The long-simmering war between John McCain and Rand Paul boiled over Wednesday on the Senate floor when McCain directly accused Paul of working for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
McCain was speaking in support of a bill advancing Montenegro’s bid to join NATO. Foreign Ministers invited the tiny Balkan nation to start accession talks to become the 29th member of the alliance in December of 2015.
Graphic via Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Montenegro's Slavic ally Russia has strongly opposed its membership. Russia sees the move as a way to cut off Moscow’s strategic access to the Adriatic Sea. Serbia is Russia’s only traditional ally in the region.
There is no compelling reason to bring Montenegro into NATO. It adds nothing to the alliance with a military of just 2,000 and will become one more ally dependent on the United States.
In 2013, only 38 percent of Montenegrins supported accession. Many of them are Serbs who remember NATO's role in the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Prime Minister Milo Đukanović, who has run Montenegro since 1991, was a staunch ally of former President Slobodon Milošević of Serbia who was handed over to the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague for genocide and crimes against humanity including the infamous massacre of civilians at Srebrenica in 1995.
Furthermore, Duško Marković, became Montenegro’s prime minister in November 2016 amid complaints of election irregularities and the support of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS).
The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland drew up the Global Terrorist Data which recorded a large number of terror attacks in the Balkans between 1970 and 2015. Montenegro includes 38 cases including the unresolved case of the killing of Goran Žugić, a security adviser to President Milo Đukanović, in the capital of Podgorica in 2000.
A published report appearing in The Washington Times in November of 2015 reveals Croatian intelligence identified a possible Islamic State leader who set up operations in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina and began to organize scores of Islamist fighters who left the Balkans to join the Islamic State or al Qaeda’s Nusra Front in war torn Syria and Iraq and have since returned home.
“We have identified a possible Islamic State leader for the region and are monitoring the jihadist fighters returning to the Balkans, and there is much to be concerned about,” said the official, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing sensitive intelligence.
The concerns have been exacerbated by the refugee crisis sweeping Europe, which has security officials in the Balkans worried that an Islamic State sleeper cell could slip into the region disguised as Syrian refugees seeking asylum.
With a large Muslim population and a weak economy that leaves young, poor men vulnerable to radicalization, the Balkans region is experiencing growing fears that terrorism may be breeding among its civilian population.
“The threat is real, and the region is a potential tinderbox for radicalization,” the Balkan diplomatic official said.
I have been willing in the past to defend Sen. McCain against challenges to his patriotism and heroism, but his attack on Rand Paul was egregious.
When Sen. Elizabeth Warren attacked Jeff Sessions during his confirmation hearings Majority Leader Mitch McConnell muzzled her when she impugned the motives and conduct of the nominee for Attorney General. Where the hell was the “Post Turtle” when McCain viscerally accused Rand Paul of working for Putin?
A McCain spokesperson clarified the senator’s words, “Senator McCain believes that the person who benefits the most from Congress’s failure to ratify Montenegro’s ascension to NATO is Vladimir Putin, whose government has sought to destroy the NATO alliance, erode confidence in America’s commitments to its allies, overthrow the duly-elected government of Montenegro, and undermine democratic institutions throughout Europe.”
His office further stated: “Senator McCain, and certainly the people of Montenegro, would appreciate an explanation from Senator Paul as to why he sought to prevent this small, brave country from joining in the defense of the free world.”
In responding to McCain’s McCarthyite broadside Paul said, “Currently, the United States has troops in dozens of countries and is actively fighting in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. In addition, the United States is pledged to defend 28 countries in NATO. It is unwise to expand the monetary and military obligations of the United States given the burden of our $20 trillion debt.”
Senate Rule XIX (2) stipulates “No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.”
McCain should be punished.