Psaki: Josh Hawley is “parroting Russian talking points” by wanting Biden to drop U.S. support for Ukraine joining NATO

A nasty bit of demagoguery from yesterday’s press briefing, part of a pattern this week. I hold no brief for Hawley and think he’s wrong about this, but casually insinuating that an administration critic is necessarily a useful idiot for the enemy smacks of jingoism by Psaki, not a thoughtful reply. Twenty years ago, I bet she was outraged at hearing Republican hawks call Democratic doves “un-American” for opposing the invasion of Iraq.

Or maybe not?

She works for a guy who voted for that invasion, after all. Maybe this is just her default mode when war is on the table.

If dovishness towards supporting Ukraine makes one guilty of parroting Kremlin propaganda, presumably American progressives are guilty as well:

President Joe Biden’s face-off with Russian leader Vladimir Putin over Ukraine has deeply unsettled progressive lawmakers and other advocates of a restrained U.S. foreign policy, leaving them struggling to mount a coherent response…

Last week, two progressive Democrats issued a statement chiding the Biden administration for preparing troop deployments to Europe and military aid to Ukraine that the lawmakers said could escalate the crisis. On Wednesday, the U.S. announced Biden was sending 3,000 troops to Eastern Europe in response to the Russian threat to Ukraine.

“We have significant concerns that new troop deployments, sweeping and indiscriminate sanctions, and a flood of hundreds of millions of dollars in lethal weapons will only raise tensions and increase the chance of miscalculation,” Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said. “Russia’s strategy is to inflame tensions; the United States and NATO must not play into this strategy.” Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against the war in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Hawley is right on the merits, wrong on the timing. Apart from the most ardent hawks, no one wants the U.S. military treaty-bound to defend the one Russian satellite state whose reconquest Moscow seems obsessed with. Some foreign policy experts reminded Politico that the White House has had opportunities in the past, during less contentious moments, to dangle withdrawing Ukraine’s potential NATO membership at Russia in exchange for concessions. There may be opportunities to do so again in the future. But it certainly shouldn’t happen while Russia masses troops on the Ukrainian border, suggesting that NATO can be bullied through force of arms into giving Moscow a veto over its own membership.

If I were Putin, watching NATO jettison Ukraine under pressure might tempt me into massing troops near Baltic states and seeing what sort of reaction that draws. Maybe the U.S. and western Europe will honor their Article 5 obligations, or maybe NATO will break apart upon having its bluff called in eastern Europe.

Hawley’s reasoning doesn’t make sense to me either. He wants to formally exclude Ukraine from membership in NATO as part of a pivot to Asia, freeing up natsec resources to meet the rising threat from China. But China is watching the standoff over Ukraine closely. If the U.S. were to bow to Russian demands about NATO membership in the name of avoiding conflict with a major power, Beijing will naturally make assumptions about America’s willingness to fight for Taiwan — or to refuse certain Chinese demands as a condition of not attacking Taiwan.

Imagine that we take Hawley’s advice and rule out Ukraine’s membership in NATO while a Russian gun is pointed at that country’s head. China would then presumably begin massing troops across the strait from Taiwan and insist that they’ll only stand down if we agree to rescind the AUKUS security pact that we signed last year. In that case, the Hawley strategy would have ended up inadvertently increasing the odds of war with Taiwan instead of reducing them.

In fairness to him, these don’t sound to me like Russian talking points:

They don’t even sound like nationalist talking points inasmuch as Hawley implies in his tweet that Russian expansionism is bad. Some of his fellow nationalists are more conflicted about that, although the GOP establishment thankfully is not:

Republican senators are unmoved by Tucker Carlson’s relentless warpath against support for Ukraine — even as it widens an existing rift in their party…

“On individuals up here who are decision-makers, I don’t hear any disagreement about the position Russia is in,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a brief interview. “Russia is the aggressor. … Ukraine has every right, as a sovereign nation, to have their borders respected. Russia’s not doing that.”…

“I don’t agree with those views,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said when asked about Carlson’s monologues. “[It’s] the U.S. interest not just in Europe but around the world in not having countries decide, ‘That belongs to us, we’re going to go ahead and take it.’”

The nationalist project in backing Russia is about trying to condition the American right to believe that illiberal authoritarian regimes aren’t necessarily inferior to, or less worthy of moral support than, liberal democracies. Hawley doesn’t seem to share that view, based on his tweet. Thank heaven for small mercies.

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