“Our freedoms are slowly but surely being taken away from us,” Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin declared on the Fourth of July. “The world would be a far better places if it were more free.”
It was no small irony that while he served up platitudes of democracy and freedom to his constituents, Senator Johnson himself was a world away in Moscow, appeasing a regime that attacked American democracy and wreaks havoc around the world.
Johnson was part of an eight-member Congressional delegation consisting exclusively of Republicans who traveled to Moscow to lay the PR groundwork for President Trump’s upcoming summit on July 16th in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin. If North Korea is any guide, that is sure to be another American foreign policy disaster.
The team of congressional advance men was led by Sen. Richard Shelby, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “We are competitors, but we don’t necessarily need to be adversaries.” As the band War asked, “Why can’t we be friends?”
[Here’s the video: https://www.rferl.org/embed/player/0/29336068.html?type=video]
Well, sure, Russia is an international pariah that hacks U.S. elections, shoots down civilian airliners, poisons people on foreign soil, rearranges the borders it shares with its neighbors, and is helping Syria annihilate thousands, but wouldn’t it be nice if we just got along?
Shelby even excused Russian hacking of the U.S. election as a bit of Kissingerian realpolitik. “We have to be realistic nations are going to do what is in their next [sic] interest; we’ve done a lot of things too,” The Washington Examiner quoted Shelby as saying.
And you’ll remember Senator Johnson as the Inspector Clouseau who found evidence of a “secret society” inside the FBI. These lawmakers love to talk tough about how rotten our FBI is, but in a two-hour meeting with lawmakers, Russia’s annexation of Crimea did not even merit a single mention.
It’s telling that there was not a single Democrat on this trip. It’s also telling that the delegation included Senators Jerry Moran of Kansas, Steve Daines of Montana, John Kennedy of Louisiana, John Thune of South Dakota and John Hoeven of North Dakota.
There are no costal elites in this group because the intended audience is Trump’s base. They’re the ones who must be brainwashed into believing that Putin has been treated very unfairly. The rest of us can suck it.
This congressional appeasement may play well on Fox News but this pathetic display of spinelessness has earned Russia’s contempt:
Remember, it was only in 2012 that a very different Congressional delegation spent the Fourth of July in Russia. Then Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California led a bipartisan group to Estonia, Russia, and Georgia. (You’ll recall that it was McCarthy who in 2016 told GOP leaders: “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.”)
What made the 2012 group different wasn’t the lone Democrat in the group, Representative Karen Bass of Los Angeles. What was really different about McCarthy’s group was that it took the time to visit Russian opposition leaders such as Boris Nemtsov and Garry Kasparov, sending a quiet but important signal that the struggling democratic movement in Russia mattered. [Someone should call Rep. Kay Granger of Texas. She went on both the 2012 and the 2018 trips.]
In 2015, Nemtsov was gunned down not far from the Kremlin. Kasparov, fearing for his safety, fled Russia and lives in exile. Today, instead of embracing democracy on the Fourth of July, Republican members of Congress embrace the Russian regime that all but extinguished it.
If Senator Johnson sees freedom vanishing around the world, he should try harder to encourage it in places like Russia.