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Saturday, December 3, 2016

WASHINGTON — Certain political clichés cry out to join the list of the biggest lies in the world. Today’s candidate: Partisan politics stops at the water’s edge.

The sentiment was first voiced by Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, a Michigan Republican who became chair of the Foreign Relations Committee in 1947. Vandenberg was for real, providing enthusiastic support for President Harry Truman’s Cold War policies.

But it’s time to admit that the immediate postwar period was a one-off in our history and that in the age of Barack Obama, even Republicans who agree with the president on a given foreign policy question have to disguise the fact with taunts and insults.

Our freedom to oppose a president whenever we choose is precious and differentiates us from, say, the citizens of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. We forget too easily that dissent, even in wartime, is an American tradition, from the deep divisions over the War of 1812 and Abraham Lincoln’s sharp critique of the Mexican War all the way through Vietnam and Iraq.

But these debates involved matters of principle. What’s strange about the response to Putin’s grab of Crimea is how eager Republicans are to blame Russian aggression on past Obama failures — even as Obama proposes to follow policies on Ukraine that they are themselves prescribing. To paraphrase the late Jeane Kirkpatrick, they blame Obama first.

In extreme instances, Obama’s foes have come down with truly weird cases of Putin Envy. “Putin decides what he wants to do and he does it in half a day, right?” former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani swooned Monday on Fox News. “He decided he had to go to their parliament. He went to their parliament. He got permission in 15 minutes.”

Fox’s Neil Cavuto rightly observed: “Well, I mean, that was kind of like perfunctory.” Giuliani was undeterred in his awe of authoritarianism: “But he makes a decision and he executes it, quickly. Then everybody reacts. That’s what you call a leader. President Obama, he’s got to think about it. He’s got to go over it again. He’s got to talk to more people about it.”

Ah, the joys of dictatorship.

And on the right wing, no day is complete without some invocation of Benghazi. Thus this tweet from Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), on Tuesday: “It started with Benghazi. When you kill Americans and nobody pays a price, you invite this type of aggression.”