Sometime ago, I argued that there were no signs of a unified, organized, opposition among Congressional Republicans to President Obama's Russia policy. Yet I warned that a noisy anti-Russian "front" may soon emerge in the House of Representatives, thanks to the ascension of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to the position of Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. And Sen. John McCain is rapidly turning into a restless anti-Russian "spot" in the Senate. Together, Ileana and John may become a new Washington power couple with a potential to poison the newly-acquired positive tone in U.S.-Russia relations.
Recently, Ros-Lehtinen gave an interview to the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin, in which the incoming Madam Chairwoman cheerfully promised that her Committee would "have great fun talking about freedom and democracy." (This is especially exciting to hear given that our country is in the middle of two wars.) One can only imagine a long list of professional freedom fighters and democracy promoters parading before Ros-Lihtenen's Committee at the U.S. taxpayer's expense.
As for Ros-Lehtinen's position vis-a-vis Russia and Obama's Russia policy, let me simply lift two paragraphs from Rubin's piece:
"Shifting to Russia, she argued against ratification of the START treaty, making the case that "it will put us in a strategic straight-jacket." As Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) has been doing, she argues that "the administration has not satisfactorily answered questions" on verification and missile defense. And she said that entering into a nuclear co-operation agreement with Russia is a mistake. She asserted, "We have no business entering into an agreement with a country that has such a miserable record on proliferation." She argued that "we can't even verify" the extent of Russian proliferation activities.
In fact, she said she is dismayed by the entire approach to Russia: "How many concessions are we going to make?" She noted that she met last week with a high-ranking delegation from Georgia and expressed "my support for standing up to Russian aggression." Does she think we should provide defensive arms to Georgia, a move the Obama administration has refrained from making so as not to upset the Russians? She instantly responded: "Absolutely! It is what they want and what they need. They aren't the aggressors..."
In his turn, McCain went on December 10 to the John Hopkins' Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies and gave a talk titled "Realism about Russia: power, interests, and values." While admitting "some modern results" of Obama's policy of reset with Russia, McCain expressed his scepticism "about how far this attempted reset will get us with the current Russian government." McCain's "realistic" approach to Russia made him question the very relevance of Russia in contemporary world. Or in the Senator's own words:
"Russia's decline is a geopolitical reality. Put simply, Russia is becoming less and less capable of being a global, great power partner with the United States."
Based on his analysis, McCain has called for "a more sober approach to our relationship with Russia" and for the need "to begin dealing with Russia more as the modest power it is, not the great power it once was." Moreover, in a move that would please everyone preferring deeds to words, McCain has proposed a few concrete steps to realize his "sober approach" to U.S.-Russia relations. First, he called for resuming the sale of "defensive arms" to Georgia. Second, he urged the administration to withdraw from the U.S.-Russia Working Group on civil society led by Michael McFaul and Vladislav Surkov. (McCain could at least publicly acknowledge that the first idea was a pet project of Randy Scheunemann, McCain's foreign policy adviser and a paid lobbyist for the Georgian government, whereas the second was originally articulated by Boris Nemtsov, with whom McCain, as he admitted, "have met a few times this year.")
Yet the most original, and apparently conceived by McCain himself, was his idea of a "national debate" on Russia. Read this:
"Ultimately, we need a national debate about the real nature of this Russian government, about what kind of relationship is possible with this government, and about the place that Russia should realistically occupy in U.S. foreign policy."
Does McCain understand his own logic? Why do we need a national debate on a supposedly declining country, which is a "modest power" and which is "less and less capable of being a global, great power partner with the United States." In order to provide McCain with a topic to rant about for the next six years while in the Senate?
McCain wasn't done with Russia yet. On December 16, amid Senate Republicans' complaints that there was not enough time to ratify the New START treaty during the lame-duck session of the Senate, he interrupted the ratification hearings with a 2,290-word floor speech complaining about postponement of the verdict reading in the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
It's hard to imagine two people with more different backgrounds than Ros-Lihtenen and McCain. And yet, they have something in common. Ros-Lihtenen was born in Cuba and is still bubbling with anti-Castro sentiments. McCain's political views were shaped by his years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Both Cuba and Vietnam used to be major recipients of political support and economic aid from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union is long gone, but Ileana and John have refused to notice that and keep hating Russia in its stead. Passion is often good in intra-couple relationships; it may be dangerous when applied to foreign relations.