Jason Crow, the ex-Army Ranger turned congressman whom Nancy Pelosi has named as one of seven impeachment managers in the trial of Donald Trump, has dropped a broad hint about what angle Democratic prosecutors will pursue: it will be about national security and protecting our troops.
"This is about the abuse of power, it’s about jeopardizing our national security, our troops, it’s about undermining our free and fair elections," Crow told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. Withholding some $391 million in military aid, he argued, didn’t just harm Ukrainian defense, but that of the US as well.
It’s a theme that Democrats have sounded repeatedly since the impeachment process began in September, and it’s one that Crow also stresses at nearly every opportunity. In late September, he and six other Democrats who are military or intelligence-agency veterans co-authored a Washington Post op-ed declaring that the hold on military aid amounted to nothing less than "a national security threat" – not against the Ukraine, but against the US. A week later, he told MSNBC that US-made weapons like the Javelin missile "are needed to prevent T-72, Russian T-72 tanks, from moving forward and invading Ukraine. We have tens of thousands of US troops in Europe that are in harm’s way if that would happen, so I take this very personally." A week after that, he told CNN’s Jake Tapper:
"Ukraine is in an act of war with one of our chief enemies Russia, and one of the reasons there aren’t Russian tanks going across the plains of Ukraine now is because of our assistance, our support, our provision of things like these Javelin missiles that came up in the complaint that are really critical not just for Ukraine’s security but the security of Europe and our soldiers and our sailors our airmen serving in Europe."
Trump’s decision could thus have sent Russian tanks racing into the NATO heartland. But this was bonkers for any numbers of reasons, one of which is that missile program requires that the Javelins be stored in the western part of the country, i.e. hundreds of miles from the actual war zone in the east. Their deterrence value is minimal in a war that has actually been frozen in place since mid-2014 years.
This is the side of impeachment that liberals don’t like to talk about – the wacky, paranoid side that turns facts on their head in order to portray Dems as more Catholic than the pope and Trump as a betrayer of the faith. Once upon a time, liberals would have sneered at "expert" witnesses claiming that if we don’t fight the Russians in the Donbas, we’ll have to fight them in the Washington suburbs or that American society is a wreck because Moscow saboteurs made it that way.
But now they applaud when Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan declares that America must "mak[e] sure that the Ukraine remains strong and on the front lines so they fight the Russians there and we don’t have to fight them here" or when an ex-National Security Council member Fiona Hill says that "the Russian government’s goal is to weaken our country, to diminish America’s global role, and to neutralize a perceived US threat to Russian interests."
What was once dismissed as paranoia is now embraced because it’s anti-Trump. Once liberals would have cringed at a leading Democrat complaining that America no longer stands up to Russia the way "the party of Ronald Reagan used to." After all, Reagan was the man they fought to a standstill over the Iran-contra scandal and détente. But now they applaud because the person saying it is House judiciary committee chairman Adam Schiff, the Democratic point man in the impeachment drive. So if he wants to invoke Reagan as a role model, go for it. Trump’s problem is that he isn’t Reaganesque enough.
Left is right, and right is left as the two parties pivot and change sides. This is not without precedent. After all, Democrats were once the party of the right, champions of slavery and Jim Crow, while the GOP was on the left, the party of abolitionism and Reconstruction. When Booker T. Washington dined at the White House in 1901, it was a Republican – Teddy Roosevelt – who invited him and southern Democrats who raised such an uproar that it would be nearly thirty years before a black man would be invited back again. But then the parties changed positions in a long painful process stretching from FDR to Nixon.
But could they be switching sides again now that Democrats have decided that the only way to bring down Trump is by attacking him from the right?
It seems possible given that Crow, someone who invokes his military at every turn, is not only a hawk on Russia, but on Iran as well. While criticizing Trump’s assassination of Qassem Soleimani, for instance, he does so purely on legalistic grounds. Otherwise, he’s second to none when it comes to bashing the Islamic republic. "We can expect Iran to continue its regional aggression," he told PBS News Hour recently, "continue what it’s done for decades, and that is use its proxy forces, use unconventional forces, to try to destabilize the region. Their overarching goal here is to remove the United States from Iraq and from the region because they know that if they do that, they can be the hegemonic force in the region because there’s nobody else who can actually keep them in check."
Could John Bolton have made the case better for maintaining US hegemony as a counterweight to Iran? Schiff is meanwhile cut from the same cloth. He’s a Los Angeles neocon who voted for the invasion of Afghanistan, who was an early and enthusiastic backer of the invasion of Iraq, who backed Obama’s war in Libya in 2011 and supported a no-fly zone in Syria, and who spoke out in favor of the Saudi air assault on Yemen in March 2015. "The military action by Saudi Arabia and its partners was necessitated by the illegal action of the Houthi rebels and their Iranian backers," he said of a war that, five years later, has claimed 100,000 lives and brought half the country to the brink of starvation. Since Schiff relies heavily on arms makers and defense contractors for campaign contributions, it’s no surprise that he would back Trump’s bid to boost military spending by eleven percent over two years beginning in 2018.
Schiff supported a war that Trump opposed. To be sure, the president didn’t oppose it as early as he claimed. But he denounced it repeatedly once the invasion occurred, to the point of telling a startled Wolf Blitzer in 2008 that George W. Bush should have been impeached: "He lied. He got us into the war with lies." Compare this with Joe Biden who not only voted for the war as a senator in 2002, but continued defending it for years after, only changing his tune in 2008 when Barack Obama tapped him as his running mate.
This is not to say that Trump is in any sense a good guy. To the contrary, he’s a world-class criminal who, after pledging to keep the US out of pointless war in the Middle East, reversed course after taking office and now threatens to plunge the country into a 1914-style conflict with Iran that could easily draw in a half-dozen countries or more. But rather than opposing such aggression, Democrats are going after him because he failed to be equally hawkish with regard to Russia and the Ukraine. Could anything be more foolish?
Daniel Lazare is the author of The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics. He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nation to Le Monde Diplomatique and blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.