Yesterday I posted a column on politicalwire.com about the political ramifications of the crisis in Georgia. Today, both Senators Obama and McCain had new statements on the crisis, here’s my take.
Obama broke away from his Hawaii vacation to issue a short statement. He starts off with a roundhouse punch:
“For many months, I have warned that there needs to be active international engagement to peacefully address the disputes over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, including a high-level and neutral international mediator, and a genuine international peacekeeping force – not simply Russian troops.”
While that may sound tame, it’s a direct shot at the Bush administration for not taking a more active role in heading off this crisis. After all, Condi Rice was in Georgia just a month ago and did not anticipate any of the events that would eventually engulf our ally in a potentially existential battle. It doesn’t help either than while Georgia was frantically trying to find a way to get its troops out of Iraq and back home to defend their capital, President Bush was watching beach volleyball.
From there, Obama repeats the boilerplate western response to the crisis – Russia has overreacted and they need to stop immediately. He then adds this:
“We should also convene other international forums to condemn this aggression, to call for an immediate halt to the violence, and to review multilateral and bilateral arrangements with Russia, including Russia’s interest in joining the World Trade Organization.”
Wow, trade sanctions, how retro. Given that Russia is currently swimming in oil revenues, that doesn’t seem like much of a threat. Obama does a little better offering a long-term solution:
“Russian peacekeeping troops should be replaced by a genuine international peacekeeping force, Georgia should refrain from using force in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and a political settlement must be reached that addresses the status of these disputed regions.”
Not only is this the correct approach, it’s the one Obama has been advocating all along. Obama then calls for a “NATO membership action plan” for Georgia. What on earth that means, I have no clue.
Finally, Obama addresses the long-term relationship with Russia:
“We want Russia to play its rightful role as a great nation, but with that role comes the responsibility to act as a force for progress in this new century, not regression to the conflicts of the past. That is why the United States and the international community must speak out strongly against this aggression, and for peace and security.”
Not sure what to make of that statement. Russia should get it’s act together – nice sentiment, but as opponents of Bush’s Iraq policy have said for years, hope is not a plan.
On balance, Obama’s statement strengthened his position, mostly because he returned to his pre-crisis stance about Georgia. But it’s also clear that Obama has no Russia policy and will have a lot of work to do to clean up Bush’s mess.
As for McCain, absent any leadership from the White House on this issue, he’s appointed himself Commander in Chief in abstentia. His rhetoric sounds like a President preparing a nation for war:
“Russian aggression against Georgia is both a matter of urgent moral and strategic importance to the United States of America."
Taegan Goddard pointed out earlier today that much of McCain’s speech seemed to be lifted directly out of wikipedia. I don’t know if anyone’s asked McCain about this yet, but I’m sure his response will be “what’s wikipedia?” But I digress …
McCain seems eager to give Americans a history lesson about Georgia. And then we get this:
“What the people of Georgia have accomplished in terms of Democratic governance, Western orientation and domestic reform, is nothing short of remarkable. That makes Russia’s recent actions against the Georgians all the more alarming. In the face of Russian aggression, the very existence of independent Georgia and the survival of its democratically elected government are at stake.”
Much about this quote is true and I don’t want to take anything way from courage of the Georgian people. But to say that Russia is 100 percent responsible for this current crisis is simply wrong. There’s no doubt that Mikheil Saakashvili has taken enormous risks in seeking entry into NATO and did the U.S. an enormous favor by staying in Iraq all this time. But he’s also acted recklessly in South Ossetia and last week seemed to be daring the Russians to respond. If the independence of Georgia is at stake today, Saakashvili’s recklessness is somewhat to blame.
And that raises another question – who in America is advising him? Secretary Rice was in Georgia last month. Randy Scheunemann, the top foreign policy advisory for McCain, was a paid lobbyist for Georgia up until March. The Obama campaign, eager to exploit the lobbyist connection, is asking the wrong questions of Scheuenemann. There’s nothing inherently wrong with helping out Georgia – but there might be something very wrong about giving that nation bad advice that put their security and independence at risk. Just like neo-cons hung Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert out to dry last year by encouraging his ill-fated war in Lebanon, so-called friends of Scheuemann need to be held responsible for Georgia’s blunders.
But before I slam McCain completely for his speech, I do need to point out that while Obama offered very little Russia policy in his speech, McCain has clearly been thinking a great deal about what he’d do to handle Putin. In addition to international condemnation of the attacks and a renewed call to welcome Georgia into NATO, McCain also called for assisting Ukraine and making sure the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is secure. But like Obama, McCain has no answer to the “then what” question.
The truth is, unless the entire world is willing to come down on Russia for this attack and extract a pound of flesh (and I can’t think of anything short of Putin’s resignation that would achieve anything) then the only real lever we have left is outright war. It’s the threat of war that drives the Georgia/NATO campaign. And it’s the expectation of Western backing in the streets of Tbilisi today that is creating so much discontent with America for taking Georgia’s help in Iraq and returning no favors.
McCain closed his remarks today by saying “world history is often made in remote, obscure countries.” That sounds an awful lot like a threat to start World War III unless Russia behaves. It’s a threat McCain cannot back up as long as America is bogged down in Iraq and ready to pounce on Iran. Without an ability to fight, McCain’s rhetoric is nothing to the people of Tbilisi but more empty promises.