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It sure does rhyme: US reaction to Moscow aggression echoes Carter's in 1980

 

The president's press secretary fumed, saying that the recent incursion by Moscow posed "a serious threat to peace."

The president himself declared that the invasion severely damaged the relationship between Moscow and Washington. The U.S. intended to send a strong message and canceled some diplomatic negotiations.

"Aggression, unopposed, becomes a contagious disease," said the president. "This is a power violation of international law and the United Nations Charter."

The U.S. prepared economic penalties, focused on trade and financial consequences.

"These new policies are being and will be coordinated with those of our allies," said the president.

It is said that history doesn't repeat itself. But it sure does rhyme.

Which is why all of this seems so familiar. All of this, being the current diplomatic/political/military quagmire over Ukraine.

The above depicts the machinations of President Jimmy Carter and his Press Secretary Jody Powell in January, 1980. The Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan. That sent the U.S. and the international community scrambling to figure out what to do.

One front in the current Ukraine crisis centers on Crimea where Russian forces seized control of the region. Another front is unfolding in Paris and Rome as Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to forge an agreement with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. And the third front in this dilemma is playing out before the United States Congress.

Today marks the most-pivotal day on Capitol Hill since Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin dispatched forces into Ukraine last week.

The House of Representatives plans a vote on a hastily arranged measure to provide about $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine. The package takes money Congress already okayed by lawmakers and frees it up for Ukraine. The line of credit comes from a loan program already authorized for Jordan and Tunisia. House leaders expect little opposition. In fact, the plan is to consider the bill under an expedited process which speeds the package to the floor in exchange for a two-thirds vote to pass.

"We'll vote soon on aid to help the Ukrainian people," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

The bill is expected to sail through the House today. Simultaneously, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hold hearings today, grappling with the Ukraine confrontation.

"We must place crippling sanctions on Russian high-ranking officials, state-owned banks and commercial enterprises," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif.

"Putin needs to understand that the international community will not take aggression sitting down," said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the top Democrat on the panel. "It needs to mean something to [Putin] if it's going to hurt the Russian economy."

But there's skepticism that Congress can really effect change through pulling various economic and financial levers.

"It's such a short bill," lamented one aide of the two-page package before the House. "Are we just doing it to do it? We should do it. But what really can this do to stop Russia?"

That's the crux of the problem facing Congress as it attempts to address the crisis - one that eerily mirrors efforts by the U.S. when it took on the Soviet Union more than 30 years ago.

In 1980, then-President Carter withdrew the American ambassador to Moscow to protest the Afghanistan invasion, ordered a fabled "grain embargo" to hamstring the Soviet economy and boycotted the Summer Olympics held that year in Moscow. None of the moves seemed to resonate as the U.S.S.R. occupied Afghanistan until 1989.

The desire to thwart Moscow and bolster Ukraine triggered a sprint as lawmakers began concocting their own legislative solutions to apply pressure on Russia. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is calling on President Obama to expand the export of natural gas to Eastern Europe.

"We can supplant Russia's influence, but we won't so long as we have to contend with the Energy Department's achingly slow approval process," Boehner said.

Meantime, Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, drafted legislation to suspend all official and tourist visas for Russians until the U.S. certifies that the incursion in Crimea is through.

There's also a rush in the Senate. But on the Senate's clock. Which some days, resembles a sundial.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the top Republican on the panel, are writing an aid package.

"Whether we can do it next week, I don't know," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

The Cold War impasse triggered a number of proxy wars around the globe -- be it in Cuba, Central America or Eastern Europe. The current strife with Moscow may be new, but it's also rapidly spawning its own set of proxy wars. Few Cold War skirmishes crystallized the U.S./U.S.S.R rivalry better than the space race. This seems no different.

With the retirement of the Space Shuttle program, the U.S. no longer operates a space-worthy vehicle. Yet, the U.S. and Russia collaborate on the International Space Station. In fact, one American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts return to Earth early next week. Another American/Russian team goes up later this month -- all using a Russian Soyuz craft (from Kazakhstan, by the way -- which is where the Soviet Union conducted its space missions).

"This dispute has not broken through gravity and gone up into space yet," said Rep. Pete Olson R-Texas, who represents a district near the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

No one thinks the Ukraine crisis will sever the current relationship. But in this instance, it appears Russia has the upper hand. The U.S. pays Russia $70 million each time the Soyuz craft ferries an astronaut to the space station.

"We have our thumb out," said Olson. "They can go there. We can't."

Another proxy is playing out before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Lawmakers are now combing through information and analysis the intelligence community provided them in the run-up to Russia's invasion. There appears to be questions about what intelligence officers forecast for Putin's response to the political meltdown in Ukraine and Russian military drills in the region.

"I am ticked. We are mad," seethed Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, a member of the intelligence panel.

The panels are now reviewing what happened. Of course, this mirrors something that happened in the early 1990s.

The Soviet Union disintegrated into oblivion at the end of 1991, leaving Russia, Ukraine and more than a dozen other republics as incipient nations. Only there was a problem. American intelligence agencies never saw it coming and famously failed to project the Soviet Union's demise. Capitol Hill blew a gasket wanting to know why they misread things.

Washington and Moscow haven't been at loggerheads in more than two decades now. But the current situation sure invokes a lot of the same old ghosts which roamed the halls of Congress and the Kremlin during the most frigid days of the Cold War.

History may not repeat itself. But it sure does rhyme.