Infographic: Iraq War vote vs. VA scandal critiques

The Iraq War sent a lot more Americans to the VA for serious long-term care issues. Where did current U.S. Senators stand on George W. Bush’s Iraq War in 2002? Have they publicly criticized the Democratic successor to George W. Bush for the Veterans Affairs scandal? Find out from these graphics on both the Republican and Democratic U.S. Senators in 2014:
infographic-republican-senators-iraq-war-va-scandal
infographic-democratic-senators-iraq-war-va-scandal
Note: Senators who were elected to Congress significantly later than the 2002 Iraq War Resolution or the 2007 surge and were not involved in the Bush Administration’s war effort have been omitted from this list.

As an additional reminder, although President Obama famously opposed the Iraq War in 2002, the past and present Obama Administration prominently includes four ex-Senators who voted in favor of the Iraq War Resolution: Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Chuck Hagel.


Corrections/Clarifications: 1) The Republican chart was corrected to reflect Cornyn’s election was November 2002, not October 2002 as initially stated. 2) The short-form social media version of the charts did not indicate clearly that Sen. Blunt was a U.S. Congressman in 2002.

Thanks, Obama: Crimea Edition

I’ve noticed that the U.S. conservatives — including sore losers John McCain and Mitt Romney, but also many many others — who are pounding their fists and tearing their hair over the Obama’s Administration’s purportedly pitiful, pathetic, terrible, underwhelming, horrible, ineffective (etc) response to the Crimea takeover … have been conspicuously careful not to call outright for a military conflict with Russia over the matter.

Can anyone point out where in all their literal lip-curling displays of disgust at the President that they have suggested anything substantive that would be a better response, in their eyes? I think I’ve seen vague mentions of bringing Ukraine et al into NATO (which I think is a terrible idea), but otherwise I can’t think of anything I’ve seen them suggesting as an alternative to the administration’s course of action. 

Update, 9:30 PM:
David W. Wise has an excellent new article in The Globalist (my employer, though I was not involved in editing it) on the same question I posed above: “Why Crimea Is Not the Product of U.S. Weakness”

It is currently fashionable in Republican circles and in cable TV talk shows to argue that, first, President Obama’s foreign policy projected an aura of weakness, which was then, second, exploited by President Putin with aggressive and illegal moves in Crimea.

The problem with this narrative is that, while convenient, it is also patently untrue. Russia in general and Putin in particular, operate under the power politics rules of international affairs. They will thus act according to perceived threats to the security interests of the Russian state.

Unless President Obama had been willing to use military force, an ill-advised course, there was probably nothing the United States could have done to deter Putin’s actions in Crimea once Ukrainian President Yanokovych was deposed and had departed.
[…]
Let us […] go back a few years to 2008 when Bush, Cheney and the neoconservatives were in power. They talked tough and backed it up in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also abrogated the ABM treaty and ramped up defense spending.

Yet, in 2008 the same President Putin who recently sent unmarked troops into Ukraine did something as unsavory. He invaded Georgia to within miles of its capital and recognized the independence of two breakaway Georgia regions.

And yet, the Republicans – with their emphasis on an always muscular foreign policy – stood by relatively idly. Did Republicans think that Putin acted out of anything other than his cold-blooded calculation of Russia’s interest? Or did they believe then that the Bush/Cheney team’s “weakness” invited Putin’s action in Georgia?

No, they didn’t. But evidently, different rules of foreign policy calculations and interpretations apply depending on who’s in office. That may be effective politics, but hardly adds up to a serious policy argument.

 
Wise also discusses at length how Bill Clinton and George W. Bush’s pushes to expand NATO into the former Russian imperial heartland made Russia feel threatened, encircled, and under siege — something I discussed previously. Their reactions now can arguably seen as new defensive measures against exactly the aggressive American hawkishness John McCain and others have advocated.

Russia’s present course may partially be an effort to restore a defensive buffer zone around Russia itself, much as the larger Soviet Union insisted on indirectly occupying East Germany and much of Eastern Europe to prevent a third total war homeland invasion that century.

But, again, as Wise notes, much of the criticism has nothing to do with Russia and everything to do with the occupant of the White House: “evidently, different rules of foreign policy calculations and interpretations apply depending on who’s in office.”

In particular, we know exactly where John McCain’s criticisms stem from. If it were just about Russia he wouldn’t speak with such audible disdain and disrespect for the president. He was doing that long before it was about Crimea.

Get to know a geopolitical flashpoint: Moldova

A Russian-dominated breakaway region of another former Soviet Republic, just up the river from the Black Sea and a short hop from Crimea, has formally requested the Russian Federation follow up on its Crimea annexation by doing the same there.

Although many Western observers initially thought the continuing buildup of Russian troops near Eastern Ukraine was intended for a possible invasion of Eastern Ukraine, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, said today that he is worried it may in fact be the Russian Army positioning itself for another intervention on the other side of Ukraine and Crimea, in the Transdniestria region of Moldova.

A month ago I would have said that was nonsense — and it still feels strategically and logistically less likely than the Crimea takeover — but a month ago, few were expecting such a brazen seizure of Crimea by the Russian Federation. So with that in mind, I thought it would be a good time to expand upon my “Beginner’s Guide to the Post-Soviet ‘Near Abroad'” prepare some research on Transdniestria and Moldova.
Transdniestria-Eastern-Europe-Map-March-23-2014
The landlocked Eastern European country of Moldova is wedged between southwestern Ukraine and northeastern Romania. The predominant language is Moldovan, which is effectively the same language as Romanian and since 1989 has used the Roman alphabet instead of the Cyrillic alphabet (previously enforced by Moscow). The country has been independent since 1991 when the Soviet Union ended, but it changed hands and was carved up many times in the past 500 years. At various points, parts of the country were ruled by the Ottomans, the Romanians, the Lithuanians, the Polish, the Ukrainians, the Russian Empire, and the Soviet Union.

The borders have also changed quite a few times in that time and Moldova has struggled to find its geographical place in the region. Part of the country had long been a Russian Empire border zone (on the edge of Ukraine) and was absorbed into Soviet Ukraine and the Soviet Union right after World War I, when the Russian Empire collapsed and was replaced by the communist government. The rest of the country was part of Romania during the interwar years. After World War II, the parts of what are now Moldova today were fused together into a Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic, one of the smaller of the USSR’s member republics.

So, as you can imagine, by the end of the 1980s and start of the 1990s, things were pretty confusing and jumbled. There wasn’t a clearly defined national identity because there wasn’t even a clearly defined historical area or legacy of self-rule. It was possible that Moldova might even try to rejoin Romania, which has the most in common with the bulk of the country and had previously controlled it several times. After late 1989, when Romania’s totalitarian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu had been executed, it seemed to Moldovan nationalists like a good escape route from Soviet/Russian domination, which had not yet ended.

This plan, unfortunately, didn’t sit well with the longstanding Russian population from the other side of the Dniester River, the zone that had not been part of Romania during the interwar years (having been almost immediately brought into the Soviet Union by 1924). This was a place that had been a militarized frontier of the Russian Empire since 1793 and had suffered greatly under Axis-Romanian occupation during World War II — experiencing forced Romanianization and the murders of over 100,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews in Axis concentration camps built in the region.

This geographical area, the narrow strip of land between the Dniester River and the Ukrainian border, effectively Moldova’s Russianized East Bank (and a few communities on the Moldovan side of the river), is known in English as the Trans-Dniester region or Transdniestria/Transnistria and other variants adapted from the Romanian point-of-reference to “the area across the Dniester.”

The bulk of the rest of Moldova, the Dniester’s West Bank, is the non-Russian-speaking area referred to as “Bessarabia” — which has changed hands far more often than Transdniestria. By the early 1990s, Transdniestria’s Russian population, despite now being separated from the Russian Soviet Federal Republic by the entirety of a newly independent Ukraine, still saw itself as the Western-most outpost of historical Russia, and felt very threatened by the pro-Romanian nationalism of the Moldovan independence movement that had broken the country away from the Soviet Union.

They promptly declared independence from Moldova as the USSR was breaking up and — after some initial skirmishes in the first politically chaotic months — the new Moldovan military tried to invade the Transdniestria region.

Below: The current flag of the breakaway region.
Flag-of-Transnistria

Complicating matters was the giant, heavily armed elephant in the room: The fact that the Soviet Union’s 14th Army had been stationed in eastern Moldova (Transdniestria) at the time of independence and was assigned to Russia, rather than Moldova, when the former Soviet states were divvying up the old USSR’s Army and Navy.
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One heartbeat away

In 2008, John McCain picked the person who said this today on the Crimea crisis, to be his next-in-line as president of the United States: “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a nuke is a good guy with a nuke.”

Let’s just take a moment to give silent thanks that we don’t live in the other universe, where that ticket won.

“We are all Ukrainians” apparently now

McCain, John-012309-18421- 0004I’m sure glad we elected John McCain to be our president in 2008 or else it would be really uncomfortable every time he publicly made a comment like “We are all Ukrainians” or “I know I speak for every American when I say to him today, we are all Georgians.”
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Replacing the War Powers Act

Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and John McCain (R-AZ) want to get rid of the War Powers Act — slogan: “Consistently Ignored by Presidents Since 1973!” — and replace it with something that might actually work and better reflect realities of U.S. military operations today. Here’s the Wikipedia summary of the existing law, which officially is called the “War Powers Resolution of 1973“:

The War Powers Resolution requires the President to notify Congress within 48 hours of committing armed forces to military action and forbids armed forces from remaining for more than 60 days, with a further 30 day withdrawal period, without an authorization of the use of military force or a declaration of war. The resolution was passed by two-thirds of Congress, overriding a presidential veto.

 
The failed presidential veto was by Richard Nixon, the year before his resignation, but Congress was responding to significant public outrage about the secret, unauthorized bombings in Cambodia during the Vietnam War — which, while authorized by Congress, had also never been declared. (In fact, the last formal Declaration of War was part of World War II.)

Although it’s no surprise that Nixon rejected the legitimacy of the law — given his unusually heightened aversion to the legitimacy of applying any law to the U.S. Presidency — every president since then (except for possibly one incident in 1975 under President Ford, who had fairly recently been elevated directly from and by the legislative branch to the White House via the resignations of Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon) has also officially refused to acknowledge its constitutionality as a general principle.

Even so, to be on the safe side, presidents have generally unofficially adhered to it by providing the proper notice to Congress more or less as a “courtesy” without acknowledging the resolution as the reason. A few instances are disputed as to whether this notice was provided. Congress has never been able to successfully enforce the resolution or end any conflicts with it, and the Supreme Court won’t get into the middle of that inter-branch fight.

Tim Kaine essentially feels this situation is absurd, as well as out of date, and he wants a compromise that preserves the ability of the executive to act quickly when necessary but also preserves the rights of Congress to have a say and maintain accountability. From the ThinkProgress article (linked above):

Rather than only having to notify Congress after launching military action, Kaine and McCain want the force presidents to consult with legislators prior to sending U.S. soldiers, sailors, and pilots into harm’s way.

Under current law, the president has to notify Congress whenever placing forces in areas where “imminent” hostilities are likely, and is given a sixty-day window to conduct the operation absent Congressional approval and another thirty-days allotted towards withdrawal. The new proposal would reduce that autonomy, requiring the Executive Branch to “consult with Congress before ordering deployment into a ‘significant armed conflict,’ or, combat operations lasting, or expected to last, more than seven days.”

That provision would exclude humanitarian missions and covert operations, and the initial consultation could be deferred in time of emergency, but must take place within three days after. The legislation would also raise a new joint committee composed of the heads of the Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Intelligence, and Appropriations in both Houses of Congress “to ensure there is a timely exchange of views between the legislative and executive branches, not just notification by the executive.”

Finally, the law, if passed and signed, would require a vote in Congress in support of or against any military operation within 30 days.

 
Now is a relatively good time to try to introduce such a revision, not too long after an angry Congress (and a well-timed revolt in the UK parliament) managed to talk down the Obama Administration from launching a major air campaign in Syria, proving that Congress still had at least a shred of influence on U.S. military actions after more than two decades of rubber-stamping.

But, in 2008, the Obama Campaign more or less signaled their opposition to a similar proposal. While unfortunate, this is not a huge surprise. Most presidents (or presidential hopefuls) reject out of hand any legal limitations on their powers as “commander-in-chief,” even despite the Constitution’s specific and intentional provision reserving the power to declare wars to Congress (a power typically previously wielded only by the monarch heads of state in the Europe of the day against which the Framers were comparing their system). President Obama doesn’t want to limit his own power (or that of his successors) to act decisively and quickly in the face of the “unknown unknowns,” as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously called them.