PARIS -- There's no faster or easier way to shut down legitimate debate than to slap an undesirable label on someone based on their views. Criticize same-sex marriage and you're a bigot. Take issue with immigration policy and you're dismissed as a racist. In the latest incarnation of this phenomenon, any conservative who dares to criticize U.S. President Barack Obama's stance against Russia on the issue of Ukraine runs the risk of being called a Putin-loving communist.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid suggested this week that Republican lawmakers may have helped Russia annex Crimea by delaying a vote on aid to the new Ukrainian government. The message: If Republicans want to avoid the friend-of-Putin label, they had better vote later this week to approve a $1 billion loan guarantee for the government in Kiev, along with Obama's sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian officials.
Russia itself seems aware of the peer pressure. When Canada imposed its own silly sanctions, Russia retaliated with a few irrelevant sanctions of its own, but with a very telling caveat. "We need this cooperation as much as Ottawa does," said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich. "That said, we make no secret that we will react accordingly to unfriendly moves -- no matter what motives they are explained by. We hope that Canadian officials and politicians will draw adequate conclusions."
We get it, Aleksandr. The "adequate conclusion" to draw is that the pressure was on for Western allies, including Canada, to participate in Obama's silly season.
I've been unapologetically critical of Obama's actions vis-à-vis Russia and Ukraine: the support of an undemocratic coup d'état; the escalating rhetoric despite a dire need to cooperate with Russia on matters arguably more critical to U.S. interests than Ukraine, including Iran, Syria and China; the lip-service sanctions that are tantamount to spitting on a tank. In my view, opposition to Obama on the Russia/Ukraine issue reflects a commitment to democracy, international law and pragmatism.
But here's how the perverted logic of some critics works: Any analytical position that results in disagreement with Obama when Russian President Vladimir Putin happens to be on the other side of the debate means that you're a commie or a commie sympathizer.
Except that there's a problem with that theory, and with all the hyperventilating over this new Red Scare: Russia isn't the Soviet Union, and Vladimir Putin isn't Vladimir Lenin.
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