WASHINGTON — Republicans slammed President Barack Obama Sunday as overly cautious about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions in Ukraine. They insisted Obama get tougher, and fast.
“I think Putin is playing chess, and I think we’re playing marbles,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., on “Fox News Sunday.”
“Our policy towards Russia under this administration deserves a heavy amount of criticism,” added Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., mentioned as a possible 2016 White House candidate, on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Putin’s on the wrong side of history. He’s on the wrong side of the law. Make him pay a price,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Beyond the rhetoric, many of the specific ideas mentioned by Republicans were also embraced by some Democrats.
Among them: Admit Georgia to NATO, and create a “democratic noose,” as Graham put it, around Russia. Impose economic sanctions. Restart missile defense systems in the Czech Republic. Suspend Russia from the G-8.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday the U.S. is weighing possible economic sanctions or other punishments if Putin doesn’t relent.
The hard line against Putin reflects a new chapter in the Republican effort to regain their political advantage on national security. From roughly the late 1960s, when most Democrats soured on the Vietnam War, until support for the Iraq war began to ebb about a decade ago, Republicans were seen as the party more inclined to use or threaten military force.
Six Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including Rubio, joined six Democrats Friday in writing a letter to Obama pledging bipartisan cooperation in developing policy, and outlined specific steps.
“We are prepared to work with your Administration to reinforce your efforts by authorizing U.S. loan guarantees to Ukraine and increasing assistance to facilitate a peaceful transition of power,” the senators wrote. “We also believe that the U.S. should make use of the tools at its disposal,” the letter said, including some “targeted sanctions.”
Rubio had a tougher tone Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He offered a sweeping view of Russia., saying “they’re increasingly behaving like an enemy of international peace and international norms.”
He said Putin is rejecting the international standards that arose since World War II, including the spread of democracy and accepted norms for international conduct. “Russia, under this President Putin, does not seem interested in any of that,” he said. “So they are an enemy of that. And they are certainly, as it regards to that, an enemy of the United States with regard to those things I just outlined.”
Other Republicans pounced on Obama.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Obama’s 2008 Republican opponent, last month told a Phoenix radio station Obama was “the most naïve president in history.”
Last week, he recalled that Obama drew a “red line” against use of chemical weapons in Syria, then stepped back from threatened military action in favor of a negotiated agreement that so far has left the Syrian regime in power.
“I really believe that when Vladimir Putin looks around the world, sees what happened in Syria… when the red line turned pink and the president didn’t act…all of the actions that have to do and indicate a decline of the United States of America, I think he’s emboldened and he’s acting,” McCain told CNN last week.
Republicans were split over Syria, though, as many were not eager for military action.
In the Ukraine crisis, said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in a statement Friday, the U.S. should remember “We live in an interconnected world and the United States has a vital role in the stability of that world.” He said this country should make it “abundantly clear” that Russia is expected to honor its commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty.
There is a cautious note in all the rhetoric. During the Iraq war, Bush was criticized for not fully engaging most traditional American allies. Republicans were quick this time to urge cooperation.
“To NATO members who are threatened by Russia, I would fly the NATO flag as strongly as I could around Putin,” Graham said. “I would suspend his membership in the G-8. It would be the G-7. The G-20 would become the G-19, at least for a year. And every day he stays in the Ukraine, I would add to it.”