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August 08, 2008

Picking a Fight with Russia: Very Presidential
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Things seem to have gone very wrong in Georgia and South Ossetia.  It doesn't really look like anybody has a very clear idea of what is going on.  As a Presidential candidate you have two choices:

A.  Take a cautious approach and call for the cession of violence on all sides
B.  Pick a fight with the world's second largest nuclear power by blaming them without taking the time to figure out what is going on.

Obama chooses A.   

"I strongly condemn the outbreak of violence in Georgia, and urge an immediate end to armed conflict...Now is the time for Georgia and Russia to show restraint, and to avoid an escalation to full-scale war. Georgia's territorial integrity must be respected."

McCain chooses B.

Today news reports indicate that Russian military forces crossed an internationally-recognized border into the sovereign territory of Georgia. Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory. What is most critical now is to avoid further confrontation between Russian and Georgian military forces.

Seriously, nobody really knows what is going on there.  It could be that it is all Russia's fault, but the situation is likely much more complicated than that.  If we want to play a healthy and mediating role in stopping the violence, which is what McCain and Obama both claim to want to do, we should probably hold off on picking a fight.  Especially considering that we have other serious interests with the Russians who also happen to have a lot of nuclear weapons.  McCain promises broad cooperation with the Russians on nuclear proliferation.  How exactly does he plan to achieve that if he's going to come out so aggressively on this type of an issue without even thinking through the consequences of shooting first and asking questions second?

Update:  Also, Think Progress and Matt Duss point out that Randy Schueneman, McCain's foreign policy advisor, was for a long time a registered lobbyist for Georgia. 


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It is more important than ever to end the Cold War mentality that seems to still influence some politicians in this country. The Bush administration's approach to Russia has been disasterous in that the US has chosen sides in both the Ukraine and Georgia. This in turn has made leaders of these countries take a more hostile approach to Russia which has further destabilized the old Soviet Union. The US needs to stop influecing political events in the former USSR and try to make amends with Russia. John McCain's anti-Russia policy will not only alienate America from Russia, but also key allies such as Germany and France who want to economically integrate Russia with Europe. Obama promises a new direction in that as he stated in his Berlin speech to end the Cold War mentality that sill haunts American foreign policy in regards to Russia. However in order to have a new approach with Russia, Obama needs to drop his support for Georgia and the Ukraine bids for NATO membership.

The expansion of NATO has always read like a victory lap by the US. The wider arc of the response, if not individual details, was largely predictable: an isolated Russia moves to the right. While the Pentagon studies "Alexander the Great, Imperial Rome, Genghis Khan, and Napoleonic France..." to learn how to rule the world properly.
It would have been far wiser for the US to encourage a new democratic "eastern bloc."
Anyone here ever make that argument?

"Things seem to have gone very wrong..."
I gather that's supposed to be charmingly disingenuous.

I'm not going to be voting for John McCain here... But I'm with him here. Russia had no reason to invade Georgia. It is near impossible that Georgia was the provocateur here.

It is near impossible that Georgia was the provocateur here.

Why "near impossible"? The separatists in South Ossetia have been a PITA to the Georgian government for years: the Georgians have upgraded their military mainly with US equipment and training since the 1990s (and have a brigade deployed in Iraq); even if their Army isn't quite as large as the Russians'. Pushing a conflict with the Russians over South Ossetia and Abkhazia may -eventually -prove to be a miscalculation: but neither side's hands are completely clean in this conflict.

To Simmons:

David Hearst and James Orr have an article in the Guardian newspaper, which states that the Georgian president wanted to attack South Ossetia during the Olympics believing that the Russian would be distracted by the Olympic games. However this has proven to be severe miscaculation by the Georgian president, and also it appears that the people of South Ossetia want to be independent of Georgia and have a closer relationship with the Russians.

Well it seems that Russia provoked Georgia into starting something that only Russia was prepared to finish.

Honestly, why should Russia listen to us? What are we going to do--we don't have military options and the Euros aren't going to jeopardize the oil and natural gas Russia sends them. Russia has a free hand which means they will be doing something with Abkhazia and S. Ossetia though even I doubt they'd go with out-right annexation.

Worst case scenario they conquer Georgia (though that seems almost unimaginable right now) in which case I think we have to respond somehow because it puts pressure on supply routes into Afghanistan. Now would have been a good time to have a rapprochement with Iran that started in 2003 or whenever they offered the moon.

I'm sorry, but I just can't buy it. I am with the folks over at Contentions on this one:

"Forget all the ads, the videos, the talking points, and the accusations. Here’s what it comes down to: In a geopolitical crisis, you have one candidate with a handle on the specific players and their intentions, and ideas on specific ways to move forward; then you have another candidate who says parties “should try to help bring about a peaceful resolution.” There’s your choice"

P.S. I can't help but notice that you cut the McCain quote in half. Here is the whole thing: "Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory. What is most critical now is to avoid further confrontation between Russian and Georgian military forces. The consequences of Euro-Atlantic stability and security are grave. The government of Georgia has called for a cease fire and for a resumption of direct talks on South Ossetia with international mediators. The U.S. should immediately convene an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council to call on Russia to reverse course. The U.S. should immediately work with the E.U. and the OSCE to put diplomatic pressure on Russia to reverse this perilous course that it has chose."

For the "professional" assholes who write this blog. Here's an amateur saying what you won't have the guts to say.

"Hasn't the West been relentlessly provocative? Didn't Russia warn us about the eastward expansion of NATO, anti-missile defenses in the Czech Republic, and the independence of Kosovo?

Yes, yes they did. And it doesn't matter an iota to our bi-partisan foreign policy Establishment. This is power geopolitics at its rawest and it has major consequences for our strategic position in Central Asia and the Middle East. Did Dick Cheney say something alarmingly bellicose? Sure. But Cheney differs from Holbrooke only in tone. Russia is threatening more than the Bush/Cheney policy vis-a-vis Georgia. They are threatening eight years of Clinton foreign policy.

In the many years I have been writing this blog I have been a consistent critic of Clinton's foreign policy, especially in the Caucuses and as relates to NATO expansion. I made these points many times during the primaries. But there are two things you need to keep in mind. Just because there are legitimate criticisms of U.S. foreign policy does not mean that Russia is on the right side of history. But, more importantly, the foreign policy Establishment is united behind these policies and has invested in them over the course now of almost 20 years. There isn't a whole lot of room for debate over what should have been. We're here now. Like an aircraft carrier, you cannot turn around bipartisan U.S. foreign policy on a dime. This is not some uniquely neoconservative policy. This is U.S. policy.

Working to change that policy demands that we understand the policy as it is and as it has been. We need to understand the military justification of that policy (access to energy supplies to fuel our Naval Fleets and Air Force) as well as the economic justifications. And we should not kid ourselves that we will find Democratic allies in Congress or the Obama campaign that are going to argue that our policy has been all wrong all along. That will never happen. If this conflict becomes a matter of debate in the presidential campaign, it will not be over the wisdom of the overall policy. Obama would be abandoned by the foreign policy Establishment in a New York Minute."

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