by Frank Schnittger
Thu Aug 14th, 2008 at 09:27:14 AM EST
RealClearPolitics - Articles - A Cut-and-Paste Foreign Policy
The discovery that John McCain's remarks on Georgia were derived from Wikipedia, to put it politely, is disturbing and even depressing -- but not surprising. Under the tutelage of the neo-conservatives, who revealed their superficial understanding of Iraq both before and after the invasion, he favors bellicose grandstanding over strategic thinking. So why delve deeper than a quick Google search?
Worse still, neither he nor his advisers yet grasp how our misadventure in Mesopotamia has diminished American power and prestige. In fact, the Wikipedia episode -- an awful embarrassment that would have devastated the presidential campaign of Barack Obama or any other Democrat -- revealed an underlying weakness in Sen. McCain's vaunted grasp of foreign policy.
Personally I think Wikipedia can be rather good at providing a summary on some arcane subject - one that would take hours to compile from other sources. Of course it can also get things wrong, but when you read the pages of Op-Ed on the Georgia Crisis in the MSM, you wonder if they can ever get it right.
However the Georgia crises seems tailor made to revive the moribund McCain campaign. Not only does it revive the Cold War psychology that has been the basis of far-right ascendancy in US politics, but it allows McCain to claim that he was right about Putin all along.
However there are some MSM Op-Ed pieces that cut pretty close to the bone:
RealClearPolitics - Articles - A Cut-and-Paste Foreign Policy
Still enthralled by an exhausted ideology, he (McCain) seems unable to analyze how we can avoid manipulation by allies or adversaries while advancing our own real interests. Those interests include the cultivation of democracy but also the promotion of regional stability and international security. Pretending to confront Russia from a position of weakness doesn't help.
Frankly, the Arizona Republican's latest foray onto the world stage suggested that he is not quite ready for the responsibilities of the presidency. When he emphasized that Georgia was "one of the world's first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion," he sounded like a politician who will gladly damage our global influence merely for the sake of pandering to his partisan base.
Certainly the propagandists of Al Qaeda must have been pleased to hear an ally of President Bush confirm that the United States is engaged in a worldwide crusade, for that is how such words are interpreted by Muslims. (And since when does American policy prefer nations for adopting any "official religion," Christian or otherwise?) This was rhetorical blundering worthy of the Bush White House.
Now, Sen. McCain is not alone among politicians and pundits in exploiting the Georgian crisis to promote an exhausted ideology. Nor is he alone in ignoring the impact of Iraq on our ability to defend our allies by means of diplomacy or force. From the editorial page of The Washington Post to the office of the vice president, much sound and fury has emanated, signifying very little except a shared determination to ignore reality. When Dick Cheney threatens the Russians with "serious consequences," what is he talking about? What would the Bush administration or its cheerleaders actually have done if the Russians had pushed on toward the Georgian capital?
Without any prejudice to the cause of Georgia's sovereignty or its democratic aspirations, the true answer is not much, despite the illusions that our policy evidently encouraged among the Georgian leadership and people. Blustering aside, there was never the slightest chance that Europe or the United States would come to their assistance with military force against Russian troops. There are many reasons to avoid such a disaster, notably the enormous Russian nuclear arsenal, the European dependence on Russian energy supplies and the cataclysmic effect on the world economy.
Even if we contemplated the use of force, we scarcely have the capacity after squandering our power in Iraq. We can hardly bring effective diplomatic force to bear, either, beyond the tinny echo of White House blustering. The Russians must have laughed as they watched Georgian troops depart in haste from Iraq -- and cackled when the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations accused them of seeking "regime change" in Tbilisi. Are we telling them they cannot just invade a country they dislike, without international sanction, because they feel threatened?
There can be no doubt that Vladimir Putin's Russia poses a challenge to the West, and to the next administration. It can be argued that Russian ambitions must be checked now to discourage its bullying imperialism. It can also be argued that bringing the former Soviet republics into NATO only provokes the Russians into resisting encirclement by their Cold War enemies, and that we must engage Russia to cope with existential threats like nuclear proliferation and Islamist extremism. What can no longer be sanely argued is that reflexive ideology and confrontational bluster will secure our future.
We desperately need a new foreign policy that combines idealism with realism. And a president who doesn't lift his talking points from Wikipedia.
However the more immediate question is how will this "reflexive ideology and confrontational bluster" play with the US electorate. McCain has grasped the opportunity to play the "hard man" President who will be tough with the Ruskies like it was manna from heaven. Most Americans don't know where Georgia is (have the Ruskies invaded the deep South?) but they sure like to know which side their President is on. McCain makes his position very clear in the title of his piece in the WSJ - the house magazine of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili:
We Are All Georgians - WSJ.com
For anyone who thought that stark international aggression was a thing of the past, the last week must have come as a startling wake-up call. After clashes in the Georgian region of South Ossetia, Russia invaded its neighbor, launching attacks that threaten its very existence. Some Americans may wonder why events in this part of the world are any concern of ours. After all, Georgia is a small, remote and obscure place. But history is often made in remote, obscure places.
As Russian tanks and troops moved through the Roki Tunnel and across the internationally recognized border into Georgia, the Russian government stated that it was acting only to protect Ossetians. Yet regime change in Georgia appears to be the true Russian objective.
Two years ago, I traveled to South Ossetia. As soon as we arrived at its self-proclaimed capital -- now occupied by Russian troops -- I saw an enormous billboard that read, "Vladimir Putin, Our President." This was on sovereign Georgian territory.
Russian claims of humanitarian motives were further belied by a bombing campaign that encompassed the whole of Georgia, destroying military bases, apartment buildings and other infrastructure, and leaving innocent civilians wounded and killed. As the Russian Black Sea Fleet began concentrating off of the Georgian coast and Russian troops advanced on one city after another, there could be no doubt about the nature of their aggression.
Despite a French-brokered cease-fire -- which worryingly does not refer to Georgia's territorial integrity -- Russian attacks have continued. There are credible reports of civilian killings and even ethnic cleansing as Russian troops move deeper into Georgian territory.
Moscow's foreign minister revealed at least part of his government's aim when he stated that "Mr. Saakashvili" -- the democratically elected president of Georgia -- "can no longer be our partner. It would be better if he went." Russia thereby demonstrated why its neighbors so ardently seek NATO membership.
In the wake of this crisis, there are the stirrings of a new trans-Atlantic consensus about the way we should approach Russia and its neighbors. The leaders of Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Latvia flew to Tbilisi to demonstrate their support for Georgia, and to condemn Russian aggression. The French president traveled to Moscow in an attempt to end the fighting. The British foreign minister hinted of a G-8 without Russia, and the British opposition leader explicitly called for Russia to be suspended from the grouping.
So has Obama been seriously wrong-footed on this issue, and is it time he returned from his holiday to show how he would act as President? Will the US electorate also buy into this re-enactment of Cold War politics or will it re-enforce their determination to vote for Change and a new kind of politics?
It may seem preposterous to claim that Georgia's action was driven by the US Presidential campaign, but consider the following:
Georgia War: A Neocon Election Ploy?
Is it possible that this time the October surprise was tried in August, and that the garbage issue of brave little Georgia struggling for its survival from the grasp of the Russian bear was stoked to influence the US presidential election?
Before you dismiss that possibility, consider the role of one Randy Scheunemann, for four years a paid lobbyist for the Georgian government, ending his official lobbying connection only in March, months after he became Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain's senior foreign policy adviser.
Previously, Scheunemann was best known as one of the neoconservatives who engineered the war in Iraq when he was a director of the Project for a New American Century. It was Scheunemann who, after working on the McCain 2000 presidential campaign, headed the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which championed the US Iraq invasion.
There are telltale signs that he played a similar role in the recent Georgia flare-up. How else to explain the folly of his close friend and former employer, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, in ordering an invasion of the breakaway region of South Ossetia, which clearly was expected to produce a Russian counter-reaction. It is inconceivable that Saakashvili would have triggered this dangerous escalation without some assurance from influential Americans he trusted, like Scheunemann, that the United States would have his back. Scheunemann long guided McCain in these matters, even before he was officially running foreign policy for McCain's presidential campaign.
In 2005, while registered as a paid lobbyist for Georgia, Scheunemann worked with McCain to draft a congressional resolution pushing for Georgia's membership in NATO. A year later, while still on the Georgian payroll, Scheunemann accompanied McCain on a trip to that country, where they met with Saakashvili and supported his bellicose views toward Russia's Vladimir Putin.
Scheunemann is at the center of the neoconservative cabal that has come to dominate the Republican candidate's foreign policy stance in a replay of the run-up to the war against Iraq. These folks are always looking for a foreign enemy on which to base a new cold war, and with the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, it was Putin's Russia that came increasingly to fit the bill.
Yes, it sounds diabolical, but that may be the most accurate way to assess the designs of the McCain campaign in matters of war and peace. There is every indication that the candidate's demonization of Putin is an even grander plan than the previous use of Hussein to fuel American militarism with the fearsome enemy that it desperately needs.
McCain gets to look tough with a new cold war to fight while Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama, scrambling to make sense of a more measured foreign policy posture, will seem weak in comparison. Meanwhile, the dire consequences of the Bush legacy McCain has inherited, from the disaster of Iraq to the economic meltdown, conveniently will be ignored. But it will provide the military-industrial complex, which has helped bankroll the neoconservatives, with an excuse for ramping up a military budget that is already bigger than that of the rest of the world combined.
What is at work here is a neoconservative, self-fulfilling prophecy in which Russia is turned into an enemy that ramps up its largely reduced military, and Putin is cast as the new Joseph Stalin bogeyman, evoking images of the old Soviet Union. McCain has condemned a "revanchist Russia" that should once again be contained. Although Putin has been the enormously popular elected leader of post-Communist Russia, it is assumed that imperialism is always lurking, not only in his DNA but in that of the Russian people.
What seems clear is that the Geogia issue is a Godsend for the previously becalmed McCain campaign. What better issue to show up the "inexperience" of Barak Obama? Never mind that the narrative has little to do with the realities on the Ground in Georgia, South Ossetia or, for that matter, in Russia. McCain finally has a stick to beat Obama with.