Russia: A Case Study in How John McCain Responds to Crisis

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Russia: A Case Study in How John McCain Responds to Crisis

Washington, D.C. – In this current economic crisis steady and responsible guidance from our leaders is more important than ever.  In the upcoming debate on Friday, John McCain will cite his assertive and immediate condemnation of Russia’s attack on Georgia as evidence of his good judgment and ability to respond in times of crisis. Unfortunately for McCain, three former Republican Secretaries of State – Henry Kissinger, James Baker, and Colin Powell – at a forum last week strongly disagreed with his rash reaction as well as his past calls for a broadly confrontational approach toward Russia.

As conflict erupted, McCain recklessly issued bellicose statements, condemning Russia without waiting for all the facts, while Barack Obama, other world leaders, and President Bush took a more measured approach. Henry Kissinger said the unpleasant fact is that “the first shot was fired on the Georgian side” and Colin Powell said the Georgians provoked the crisis. Additionally, all three Secretaries of State called for some perspective.  James Baker argued that we have to look at this conflict “in a strategic context not tactically. We have some big-picture issues to be conscious of” and that while the U.S. should support democratic governments “these are little flash fires that we need to be aware of and deal with properly, but that should not be cause for rupturing the entire big relationship.” Colin Powell explained that “you have to treat Russia in a straightforward, businesslike, objective way and not emotionally.” Yet McCain’s emotional outcry that “we are all Georgians” and his dangerous proposal to kick Russia out of the G-8, are completely counter to this approach.  In fact, we are already seeing the fall-out of the souring in U.S.-Russian relations, as cooperation on critical issues such as Iran, energy, and the UN Security Council have been dramatically curtailed.

McCain’s Response At the Outbreak of the Crisis Was Reckless and Wrong

McCain’s response to Russia – without waiting for the facts – blamed and condemned Russia and pledged extensive commitments to Georgia. “McCain took a remarkably – and uniquely – more aggressive stance, siding clearly with Georgia’s pro-Western leaders and placing the blame for the conflict entirely on Russia.” The Politico assessed that “while virtually every other world leader called for calm in Georgia last Thursday morning, John McCain did something he’s done many times over his career in public life: He condemned Russia.” [Politico, 8/10/08. Politico, 8/13/08. CBS, 8/12/08]

Colin Powell dismisses McCain’s reckless “we are all Georgians” statement – says we have to be careful in a crisis and act businesslike, not emotional. Asked by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour to explain McCain’s statement that “‘we are all Georgians now.’  What does that mean?” Secretary Powell responded, “One candidate said that, and I’ll let the candidate explain it for himself.  (Laughter.)  No, the fact of the matter is that you have to be very careful in a situation like this not just to leap to one side or the other until you’ve taken a good analysis of the whole situation. So you have to treat Russia in a straightforward, businesslike, objective way and not emotionally.” [CNAS, 9/15/08]

Henry Kissinger: Georgia shot first, should not overreact to crisis. “We have to face the fact that the first shot in Georgia was fired on the Georgian side.  Now, Russia reacted in an excessive manner, but we should not make the whole relationship depend on the pictures that you showed. And I would urge the new President, as I am urging this President to explore the possibilities of cooperation and be very sure before we go the route of cutting off WTO and the other international measures for which cooperation with Russia may be very important.” [CNAS, 9/15/08]

Colin Powell: Georgians provoked and conflict was predictable. “Now, in the current situation the Russians acted brutally.  I think they acted foolishly.  But it was also absolutely predictable what the Russians would do.  You could see them stacking up their troops.  And I think it was foolhardy on the part of President Saakashvli and the Georgian government to kick over this can, to light a match in a room full of gasoline.” When asked by CNN’s Frank Sesno, “So you’re saying the Georgians provoked this.” Secretary Powell responded, “They did.  I mean, there was a lot of reasons to have provocations in the area, but the match that started the conflagration was from the Georgian side.” [CNAS, 9/15/08]

Contrary to McCain’s Views – Secretaries of State All Say U.S.-Russia Relationship Bigger Than The Situation in Georgia

McCain has on numerous occasions called for kicking Russia out of the G-8 – an idea that could well lead to a new Cold War and preclude any cooperation on key non-proliferation issues. On August 11th, McCain issued a statement saying “Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin must understand the severe, long-term negative consequences that their government’s actions will have for Russia’s relationship with the U.S. and Europe.”In a Foreign Affairs article published late last year, McCain also advocated kicking Russia out of the G-8: “Today, we see in Russia diminishing political freedoms, a leadership dominated by a clique of former intelligence officers, efforts to bully democratic neighbors, such as Georgia, and attempts to manipulate Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas. We need a new Western approach to this revanchist Russia. We should start by ensuring that the G-8, the group of eight highly industrialized states, becomes again a club of leading market democracies: it should include Brazil and India but exclude Russia.” McCain repeated this suggestion in his Los Angeles World Foreign Affairs Council speech that the G-8 should “include India and Brazil, but exclude Russia.” [John, 8/11/08. Foreign Affairs, 11-12/07.  McCain, 3/26/08]

Henry Kissinger: U.S.-Russia relationship too important to sacrifice over situation in Georgia.  “We have a number of common issues that we have to settle, if possible, with Russia.  We need Russia for a solution of the Iranian problem.  We may need Russia if Pakistan evolves in some of the directions that it might.  And it is helpful to cooperate with Russia not just on the [nuclear] question, but on the issues of energy.  It is an effort that should not be decided by what happened in Georgia.” [CNAS, 9/15/08, NPR, 9/23/08]

James Baker:  U.S. should not over react; we must look to big-picture issues. “Look at it in a strategic context and not tactically we have some big-picture issues that we need to be conscious of when we think about our future with Russia, and we ought to cooperate with them where we can, where they fit, but we ought to also be willing to confront them where our vital interests are involved. We are committed to the independence of these former republics of the former Soviet Union, and that should continue to be our position.  That doesn’t mean we ought to send the 101st Airborne in to guard the South Ossetian border.  I mean, that would not make very good sense and that’s not the kind of thing we ought to be speculating about.” [CNAS, 9/15/08]

James Baker: U.S. needs strategic outlook and should not rupture relationship with Russia over its border conflicts. Secretary Baker said that the U.S. should focus “strategically and not tactically.  You’re going to have these border conflicts all around the periphery of the former Soviet Union.  They’re there.  Stalin created ethnic tensions.  And these are little flash fires that we need to be aware of and deal with properly, but that should not be cause for rupturing the entire big relationship because unless we can keep that big relationship together to deal with nonproliferation, to deal with the environment, climate change, you name it.”  [CNAS, 9/15/08]

Strain in U.S.-Russia relationship already adversely impacting important areas of cooperation. Josh Meyer of The Los Angeles Times explains “Already, many U.S. diplomatic, law enforcement and intelligence relationships with Russia have been suspended, along with at least one military exercise. Some hard-liners are lobbying to downscale those alliances permanently, officials say. Some high-level meetings have been postponed indefinitely, including a trip to Russia by John Rood, the acting undersecretary of State for arms control and international security, to discuss various security issues and to negotiate a new pact to replace the existing Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START. And the congressionally appointed Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism has been asked to not go on its upcoming fact-finding visit to Moscow. Many U.S. officials said the freeze couldn’t come at a worse time. They cite intelligence showing that the Caucasus region increasingly is becoming a crossroads for Islamic extremists, criminal mafias, black market traffickers and corrupt government officials. Some officials say such a hard-line posture could backfire because the reemerging superpower is key to most important U.S. security alliances. Russia’s cooperation is needed to secure its own nuclear and chemical weapons stockpiles and those of about 20 other countries, and to prevent WMD material, technology and know-how from getting into the hands of terrorists.” [LA Times, 9/22/08]


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