The extent to which the White House will not tolerate any dissent against its war messaging on Russia was revealed when President Joe Biden’s press secretary on Wednesday condemned a sitting member of the United States Senate as a Russian propagandist for simply questioning the drive to war over Ukraine.
Jen Psaki accused Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of "parroting Russian talking points" for sending a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken questioning the drive for war. "Well, if you are just digesting Russian misinformation and parroting Russian talking points, you are not aligned with long-standing, bipartisan American values," Psaki told reporters at a regular White House briefing.
Those values are "to stand up for the sovereignty of countries like Ukraine … their right to choose their own alliances and also to stand against very clearly the efforts — or attempts, or potential attempts — by any country to invade and take territory of another country," she said.
Psaki added: "That applies to Senator Hawley, but it also applies to others who may be parroting the talking points of Russian propagandist leaders." The word "others" is ominous. It can be taken to mean any other member of the U.S. Congress, U.S. independent media or ordinary Americans.
Such vilification is designed to take agency away from American elected officials, journalists or private citizens — who are schooled in the American world view and not Russia’s — to think for themselves, examine evidence and come to their own conclusion.
Smearing government critics as agents of a foreign power is the oldest trick in the book. Anti-Vietnam War protestors were labelled apologists for Hanoi and critics of the 2003 invasion of Iraq as Saddam stooges.
Hawley’s letter to Blinken was actually hawkish in tone, talking about Russian 'threats' — hardly a Moscow "talking point." He wrote:
"The United States has an interest in maintaining Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. And we should urgently deliver to Ukraine assistance it needs to defend itself against Russia’s military buildup and other threats. Our interest is not so strong, however, as to justify committing the United States to go to war with Russia over Ukraine’s fate. Rather, we must aid Ukraine in a manner that aligns with the American interests at stake and preserves our ability to deny Chinese hegemony in the Indo-Pacific."
Hawley asked Blinken for "clarity about the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine’s prospective membership in NATO," which to remain "viable" must have European members "increase defense spending above two percent of GDP … especially as the United States shifts resources" elsewhere in the world.
The U.S. is facing some degree of resistance to war from France, Germany and even Ukraine itself. Germany refuses to send arms to Ukraine, Emmanuel Macron is talking to Vladimir Putin and wants to include Russia in a new European security arrangement, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says there’s no imminent invasion. The U.S. can hardly use the undiplomatic language of accusing all three of "parroting Russian talking points."
The White House putdown of Hawley shows how the administration is shutting down debate on the issue most deserving of it in a so-called democracy, namely the question of peace or war. That the White House target is a member of the Senate, which is constitutionally charged with declaring war, is even more alarming.