Side-by-side comparisons are often the most unflattering. Just ask Daniel Henninger.
One of the unusual features of the current Ukraine crisis is that on many levels it represents a replay of the armed struggle that erupted in August 2008, when, set against the backdrop of simmering tensions, Russia invaded its sovereign neighbor Georgia. Then as today, the international community condemned the action. And then as today, America's president faced somewhat limited options in terms of how to respond.
The déjà vu aspect provides an opportunity to look back and see which partisan pundits have remained consistent in their analysis of the similar international conflicts, and which have drastically altered course simply because there's a Democrat in the White House this time.
For example, former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen used his Washington Post column to mock President Obama for taking a weekend vacation nine days after Russian troops gained control of Crimea. But Thieseen forgot to that while he was working in the White House, his then-boss left for a twelve-day summer vacation just one week after Russia invaded Georgia. (Bush logged his 950th day away from the White House during that Texas retreat.)
And Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer has been relentlessly critical of the White House's inaction. In 2008 however, the pundit seemed non-plussed: “Well, obviously it's beyond our control. The Russians are advancing. There is nothing that will stop them.”
But I'm not sure any pundit has flip-flopped as hard as Wall Street Journal Deputy Editorial Page Director Daniel Henninger. The columnist hasn't reversed course in terms of condemning Russia's aggression. There, he's consistent. (Isn't everybody?) But he has done a complete 180 in terms of who's at fault for the invasion. Today, Henninger singles out one man: President Barack Obama.
“As of this week, it's official. Vladimir Putin has turned Barack Obama totally into Jimmy Carter,” Henninger wrote in the Journal. And it wasn't just Ukraine. “The consequences of Mr. Obama's Carterization overseas are coming so fast it's hard to keep track,” Henninger insisted, as he then blamed Obama for pretty much every recent diplomatic skirmish.
But what did Henninger write in August 2008 when Russian tanks invaded another neighbor, prompting the Five Day War, which left hundreds dead and thousands homeless? Which taunting adjectives did Henninger use to blame then-President Bush for allowing Putin's Russia to push the United States around on the international stage; for turning Bush into an ineffective Jimmy Carter?
In an August 14, 2008 column, Henninger directly addressed Putin's act of aggression. But Henninger never once typed the word “Bush” or “White House” or reference the American “president.” Back in 2008, Henninger was quite clear that Putin, and to a lesser degree, leaders in Europe, were at fault, not Bush. In fact, Bush wasn't even a player in the crisis:
If the world's foreign ministries, CEOs, investors and policy intellectuals can't see the implications for their world in Georgia's fate, it's time to reorder our best efforts to playing by Mr. Putin's rules>
Notice who's conspicuously absent from that list of people who should've been deeply concerned about Russia's expansionist move? President Bush. Incredibly, partisan Henninger wrote an entire column about Russia's Georgia invasion and its far-reaching consequences without ever mentioning the President of the United States.
Yet in 2014, Russia's Ukraine invasion is the president's fault (leading from behind!) even though Obama responded to the invasion pretty much the same way Bush responded in 2008.
It gets even worse. Against the backdrop of the 2008 campaign, Henninger suggested Russia's invasion of Georgia actually represented good news for Sen. John McCain. Appearing on Fox, Henninger marveled at how the Republican presidential nominee “got lucky when Russia invaded Georgia” because the crisis supposedly gave McCain the advantage by having foreign affairs thrust into the forefront of the political debate.
How's that for intellectual dishonesty? When a Republican was in the White House and Russia invaded its neighbor that was good news for the Republican Party, according to Henninger. But today, when a Democrat's in the White House and Russia invades its neighbor, that represents a total collapse of Democratic leadership; it means Democrats are “vulnerable” on national security.
Partisan flip-flops don't come much more blatant than that.