Isn’t it grand to return to the days of comity and collegiality in the Senate? If you missed the first volley in the feud breaking out between interventionist extraordinaire John McCain and isolationist stalwart Rand Paul, be sure to read Allahpundit’s fun post from yesterday about McCain’s accusation that Paul has begun working for Vladimir Putin, who has become the Great American Boogeyman of the past year. Paul objected to an effort to add the Balkan nation of Montenegro to NATO, which would then compel the US to respond to any military attack on the country. After getting accused of being a traitor, Paul responded this morning by stating that McCain’s presence in the US Senate is a “strong case for term limits,” and that he might be mentally ill to boot.
There’s only one thing to do now — pass the popcorn (via RealClearPolitics):
GEIST: So, Senator, a little context around that. The vote was around putting Montenegro into NATO. What’s your reaction to Senator McCain’s characterization of your objection?
PAUL: You know, I think he makes a really, really strong case for term limits. I think maybe he’s past his prime; I think maybe he’s gotten a little bit unhinged.
I do think that when we talk about NATO, there can be a rational discussion about the pros and cons of expanding it. We currently have troops, combat troops, in about six nations. We have troops actively just stationed in probably a couple dozen others. We have a $20 trillion debt. And one of my favorite articles of the last couple years is one that talked about the angry McCains, and if they — if we put active troops and got involved in combat where McCain wants us to be, they put a little angry McCain on the globe, on the map. And it’s virtually everywhere. So his foreign policy is something that would greatly endanger the United States, greatly overextend us. And there has to be the thought whether or not it’s in our national interest to pledge to get involved with a war if Montenegro has an altercation with anyone.
There’s also another argument, is that when you ask the people of Montenegro, only about 40 percent or slightly less are actually in favor of this. They are close to Russia, they’re close to being sort of, like Ukraine, in the transition from Europe to Asia. Perhaps it would be good to be like Switzerland and be more neutral and trade with both. So, there’s a lot of considerations but to call someone somehow an enemy of the state or a traitor might be considered by most reasonable people to be a little over the top.
Well, there seems to be a lot of going “over the top” these days, as Geist points out in his follow-up. Putting aside the personal feud, it’s very safe to say that Paul’s on the outside of the consensus on this issue, as he admits when Willie Geist challenges the “unhinged” nature of McCain’s position:
GEIST: But Senator, you just called John McCain unhinged. You said he was past his prime. Why do you think so many other senators have voted in favor of this measure if it’s so crazy?
PAUL: I think that there is a bipartisan consensus that’s incorrect that we should have the whole world be in NATO. For example, if we had Ukraine and Georgia in NATO — and this is something McCain and the other neocons have advocated for — we would be at war now because Russia has invaded both of them. And so I think having former satellites or former parts of the Soviet Union is NATO is very provocative. And you have to decide in advance whether you’re ready go to war. If you guys are ready to send a million troops into Ukraine and fight World War III, you’re going to do it without my support because I think that’s a really foolish notion.
Paul’s comments about McCain’s prime and hingedness, to coin a word, didn’t refer to his political position as much as it did McCain’s overreaction to Paul’s dissent. (Allahpundit has all of the background on the issue, as well as a link to some of the backstory between McCain and Paul in yesterday’s post, too.) But Paul’s own impassioned dissent might have some questioning his own hingedness, too. Both Senators seem to be overreacting to a small-ish foreign-policy issue.
While Paul has a point about previous efforts at NATO expansion in Ukraine and Georgia poking the Russian bear, the issue that should have had Western heads taking more caution was the fact that those nations share a border with Russia. Moscow had seen those states as buffers between themselves and NATO, and wanted them to know it too. Montenegro doesn’t share a border with Russia and is useless as a buffer state; the most direct path to Montenegro from Russia crosses the Black Sea, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Kosovo. Overland, it would cross Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, and Serbia. They aren’t on or near a “transition from Europe to Asia”; they’re on the Adriatic Sea, and the closest Asiatic nation to them is NATO member Turkey, not Russia.
The only reason Russians would get involved at all would be to help out the Serbs, a traditional ally, but the odds of Russian military action that would trigger an Article V crisis are surpassingly small. Russians are as unlikely to invade Montenegro as they are Romania and Bulgaria, so the level of provocation provided by extending NATO membership is far, far lower than previous attempts with nations on Russia’s frontiers. Or put another way: if Russians land troops or start bombing in Montenegro, it will be because we’re already at war with them.
That doesn’t necessarily make an expansion for Montenegro a wise choice, of course. The Balkans have been a powderkeg for more than a century, essentially the starting point for World War I and so indirectly World War II as well. The former Yugoslavia broke up in the 1990s through a series of civil wars and genocides, and it’s still not quite stable and settled today. It might be better to let the European Union deal with issues in Montenegro rather than have the US automatically caught in another Balkans conflict if one touches off, but as Geist points out, the additions of Croatia and Albania more or less make that a moot point anyway. Paul had a better case on exclusion for that reason, rather than equating Ukraine and Georgia to Montenegro, but that argument has passed. By the same measure, adding Montenegro to NATO won’t discourage Vladimir Putin from setting up another coup d’etat attempt, because the rest of Europe won’t march on Moscow over it, regardless of Article V.
The whole issue isn’t quite academic — nothing is between Russia and the West — but it’s hardly the kind of existential crisis that usually produces accusations of treachery and insanity. The underlying issue here seems much less interesting than the personal feud, frankly. Maybe the AHCA will have them tossing more epithets at each other, so … just keep the popcorn supply stocked.