By Bill Boyarsky
The brief, bloody Georgia war provided another example of John McCain’s reckless views on foreign policy and what he’ll do if he becomes president.
He’s Bush but worse. Forget the moderate image, promoted by an admiring media. Forget the so-called straight talk and independence. With the Russian-Georgian war winding down, McCain has firmly established himself as an old-fashioned Cold Warrior and a supporter of the huge oil companies that have a big stake in Georgia and the rest of the Caucasus.
President Bush talks to the Russians. McCain seems to long for the Iron Curtain days of those long decades of conflict with plenty of brinkmanship, saber rattling and possibly a trip to the edge of war.
Bush chatted with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during the Olympics, even while Russian troops were invading Georgia. Engagement with the Russians is alien to McCain. For example, he urged Bush to boycott a meeting of the Group of Eight, composed of major industrial nations, in St. Petersburg in 2006. Bush ignored his advice.
And whereas Bush said that when he looked Putin “in the eye,” “I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy” and “I was able to get a sense of his soul,” McCain said, “I looked into his eyes and saw three letters, a K, a G and a B.”
McCain may have a clearer reading of the old KGB spy’s soul than Bush. But his hostile attitude is dangerous in a time when these two powers must get along. Only the most fanatic neocons want a resumption of the Cold War.
McCain’s attitude toward the Georgia war was unrelenting hostility toward Russia. He sounded like a throwback when he encouraged Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s efforts to join NATO, a step guaranteed to stoke the fears of Russia and its former president and now prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin.
When the war started, McCain advocated steps certain to further inflame the Russians who fear that the United States and the rest of the West want to surround Russia with hostile nations.
In McCain’s words, the United States and “allied partners” should “immediately consult with the Ukrainian government and other concerned countries on steps to secure their continued independence.” That’s certainly a challenge to a Russia that is suspicious if not hostile to Ukraine.
Then, in a further challenge to the Russians, McCain said, “The U.S. should immediately consult with Azerbaijan and Turkey and other interested friends to develop plans to strengthen the security of the Baku-Tiblisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.”
Turkey and Russia are historical rivals, although relations between the two have improved. The Russian relationship with Azerbaijan isn’t especially good. McCain’s idea of bringing them into the game is provocative.
Most important, there is the matter of oil. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, according to Canada’s Globe and Mail, carries almost 1 million barrels of oil a day from the Caucasus fields at Baku to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. It is owned by a consortium led by the oil giant BP and includes the big U.S. companies Chevron and ConocoPhillips.
In other words, McCain contemplates inviting these two nations, which have shaky relations with Russia, to help us save the oil giants’ valuable pipeline.
Contrast that with the more complex and cautious comments of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama.
Obama criticized Russia. “No matter how this conflict started, Russia has escalated it well beyond the dispute over South Ossetia and has now violated the space of another country. Russia has escalated its military campaign through strategic bombing and the movement of its ground forces into the heart of Georgia. There is no possible justification for these attacks,” he said.
But he also said, “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.”
As the campaign for president moves on, McCain will try to smear Obama as an inexperienced and soft-headed oddball, unequipped to lead the country. He’ll campaign as the battle-proven warrior. A friendly media, enamored with his military past, will pick up the theme.
Obama will have to fight back, with more intensity and skill than he has demonstrated so far. His lofty style didn’t work when he spoke out about Georgia during his Hawaiian vacation.
The Republicans will play dirty. They already have, with a deceitful book about Obama written by the same mudslinger who produced the anti-John Kerry book “Unfit for Command.” It is published by Threshold Editions, whose chief editor is longtime Republican hack Mary Matalin.
Obama must show what the Georgia war has demonstrated: Believe it or not, McCain is more dangerous than Bush.
AP photo / Mary Altaffer