Re-Activate the 12th Fleet
From the moment Vladimir Putin starting referring to eastern Ukraine as “New Russia” last week, Obama needed to abandon any notion that Putin needed off-ramps from his behavior, and instead needed to acknowledge that Putin looked for an opening to implement a sophisticated effort to swallow Crimea and then Ukraine. No one should think it will stop here. As such, after seeing people like Bob Gates, Dick Cheney, and Hillary Clinton be proven right about Putin, Obama is taking a clear-eyed view of Putin and his true ambitions, and has now recast the relationship as one of containment rather than strategic cooperation.
One can easily make an intellectual argument that Putin is acting first and foremost out of Russian self-interest to reestablish a security zone around Mother Russia from any economic and military encroachment from NATO and the EU. However, Russian foreign policy is being driven by Putin’s former KGB cronies, not by worldview Russian diplomats and businessmen, and these comrades want a return to client states and over-hyped Russian nationalism. Such an approach requires firmness and containment, both economically and militarily. In this case, economic containment means isolation if necessary and the cancellation of current or pending deals between Big Oil and the Russian government. Given the GOP's trashing of Obama's response to date, the president should fully and publicly expect full GOP support for such actions.
But just talking about containment means nothing to the Russians until our military posture reflects such a commitment. There needs to be military tools to sustain that policy. As I said at the outset of this mess, regardless of what Putin does next, Obama needs to reestablish the Twelfth Fleet in the eastern Mediterranean to deal with any Russian Black Sea delusions, and their client states in the region.
Of Course They'd Shut Him Down
With increasing talk of the GOP retaking the Senate this fall, even if only numerical control and not operational control, why after watching the full range of Republican obstructionism these last five years do members of the media question how far the GOP would go once they seized control of both houses?
Would the GOP tie down the White House into endless congressional hearings and investigations by both houses? Of course they would.
Would a GOP Senate stop Obama's ability to make appointments and get lower-court justices confirmed for the remainder of his term? Of course they would. Do you really doubt that Mitch McConnell would blockade this president for his last two years? Given the personal hatred the GOP has for this president, why is it so hard to believe that they would do everything they can to shut him down for the remainder of his term, no matter what electoral damage they would suffer as a result in 2016?
The real question right now is why the White House and its allies aren't hammering this likely outcome with the electorate for the next six months.
Paul's Real Target Is Jeb
While Democrats focus on avoiding any more losses in 2014, a major civil war is shaping up within the GOP for 2016. As Mother Jones reported today, Rand Paul is opening a new front against the GOP establishment not on domestic policy or fealty to Tea Party dogma, but rather foreign policy. And Paul is choosing his targets carefully, and in a way that some beltway pundits have yet to see. While Chris Matthews and others were focusing on how Paul is directly going after the Bush/Cheney foreign policy record and asserting the need for an isolationist course, they never went a step further to identify the real import of Paul’s attack: to neutralize Jeb Bush.
With Chris Christie about to take the major fall that some of us have seen coming, there has been an effort by the GOP establishment to avoid a Tea Party takeover in 2016 by getting Jeb to run. The media fluffing of Jeb has gone so far as to see the MSNBC crowd talk approvingly about Bush’s “bravery” in daring the Tea Party to oppose his candidacy and compassion on immigration, while these same center-left pundits seemingly all forgot who signed the “Stand Your Ground” law. Amidst this pro-Bush narrative comes Paul’s direct attack at W and Cheney, which Matthews and others attribute to a GOP civil war on foreign policy, between the neo-cons and the hawk holdovers from the Bush/Cheney years, and the new isolationist wing within the GOP, which is more concerned over the cost of such adventurism.
Yet none of these pundits have yet seized upon another reason for Paul’s attack: he’s undercutting Jeb, who if he runs will be forced by Paul at some point to defend his brother and the Iraq war itself. Paul is planning for this, and knows that one issue Jeb wants to avoid is Iraq. Forcing Jeb to defend the war and Cheney not only causes major schisms inside the party but also destroys Jeb as a general election candidate.
With Hillary's likely candidacy in 2016, I figured that within the party the Iraq war would come up again. But I never thought for a moment that the war would come up as a major flash point on the other side. Democrats should do whatever they can to ensure the GOP civil war between Paul and the Bush/Cheney cabal plays out in full view.