Column for 17 August, 2008
“Awake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and Lord. Vindicate me in your righteousness, O Lord my God; do not let them gloat over me.”
It’s difficult if not impossible to exaggerate just how badly George W. Bush and America have been humiliated by Russia’s intervention in Georgia. An American ally, with an American-trained army and an American-educated democratically-elected president, has been blatantly invaded and forced to accept a permanent Russian military presence within their internationally-recognized borders. Russia’s thuggish strongman, Vladimir Putin, chose to deliberately embarrass Bush by launching an operation that had to have been planned weeks or months in advance, while they were both publicly schmoozing at the Olympics, held in the capital of another brutally repressive regime that Bush unaccountably has chosen to grace with his presence. Georgia, you may recall, is so devoted to President Bush they committed 2,000 troops (out of only 42,000 active duty personnel) to his “catastrophic success” in Iraq. In one of the weirdest utterances of a President who often seems to think he is a Saturday Night Live cast member lampooning the President, Bush famously described how he had looked into Putin’s eyes and seen his soul. Perhaps he didn’t recognize Joseph Stalin staring back at him. In any event, Putin’s soul got exactly what it wanted: a message. Georgia was only the instrument of that message; its’ intended recipients were first and foremost the former Soviet Republics Russia refers to ominously as the “Near Abroad,” especially Ukraine. See, Putin is saying, no one can protect you. It doesn’t matter what deals you may have made with the Americans. We can invade you anytime we want and all the US President will do is stand by impotently and sputter. So watch your step! To America and Europe, the message is: hands off! The Near Abroad is ours; we’ll do whatever we want with them whenever we want. Reasonable minds may differ on whether it was ever a good idea to invite Georgia and Ukraine into NATO, an organization that might have become a true permanent international peacekeeping force but has since been doomed to irrelevancy by the Bush Administration’s sheer bone headedness. It hardly matters now; the future of NATO will be dictated in Moscow, not Brussels and certainly not in Washington, DC. If the abject surrender of Georgia doesn’t make that clear enough, the next crisis, when Russia forces Ukraine to cede the Crimea, will.
Which brings me to my second point; just why is “national security” seen as a winning issue for John McCain? Oh, sure, it’s the only issue where McCain currently and consistently outpolls Barack Obama, but why? Obviously, the mainstream media’s unrequited man-crush on McCain goes a long way towards an explanation. It is also likely that McCain’s years of occupancy in Congress are seen as roughly equivalent to competency. After all, surely he must have learned something relevant after twenty-five years? And yet, for starters, McCain has enthusiastically endorsed America’s greatest foreign policy debacle in the last forty years, Bush’s war in Iraq. Not only has he endorsed it, he’s vowed to continue the quagmire for another century. Much more troubling, however, is the fact that nearly every single time McCain has opened his mouth on foreign policy or national security, he’s been dead wrong, the kind of spectacular wrong that makes you seriously wonder if he has any idea what he’s talking about at all. He doesn’t know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites, a distinction critical to understanding Iraq, even after being repeatedly and publicly corrected. He either doesn’t know that the so-called Anbar Awakening (Sunni sheiks in Anbar Province turning against Al Qaeda) started before the Surge, or he’s just continuing to lie about it because he thinks it sounds better that way (reality having a well-known liberal bias). He thinks the Iranians are training members of Al Qaeda in Iraq (an organization, by the way, that did not exist before the US invasion). Demonstrating that geography, too, has a liberal bias, McCain has stated that Iraq and Pakistan share a border, that Darfur is in Somalia and that there is still such a country as Czechoslovakia. With regard to Georgia, McCain was reducing to plagiarizing Wikipedia, a sort of digital MadLib, and clearly fails to grasp that America failed at this crisis before it even began; our credibility is so dissipated after years of Bush’s incompetence that Russia is not even in the slightest deterred by the prospect of angering us. McCain, with his foreign policy advisor and Georgian lobbyist Randy Scheunemann, then went on to blunder right into the problem with increasingly hysterical public pronouncements, accusing Putin of wanting to restore the Czarist empire (Putin wants Alaska?), calling for kicking Russia out of the G-8 (an idea denounced as “impossible” and “dumb” by even the Bush Administration) and restating his loopy plan for a “League of Democracies.” Perhaps Czechoslovakia could be invited to join, along with Siam and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Given all this, I would respectfully suggest that Barack Obama borrow a page from Karl Rove’s playbook and hit his opponent precisely where he is supposedly the strongest. If Rove can attack a decorated war hero on his war record on behalf of a draft-dodger, then surely Obama can remind the electorate that McCain’s foreign policy is Bush’s foreign policy, only not as smart.