Republicans amid international crisis still take aim at President Barack Obama, despite the fact that he is doing much like they would do in similar circumstances.
He has backed Israel to the hilt and he has taken dead aim on Russian President Vladimir Putin. On the latter, Obama has come perilously close to advocating regime change. Short of war, Obama should have pleased his exacting GOP critics.
But he has not. Being pushed to do even more on the hawkish front, Obama appears an angel of peace compared to his Republican rivals. For John McCain it is war anytime, all the time, and the majority of his Republican colleagues agree. As with Woodrow Wilson in 1916, who was plenty hardline, but was made to appear positively pacific by Theodore Roosevelt. He was able to defeat Charles Evans Hughes with a slogan: "He kept us out of war."
But of course we know he did not. After re-election, Wilson demanded that Germany cease unconditional submarine welfare. Despite that Britain violated rules of trade with its surface fleet, Wilson condemned only Germany. Every effort was made to force the Germans to abandon their only response to the "hunger blockade" that imperiled its citizens.
Obama has done the same in Ukraine, making light of Russian concerns and forgiving Petro Poroshenko's excesses. Missiles cannot be used because the Ukraine enjoys an aerial monopoly. It's heads if I win and tails if you lose.
Republicans agree with Obama while nitpicking on the margins. Debate in the United States is limited to two shades of hawkishness. Americans are informed on Ukranian affairs only in the light of the shootdown of the Malaysian aircraft. The fact that the Ukranian military has ruthlessly bombed eastern territory for months is lost. It is all about the last three weeks.
Yet Obama appears the moderate, going for sanctions, at least for now. Like Lyndon B. Johnson in July 1965, Obama is seeking, in theory at least, "no wider war," with hope that he does not stumble into a larger conflict. No doubt if he does, Republicans will point their bony fingers, claiming that he was not aggressive enough. But examining the question through sober eyes is now out of bounds. It is hawkish moderate versus hawkish plus ultra.
Obama would be wise to examine the fate of progressive government after going down such a path. Martin Luther King was correct in saying the Great Society was "shot down over the battlefields of Vietnam."
Wilson saw his progressive impulses eliminated in the war fields in 1917-18. Perhaps Obama will see his domestic vision altered by the hot bloods within John Kerry's State Department. But there are no voices urging restraint in the truest sense of the word. We are not so much seeking dragons but weapons of mass destruction. The smoking gun of 2003 still awaits to be found.
Have we not destabilized too many nations on the way to universal democracy? Let's hope that pursuit does not become the nation's ruin.