I’ve remarked in the past that the decrease of the ability for the right to stand as the adult in the room on foreign policy has had far-reaching effects in the perception of conservative voices on these issues, moreso than those inside the Beltway appreciate. As I see it, the experience coming out of the second Bush term – and in reaction to the aspirations of his second inaugural – undermined the Republican Party’s status as the responsible adult in the room on fiscal and foreign policy. The former led to the rise of the Tea Party, and the latter led to a palpable distrust for anyone who proposes an interventionist strategy, providing a vacuum filled to this point by Rand Paul and now receiving its third major real-world policy challenge in Ukraine – it won in its first, on Syria, and has been fighting through its second, on NSA spying.
Here’s a perfect example of how this adult in the room thesis applies, and why smart Washington types don’t give the appearance of understanding it:
"We have no way of getting Putin out of Crimea - he's not going to leave," Krauthammer, a syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor, said. "I think it's likely that in a week or two, it'll be a part of Russia."
"We have to reassure NATO that it's going to stop with Ukraine," he added. "What we should do is to announce that any further step of Putin into the rest of Ukraine, we will immediately, favorably consider requests for weapons and trainers on the ground." ... Krauthammer laid out possible solutions for President Obama to address himself. "Number one: order the EPA to consider the 24 pending applications for liquid and natural gas exports, and to expedite and have a verdict within six weeks," Krauthammer said. "And second, call an emergency meeting with Republicans in Congress to re-do the defense budget as a way to increase it, rather than cutting it back. That will be a lesson for the long run, and the Russians will be hurt by it."
Krauthammer is the most prominent intellectual voice on Fox News and his word is often received as the voice of Moses from the mountain. But while I certainly respect his many intelligent offerings, the fact that this policy suggestion went unchallenged on Fox is a telling sign of the positioning of the network and the inside-the-Beltway view of what “Reaganism” demands. Speeding right up to boots on the ground, particularly consultants’ boots, seems a good way to end up with a repeat of this incident in Georgia, where Putin’s troops snagged American humvees and drove off our trainers. A few American consultants are not going to deter Putin from doing anything regarding Ukraine and they may only escalate the situation.
The better factor is appreciating the energy policy reality of what’s going on: Ukraine cannot live without Russian gas (by the way, this isn’t about the EPA, but that’s a side issue). The IMF package in November died in part because they insisted Kiev stop subsidizing it. This is the subtle truth of Rand Paul’s argument about aid: money that flows from American taxpayers to Ukraine right now will not serve to bolster a West-friendly regime, but rather will line the pockets of oligarchs and Gazprom. Putin knows full well that this administration will never scramble to defend a group of consultants to a lackluster military – so all you’ve done by following Krauthammer’s advice, I suspect, is put Americans in harm’s way for no good end. And of course, it’s possible Putin doesn’t actually want to invade the rest of Ukraine – he plays the long influence game, not the short hot war game.
But again, within the right’s media space, the important thing is that Krauthammer’s line went unchallenged on Fox. We should at least have a debate about whether ideas like this are the right ones, and at least be willing to treat the Rand Paul faction with the respect of not flinging their perspective aside as irrelevant the instant they achieve contact with the real world. As the latest WSJ poll indicates, while it is only a faction, it is not an insignificant one: