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The Real Scoop Jackson

He’d be with McCain, not Obama, on Ukraine.

Mar 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 27 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
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Read that quote from Jackson again—“There is a need for the U.S. to make careful decisions, stand by those decisions, and avoid sending false or conflicting signals”—and what of course comes to mind is Obama and his Syria red line. There, Obama made an off-the-cuff threat about what we would do if chemical weapons were used, told allies we would move to enforce the threat, and then backed off at the last minute. It’s exactly what Jackson was warning against.

But Ignatius does not use that quote against Obama; he dredges it up to target Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. His column began this way: “As the Ukraine crisis deepened, Sen. John McCain responded by criticizing President Obama’s ‘feckless’ foreign policy, while Sen. Lindsey Graham called Obama ‘a weak and indecisive president [who] invites aggression.’ ” So the juxtaposition is the prudent Jackson, versus the careless, hawkish, thoughtless Graham and McCain.

This is nonsense on stilts. Jackson opposed the kind of policies that are central to this administration, and would have been appalled by the massive cuts in the defense budget, the imprudent (there’s that word again) rush to the exits in Iraq and Afghanistan, the effort to engage American enemies without reinforcing American power, and very clearly by the story of the Syrian red line. As to the current Ukraine crisis, an old line of Scoop’s from the height of the Cold War comes to mind: “the Russians are like a burglar going down a hotel corridor, trying all the doors. When they find one that’s unlocked, they go in.” Jackson strongly opposed the world view that calls for American weakness and withdrawal, and was the leading opponent of the Nixon-Kissinger version of détente—in good part because he thought weakness would invite aggression, which is just what Lindsey Graham said.

Ignatius is of course entitled to his views, including his views of Ukraine, Obama, McCain, and Graham. But he’s not entitled to turn the late Scoop Jackson into a critic of McCain and Graham when all the evidence of Jackson’s long career suggests he would be standing arm in arm with them, worried about American strength and American reliability—and about that Russian hotel burglar.

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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