On Tuesday morning, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held confirmation hearings for former Utah governor and ambassador to China Jon M. Huntsman to be the next US ambassador to Russia, and for A. Wes Mitchell, president of the Center for European Policy Analysis, to be assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.
It was a chummy affair. The senators were clearly pleased that Trump had nominated someone with actual diplomatic experience (Huntsman) as well as someone who wholeheartedly shares in, and has personally contributed to, the overwrought bipartisan alarm over all things Russia (Mitchell).
In his opening statement, Huntsman, who in recent years served as chairman of the hawkish Atlantic Council, assured senators that he sees Russia much as they do, as a nation that “continues to threaten stability in Europe, including by violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors.”
“There is no question,” said Huntsman “that the Russian government interfered in the US election last year and Moscow continues to meddle in the democratic processes of our friends and allies.”
This must have been reassuring to Democratic ranking member Benjamin Cardin, who has been leading the charge of Washington’s anti-Russia brigade for years now. At the hearing, Cardin voiced his no doubt sincere belief that the goal of US diplomacy should be to “change Russia’s behavior.”
While Huntsman was occasionally pressed as to how the opinions of his soon-to-be boss, President Donald J. Trump, on the charges of Russian election interference might complicate his job, the hearing was more or less a love-in: Arizona Republican Jeff Flake: “What can Congress do to help you with your mission?”; Idaho Republican James Risch: “We sincerely appreciate your willingness to serve, Jon”; Delaware Democrat Chris Coons: “You represent the very best of public service.”
Huntsman was followed by Mitchell, who proved himself to be every bit as hawkish as his Democratic predecessor, Victoria Nuland, who, readers might recall, played a central role in egging on the 2014 Maidan revolution that overthrew a democratically elected Ukrainian president in February 2014.
As it happens, Mitchell’s think tank, CEPA, has been at the forefront of efforts to make Russia’s “information war” the topic du jour in Washington, churning out pseudo-academic articles on Russia’s “information war” as well as reports claiming, among other things, that Russia (currently in the process of defeating ISIS in Syria) is “a fake partner against terrorism.”
CEPA, whose funders include, NATO, the Pentagon, the State Department, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon, partnered with the Defense Department’s Office of Net Assessment in 2015 to conduct “a study on shifting dynamics in U.S. alliance networks in East Asia, the Middle East and Central and Eastern Europe.”
As recently as this February, Mitchell called for the creation of a “reformist block” within NATO composed of “NATO’s doers.” “Such a grouping,” wrote Mitchell, “would command respect. It could end the second-class membership of frontline members, push to relocate bases like Ramstein to Poland (saving U.S. taxpayers money), overhaul voting rules to prevent Article-5 vetoes by laggards, and build larger coalitions to stabilize the south and the east.”
At Tuesday’s hearing, he was pressed on none of this.
Instead, there were the usual, myopic bromides about the importance of “sending a message” to the Kremlin through sanctions; of reassuring “our allies”; of sanctioning and condemning Russia for its interference in the 2016 election, which Senator Cardin called “an attack on our democracy.”
It hardly needs pointing out that expressions of collegiality are a poor substitute for substance, and neither hearing had much.
Indeed, only yesterday the Senate authorized the provision of $500 million in military aid to Ukraine, including lethal “defensive” weapons. But pressing questions regarding Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko’s recent pledge to join NATO, the status of the Minsk II cease-fire agreement, and the three-front standoff between US and Russian forces in the Baltic region, the Black Sea basin, and Syria went unasked.
If the Huntsman and Mitchell appointments are anything to go by, Trump is in the process of giving the Beltway’s Russia hawks exactly what they want.