Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., participates in a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, where he and fellow GOP members of the committee voiced their opposition to President Barack Obama’s plan to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Beware the Bear – McCain says Paul “is now working for Vladimir Putin”

During a debate in the Senate on Wednesday concerning a treaty to allow Montenegro to join NATO, Senator John McCain accused Senator Rand Paul of “working for Vladimir Putin.”

This came after Paul objected to the treaty and then left the Senator floor.  McCain railed against Paul, concluding:

The only conclusion you can draw when he walks away is he has no justification for his objection to having a small nation be part of NATO that is under assault from the Russians.  So I repeat again, the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.

McCain’s office later “clarified” that what he meant was that Paul’s objection to Montenegro’s membership in NATO served to advance Putin’s goals in Europe.  McCain and others (including the British) have argued that Russia had planned to overthrow Montenegro’s government via a coup in order to prevent it from entering NATO.

Montenegro is a small country on the Adriatic coast, across from Italy and bordered by Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia.  With the exception of Albania, Montenegro and its neighbors arose out of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990’s; they were the nations of the “Southern Slavs” (the literal meaning of “Yugoslavia”) who were forced together after WWI into a single state.  Their breakup in the 1990’s was therefore like any family breakup; brutal and prolonged, giving rise to U.S. and NATO intervention in the Balkans during the Clinton administration.

Thus, Senator Rand Paul is essentially asking the question (to paraphrase), “Should the U.S. guarantee the security of Montenegro through the NATO alliance and risk spending money and blood to do so?”  Whether or not one agrees with Paul’s conclusion, it is a valid question worth asking and considering before binding the U.S. to such a commitment.  In addition, well-meaning Americans can and will fall on either side of the debate.

Therefore, the story about McCain insulting Paul is about much more than a personal feud.  It is also about the conflict between two different views of America’s role in the world.  One (McCain’s) views America’s role as the protector of foreign democratic governments and institutions.  The other (Paul’s) views America’s role primarily as the protector of American liberty, life, and treasure.  This conflict has been going on since the founding of the United States, and this Republic has ebbed and flowed to one side or the other over its lifetime.

The nostalgic days of us insulting each other by calling the opposing side either “communists” or “Nazis” appear to have instead been replaced by accusing each other of being “Putin’s cronies.”  The trend since President Trump’s election has been to see the Russian bear hiding behind every disagreement or ominous circumstance.  McCain’s insult of Paul is just the latest incident.  It would be healthy for our Republic if we can learn how to debate and disagree without resorting to playing the rhetorical Russian card.

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Aaron Simms

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