Republicans are putting Zelensky and Ukraine in danger for Twitter likes and Fox News clout


Volodymyr Zelenskyy ha agradecido a Elon Musk su apoyo a Ucrania durante la invasión rusa (AFP via Getty Images)

Volodymyr Zelenskyy ha agradecido a Elon Musk su apoyo a Ucrania durante la invasión rusa (AFP via Getty Images)

Over the weekend, Republican Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Steve Daines of Montana violated security protocols, putting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at risk of assassination. Their irresponsibility is stunning, but not surprising. It’s yet another indication that the Republican party has lost both the inclination and the ability to govern.

Rubio and Daines were on a conference call in which Zelensky briefed US lawmakers on the situation in Ukraine. Lawmakers were specifically asked not to share anything on social media during the call, because doing so could compromise Zelensky’s location. The Ukrainian president has been the target of at least three assassination attempts in the past weeks.

Despite these instructions, however, Rubio and Daines posted screenshots of the video call while it was ongoing. When criticized, they both blustered and refused to apologize.

“There were over 160 members of Congress on a widely reported Zoom call,” Rubio’s spokesperson insisted. That’s true. But 158 of those members were able to follow simple instructions about a vital security matter. Two were not. One of them — Rubio himself — is the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Nor is this a one-off accident. Republicans regularly take irresponsible and dangerous stands on national security issues. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham took to Twitter last week to call for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assassination, something he doubled down on today. As Democratic Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar pointed out, such overheated rhetoric from US leaders is extremely unhelpful in a global crisis where we are trying to avoid World War Three.

Graham’s statement was so shocking that even Republicans like Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and Texas Senator Ted Cruz reprimanded him. Their criticism of Graham is welcome. But neither has been a model of sober, thoughtful rhetoric or action on global affairs in the past.

Greene infamously (and baselessly) insisted California wildfires were not caused by climate change but by space lasers controlled by the Jewish Rothschild family. Ted Cruz, for his part, backed Donald Trump’s irresponsible, false conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 presidential election. Trump himself over the weekend gave a speech in which he called for the US to put Chinese flags on US fighter planes and “bomb the sh*t out of Russia.” That’s a suggestion at least as provocative and ridiculous as Graham’s.

Republicans during the Cold War prided themselves on being the party of national security seriousness. The claim was always overblown. But there’s no question that the GOP used to be more serious than it is now.

The right-wing media bubble over the last twenty years has encouraged extreme bluster without consequences. Graham’s tweet made him a laughingstock on social media and among his colleagues. But it got him a coveted spot on Sean Hannity’s show to fulminate further.

The more violent and bizarre one’s rhetoric, the better it plays on television. Republicans can spew inflammatory nonsense with the certainty that right-wing media will tell their base to cheer them on. Unless they commit the one cardinal sin of agreeing with Democrats.

Basing your entire national security stance around disagreeing with the other party is not a good formula for crafting solid policy. As Jonathan Bernstein points out at Bloomberg Opinion, a lot of pro-Putin punditry from people like Fox’s Tucker Carlson was simply a knee-jerk reaction to Democratic President Joe Biden warning (correctly, as it turned out) that Putin was gearing up for war.

Carlson has started, shamelessly and without apology, to claw back his Putin praise. The rest of the GOP is scrambling, too, to figure out how to be anti-Biden when Biden has aligned himself with Ukraine against an extremely unpopular Russian invasion. One way to do that is to position themselves as more belligerent than Biden, or as better buddies with Zelensky than Biden. Thus Graham calling for political assassinations, Trump babbling about bombing Russia, and Rubio and Daines treating a security briefing as a photo op.

Zelensky was not assassinated as the result of Rubio and Daines’ irresponsibility. Graham’s comments didn’t provoke World War Three. Trump’s policy of committing war crimes in a way quite likely to lead to nuclear holocaust is not going to be implemented. When Republicans aren’t in power, their extremist nonsense and lack of interest in policy or logic is frightening and dangerous. But the destructive effects are limited.

Unfortunately, they are likely to be back in power at some point. Rubio could be the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee if (as seems quite possible) Republicans win the Senate in 2022. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Rubio all have a reasonable shot at being Republican presidential nominees in 2024. Any of them might well defeat Biden, whose approval rating remains dismal, even though it has ticked up recently.

Republican media and voters impose no penalty on candidates who demonstrate ignorance and recklessness in foreign policy, or in any area. On the contrary, recklessness and ignorance are generally rewarded on the right. That’s why Republican politicians say reckless and ignorant things. And it’s why, when Republicans gain the presidency, we unfortunately can expect reckless and ignorance. Which is not what you want from the head of a nation with a vast nuclear weapon stockpile, to put it mildly.


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