McCain on Rand Paul: The senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin by objecting to Montenegro joining NATO

Good lord.

While speaking from the Senate floor in support of a bill advancing Montenegro’s bid to join NATO, McCain noted objection from the Kentucky senator, saying, “You are achieving the objectives of Vladimir Putin… trying to dismember this small country which has already been the subject an attempted coup.”…

He then directly connected Paul to the Russians: “The only conclusion you can draw when he walks away is he has no justification for his objection to having a small nation be part of NATO that is under assault from the Russians. So I repeat again, the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.”

It’s true that Russia is meddling in Montenegro, partly to expand its reach in the Balkans and partly to punish the country for seeking membership in NATO, which it was invited to join in late 2015. “What Russia has done against Montenegro is a unique case,” said one NATO expert last month to Politico of a reported coup attempt by Moscow. “No NATO candidate country has ever faced such a dire attack or threat in the process of finishing its membership into the alliance.” That’s why McCain’s so cheesed off — it’s not just that Paul’s blocking the Senate’s accession to Montenegro joining NATO, it’s that he’s doing it at a moment when Russia’s testing the alliance’s commitment to the country, no doubt in the hope that the soft isolationist Trump will end up blocking Montenegro’s bid.

Interestingly, for all the hype about him being soft on Russia, Mike Flynn recommended admitting Montenegro to NATO during his brief stint as national security advisor. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved Montenegro’s membership bid, but Rand Paul and Mike Lee objected to a floor vote in December, thwarting ratification by unanimous consent without debate. Lee claims his issue with the process was merely procedural, that he wanted a roll call vote. Paul’s objection, however, was substantive:

At a September hearing, Paul questioned the wisdom of angering Russia by allowing a tiny country that could not play a significant role in defending the United States to join the trans-Atlantic alliance.

“I think we need to think this through, and we need to have a little bit more of a debate,” he said then.

On Wednesday, Paul said he still objected.

“I’m not so sure what they add to our defense. So I’m not so sure it’s a great idea that somehow Montenegro’s going to defend the United States,” Paul told Reuters.

Libertarian Doug Bandow made the case against admitting Montenegro last week in a piece at Forbes. The country is indeed tiny and able to contribute little to NATO’s defense; adding them to NATO at this point is mainly a statement of resolve in the face of Russia’s meddling that the west won’t be intimidated into rescinding its invitation to Montenegro to join. But that comes at a steep price: Article 5 obligations to go to war on the country’s behalf with Putin’s Russia if the Kremlin decides to double down and continue interfering with Montenegro even after it’s been admitted to the alliance. Is the country so important strategically to the United States that it’s worth committing the U.S. military to its defense? More germanely, are you working for Vladimir Putin if you want to slow down the ratification process and have a fuller debate on that subject in the Senate? According to McCain, you are.

Anyway, lotta history to this relationship. It’s not all about Montenegro. Exit question: Shouldn’t impugning Paul’s motives this way qualify McCain for the same sort of censure Elizabeth Warren received in criticizing Jeff Sessions?