16 March 2017
Don't cry for me, Montenegro
By the standard applied to Senator Warren earlier this year Senator McCain ought to have been silenced or reprimanded for his outburst against Senator Paul yesterday. Paul had blocked debate on a treaty admitting the tiny nation of Montenegro into the NATO alliance, and since all he had to do was register an objection, that's all he did. McCain, his fellow Republican, found this cowardly and insulting, and with Paul gone, he insulted the Kentuckian in a cowardly manner, accusing him of working for Vladimir Putin. This morning, on the Morning Joe show, Paul answered in kind, calling the Arizonan "unhinged" and an argument for term limits.His more substantial argument was that he saw no American security interest in extending NATO protection to the former Yugoslav republic. McCain accuses the Russians of backing an attempted coup d'etat there last fall, perpetrated by members of the country's pro-Russian Serb minority. Russia's supposed interest in Montenegro, as far as I can tell, is that a more friendly government might provide Russia with another naval base on the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, Montenegro has been described as the 51st state of the Union by critics who contend that its post-communist privatization mainly benefited American businesses. While Rand Paul, as a libertarian of a sort, presumably has no objection to Americans making money abroad, his commitment to their freedom of action stops when it requires military guarantees.On Morning Joe he asserted quite plausibly that few if any Americans would be willing to risk their lives or spend their resources in Montenegro's offense. At least one panelist, however, felt that Paul had overstepped when he said the same thing about Ukraine. Told that some Americans are willing to fight for Ukrainian sovereignty against Russian aggression, Paul replied that he was okay with people volunteering themselves to fight in foreign countries' defense, but he clearly felt that it wasn't the U.S. government's business. From the perspective of McCain and his fellow neocons, Paul is simply following irresponsibly in the "isolationist" footsteps of his father, if not treacherously providing aid and comfort to that existential threat to American liberty, Putin. Paul, however, seems more committed to an "America First" foreign policy than the "America First" president, who as yet has taken no clear stand on the Montenegro question. Paul, at least, has made a decision that American lives count more than Montenegrin liberty, presuming that the latter is even in danger. You might think a believer in American exceptionalism would also believe that American lives are exceptional, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Those exceptionalists who promote a neocon foreign policy seem to believe that American lives are no more important than Montenegrin lives or liberties -- or the liberties of American businessmen there -- but may be sacrificed for all of those. The "America First" camp is probably more likely to think of the American people as exceptional, but they probably also know better than to assume that they're exceptional among nationalists around the world in that respect. There's still arguments to be made for a more egalitarian and universalist regard for humanity, but exceptionalists like McCain aren't making those arguments. They're arguing for American privilege instead.