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 29, 2022
So, we have reached the point where we have Republicans both who denounce Joe Biden as “weak” and attack him for standing up to Russia over a looming invasion into Ukraine.
For anyone trying to parse either American foreign policy or competing visions among two political parties, we’ve arrived at the upside-down moment.
A report in Axios outlines the merging of impossible international negotiations and domestic U.S. politics this way:
“Leery of the base, they are avoiding — and in some cases, rejecting — the tough-on-Russia rhetoric that once defined the Republican Party. GOP operatives working in 2022 primary races tell Axios they worry they’ll alienate the base if they push to commit American resources to Ukraine or deploy U.S. troops to eastern Europe.”
So, we’re hearing Fox commentator Tucker Carlson, who draws among the top American audiences, rail nightly against involvement in defending Ukraine, and worry more about the security of the U.S. southern border than the Russian-Ukraine border. Carlson is being replayed in Moscow television as evidence that the United States doesn’t care what Russia does.
The only thing that seems clear is that for “Republicans running in high-profile primary races aren’t racing to defend Ukraine against a possible Russian invasion. They’re settling on a different line of attack: Blame Biden, not Putin,” concludes Axios.
Meanwhile, we’re hearing from foreign policy experts, military and strategic voices and, yes, the Biden administration, that what we face in Ukraine is a test for the future of democracies and the possibilities of other worldwide aggression from China against Taiwan, in North Korean and in the Middle East.
The Tucker Carlson Line
For Carlson, the consistent message seems U.S. isolationism and a form of support for authoritarian governments, including Russia and Hungary specifically.
To listen to Carlson — who promotes himself as a spokesman for more than himself — it’s as if Americans are not connected strategically, economically, diplomatically and health-wise with the rest of the world. You’d think that Covid and its effects would be its own counterweight to all such arguments, to say nothing of Russian intervention in U.S. elections, immigration questions and the state of manufacturing. And that authoritarian rule is just fine, so long as it is anti-immigrant, nationalist in tone and a glove that a rightist could easily adopt in the United States.
Obviously, we are well past adages about U.S. politics ending at American shores to show concerted efforts as a country that may face an international challenge.
At various points, Carlson has voiced that the only reason we care about Ukraine has been somehow to protect Hunter Biden’s one-time job for a Ukrainian energy company or to draw attention away from various administration misplaced policies. Basically, Carlson argues that Ukraine is strategically unimportant to the U.S. Carlson said, U.S. response is about “hubris, stupidity, the damaged psychological makeup of our leaders, [and] massive lobbying campaigns by Ukrainian politicians and American defense contractors,” without mention of 100,000 Russian troops poised on the Ukraine border.
Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have been stalwart at facing Putin, including in new bilateral calls this week in search of diplomatic solutions. While Biden has ruled out sending troops to Ukraine, he is shipping U.S.-made weaponry to Ukraine, has threatened punishing economic sanctions, and made plans to deploy U.S. forces to reinforce NATO allies in eastern Europe.
Washington Post Greg Sargent says “This conflict, however, is being widely misrepresented as one pitting conventional GOP ‘hawks’ versus Trumpist ‘isolationists.’ Something more pernicious is going on: The Carlsonian stance is perhaps better understood as alignment with a kind of right-wing Internationale, a loose international alliance of authoritarian nationalists who despise liberal internationalist commitments.”
Useless, Unproductive Debate
For those of us nervous about a looming war with potential for spread, the “debate” is less than useful right now, never mind towards posturing for election primaries to show who is the toughest candidate on the block. The relevant facts here are that Russia is proving aggressive for its own reasons, that democracies worldwide are riding anti-vaccine movements as anti-government trust.
The political divisions at home seem to be empowering lurking dictators to test Americans’ long-suffering disappointments in Afghanistan and the Middle East and their resolve under a Biden administration that finds itself lagging in popularity polls.
For the moment, Biden seems to be repelling the hawkish Republican views about “weakness” by making public commitments to European defense. That there is a another MAGA Republican attack that we’re doing too much just makes the head hurt in trying to figure out what our policies should reflect.
The Carlson wing has gone to extraordinary lengths to buttress Putin’s perspective on the brewing conflict. His depictions of Putin’s fears of NATO expansion into Ukraine are larded with great sympathy for Putin’s plight, in Sargent’s analysis. That makes no more sense than the weakness argument.
The Axios article includes reporting among Republican primary candidates in several states who apparently are worried that they will alienate their base if they push to commit American resources or troops to help Ukraine fight Russia, and they cite Carlson’s show as among the reasons. Carlson asks Republican voters to oppose primary candidates who don’t fully toe his line: “I really hope that Republican primary voters are ruthless about this,” Carlson told Axios, and vote out any Republican “who believes Ukraine’s borders are more important than our borders.”
It’s all the more troublesome since Republicans who survive their primaries are expected to do well in this year’s elections.
Progressives generally describe the Russian threat to Ukraine as a front for protection of democracy as well as norms of maintaining sovereign borders.
Republicans are tipping American beliefs in its allies, in democracy abroad as well as home, in human rights, in respect for international borders upside-down.