Archive for Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Will McCain be foreign policy realist?

September 17, 2008


Sarah Palin says we might go to war with Russia over Georgia.

I don't really hold her responsible for this astonishing remark. With no foreign-policy experience, the Alaska governor was heavily briefed by McCain staff before her first TV interview last week. Presumably, she was voicing the position of John McCain.

She opined that, if Georgia joined NATO and Moscow attacked again, maybe America would have to fight the Russians. In other words, the world's two biggest nuclear powers would engage in battle, after avoiding such a catastrophe for the whole Cold War.

Palin's words reminded me how surreal this campaign has become. Her backers trivialized her last week with silly claims that an Obama remark about "lipstick on a pig" referred to Palin (it clearly didn't). I take her more seriously.

After what she said on Russia, I want to know when the Republican ticket believes it is appropriate for America to use force.

To be fair, both presidential candidates, and both of their running mates, have endorsed NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine. This certainly plays to the emotions, given Russia's behavior in Georgia.

But are we really ready to go to war over Tblisi? No one but Palin has raised this possibility and, it is hoped, no one else thinks it. (The Democrats should clarify their thinking on the issue.)

In fact, Article Five of the NATO treaty, which calls on members to help one another if attacked, has loopholes; most of the European members would probably veto a war over Georgia.

Yet talk of war on Palin's part raises real questions about what the top of the ticket thinks.

McCain's key foreign-policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, founded a consulting firm that has received more than $700,000 to lobby for Georgia (Scheunemann stopped his lobbying work earlier this year). McCain is chairman of the International Republican Institute, which has monitored Georgian elections and helped train democratic activists there.

McCain says he wants to found a League of Democracies that would stand up to autocracies. Never mind that large democracies such as India and Indonesia would have little interest in an organization pitted directly against Russia, China and Iran. Most of the world is not interested in such Manichean divisions.

The question here is not whether Georgia deserves democracy, but whether America should use force to promote it. McCain's answer still isn't clear.

McCain has called himself a "realistic idealist" in interviews. Republican realists identify with people like former Secretaries of State James Baker or Henry Kissinger, who would use force only when vital interests were at stake.

Hawkish idealists want force to be used to promote American principles, including democracy, and bring about regime change. They support pre-emptive action even when there is no immediate danger. They believed America could remake the Middle East.

The neoconservatives who argued early on for an Iraq war fell into this category. McCain identified with them. We know how that war turned out.

McCain gets much credit for the change in strategy that improved Iraqi security. But the basic premise of the war was terribly mistaken. Today's Iraq is ruled by religious parties and is far from democratic. The war strengthened Tehran and undercut liberal Arab movements throughout the Middle East.

McCain as realist can make a strong case for caution about the speed of a U.S. pullout, lest Iraq collapse again. But a realist would also recognize that our time in Iraq may well be limited by Iraqi anger and impatience at occupation.

A realist would grasp that Iraq is not the central front in the struggle against jihadi terrorists. That front is now on the very dangerous Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

A realist would understand that America must focus military resources, carefully, on a counterinsurgency strategy to curb Islamist terror groups in key locales. He would see that nonmilitary means are as important as force.

And a realist would know that America needs to cooperate with Russia on our most vital national-security interest - keeping nuclear materials and weapons out of the hands of terrorists who want to make bombs.

This is not the moment in our history for a democracy crusade. The Bush administration tried that; the next president will have to deal with the consequences.

Our country is entitled to know whether McCain will continue the Bush crusades, or whether he has a realist's grasp of the world. Palin's answer on Georgia puts that question front and center.

Palin is new to foreign policy. McCain's advisers may have misled her. What we need to know is where John McCain stands.

- Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer.


Jennifer Forth 9 years, 9 months ago

I think the response here would be to wonder why it is America's job to be policeman for the rest of the world. We are traditionally an isolationist society. All of our recent efforts to spread 'the good word' to the rest of the world have been huge blunders because we see the world as us versus totalitarianism and radical Islam much like during the Cold War. There's a lot in between.

Brent Garner 9 years, 9 months ago

And so, for your financial salvation, it is better to allow countless millions to fall under the tyranny of totalitarianism whether that be a resurgent Russia or advancing Radical Islam? Is that your position, Daytrader?Your dollars/euros before the freedom and liberty of others? How mercenary!

Daytrader23 9 years, 9 months ago

McCain and Palin want to continue the crusades, look at them, they are drooling at the mouths ready to start a third and fourth war and then starting WW3. I hate to tell you, but America is broke, we can't afford another war, heck we can't afford the two that we are already in. A vote for McCain will flush America down the drain. It's time to let countries deal with their own problems so America can focus on it's problems, like avoiding another great depression.

lee66049 9 years, 9 months ago

Foreign policy....I am reminded of Obama having prepared conditional, unconditional talks with leaders of Iran. Meanwhile Iran is working on nuclear weapons. Who can forget the ever famous remark by Barrack when speaking in Israel "Israel is a friend of Israel." Do you realize that during a presidential campaign, Obama had to go overseas so he could say he meet with foreign leaders? So please.....before anyone thinks democrats have any kind of foreign policy consider this. The most terrorist attacks against the US, ever occurred during the Clinton administration. Remember 9/11 was planned, trained for and practiced in the United States during Clinton's term of office. That's not what anyone would call stellar.Democrats should stick to what they do tax rebates back to people that don't pay taxes.

jayhawklawrence 9 years, 9 months ago

America has never really lost a war in the manner that Germany, France, Japan and others have lost. These countries know what it is like to be pounded into near oblivion.We don't have any memory of utter defeat and this is part of the reason for our ignorance. If we really knew that pain, we would not be walking around so cocky, talking about war with Russia on the other side of the planet, over a country few Americans have a clue about.So what is this really about? This is about influential people in our government who have investments or friends with investments in Georgia. I am not going to allow any child of mine to go fight a war on the other side of the planet because some joker made bad investments.Anyone who promotes this kind of bellicose rhetoric is in my opinion, incompetent and utterly foolish. So, are we becoming a nation of fools?Why are we even listening to the Republicans? They got us into this mess. Time to say enough is enough.

llama726 9 years, 9 months ago

Yeah, damn those poor people, right lee?

lee66049 9 years, 9 months ago

LLama perhaps it is a reading comprehension do you pay taxes back to people that don't pay taxes? Just explain that....this is going to be great.

BrianR 9 years, 9 months ago

If McCain is elected and turns out to be a foreign policy realist, it would be unprecedented in this century for a U.S. president.

oldvet 9 years, 9 months ago

Sadly, lee, it's done every year using the Earned Income Credit... people below certain income levels get a credit that results in an income tax refund for them even though they did not pay those taxes. Another liberal handout...

lee66049 9 years, 9 months ago

Very true old vet. If Obama would just come out and say he wants to raise taxes to give handouts to the poor that would be one thing. But to cloak it in a message that 95% of Americans get tax money back, knowing that 95% of Americans don't pay taxes is a bold face lie. Back to world friends on the how and when did Obama become an expert on world affairs? Surely you can't be thinking of Pee Wee's Big Adventure to the citizens of the world. LOL!

llama726 9 years, 9 months ago

I don't pay taxes? Wasn't aware of that.

jayhawklawrence 9 years, 9 months ago

It is ironic that people are complaining about handouts to the poor when we are today seeing an $85 Billion dollar bailout of AIG. Crony Capitalism?I guess that is different than a handout because the dollar amount is so huge.Do you really pity these folks on Wall Street?No, but I pity the people that believe they are getting a fair deal from the Republicans.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.