Hey, you know who was right all along on Russia? John McCain

posted at 9:35 am on August 12, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

John McCain took a lot of criticism for his hard line on Vladimir Putin’s Russia over the last few years from end-of-history believers and other optimists in the punditry.  Now that McCain’s assessment of Russia has proven accurate, the New York Times recognizes that his long-held positions suddenly have a lot more credibility:

Mr. McCain has called for expelling what he has called a “revanchist Russia” from meetings of the Group of 8, the organization of leading industrialized nations. He urged President Bush — in vain — to boycott the group’s meeting in St. Petersburg in 2006. And he has often mocked the president’s assertion that he got a sense of the soul of Vladimir V. Putin, who was then Russia’s president and is now its prime minister, by looking into his eyes. “I looked into his eyes,” Mr. McCain said, “and saw three letters: a K, a G and a B.”

His hard line has been derided as provocative, and possibly dangerous, by some so-called realist foreign policy experts, who warn that isolating Russia would do little to encourage it to change. But others, including neoconservatives who deem promoting democracy a paramount goal, see Mr. McCain’s position as principled, and prescient. Now, with Russia moving forcefully into Georgia as Mr. McCain seeks the presidency, his views are being scrutinized as never before through the prism of Russia’s invasion.

For Mr. McCain, the conflict came after months of warnings about the situation in Georgia. Mr. McCain befriended Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, over the course of several trips there, and even nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 (in a letter that was co-signed by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York).

And his opponent? Looking less credible:

While Mr. McCain has long called for excluding Russia from the Group of 8, and isolating it on the world stage, his probable Democratic opponent, Senator Barack Obama, has made clear he favors more engagement with Russia (even as he speaks of reviewing relationships with Russia, including its interest in joining the World Trade Organization).

To give some credit to Barack Obama, he has shifted his position in the last few days as events unfolded. He now favors NATO membership for Georgia, but unfortunately, the time for that has probably passed. The time to add Georgia to NATO was before Russia invaded, not after.  If Russia withdraws at all from Georgia, it will almost certainly extract a concession from Tbilisi that it will not seek NATO membership.

This shows why experience matters in the White House.  Getting these issues wrong costs lives and risks freedom for entire nations.  The strange, ahistorical, and naïve idea that talk alone — without some threat of consequences, be they economic or otherwise — can defend freedom has the charm of never having worked once in the history of human civilization.  Even worse, misjudging one’s opponents on the world stage means that “engagement” without strategic insight will always redound to the benefit of the opponent.

No one wants war with Russia, but we could have and should have realized the nature of Vladimir Putin and his efforts to create a new Russian Empire years ago.  We could have responded by cutting off Western financial support to Putin’s new regime when it mattered and isolated them diplomatically by inviting the free nations of Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO.  John McCain wanted just that, and almost no one listened.  Now, the Georgians have to pay the price for Western credulity.

Update: The Chicago Sun-Times: “McCain, not Obama, was right about Georgia.”

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Georgia’s fate was pretty much sealed the day the US, UK and other western nations declared recognition for an independent Kosovo. Whatever the nature of Russia and its leaders the West’s demonisation of the Serbs in the Balkans cannot have done anything but arouse fierce suspicion and animosity in Russia. And there is frankly nothing clever about proposing NATO membership for the Ukraine or any of the former Soviet states.

Whatever actions the Russians take now we’ve given them plenty of excuses.

schiehallion on August 12, 2008 at 3:45 PM

schiehallion on August 12, 2008 at 3:45 PM —

Georgia’s fate was sealed the day Putin maneuvered his way from the Presidency to his-pseudo-parliamentarian role he holds today.

“Whatever actions the Russians take now we’ve given them plenty of excuses.”

This is a common pitfall. Too common.

In esssence by this logic, anything the West does, must be approved by Russia first?

A nation can “recognize” any nation it wishes. If Ukraine wishes to be part of NATO, part of the EU or a member of the League of Mystics, getting Russia’s permission first is not a practice that should be acceptable to any independent nation…by any civilized nation.

“Giving Russia excuses…” is on par with telling a battered wife that if only she’d shut up her husband would not beat her.

coldwarrior on August 12, 2008 at 4:19 PM

Please mention the fact that there are over 1000 US troops in Georgia plus over 127 special forces which are force multipliers to the entire Georgian Army.”


elduende on August 12, 2008 at 9:45 AM

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that the 1000 US troops were there for a specific exercise that was completed a few days before the invasion and the thousand US troops were no longer in Georgia.

Linh_My on August 12, 2008 at 4:29 PM

I have been supporting John McCain all along (I started contributing financially in January 2007) precisely because he is by far the most qualified person to be the next Commander in Chief.

When my older son was serving his 15 month tour of duty in Iraq as an infantry platoon leader (August 2006-October 2007), I saw that John McCain was the one Presidential candidate who unabashedly supported the surge even before the surge was adopted by President Bush, and John McCain was visiting Iraq frequently in support of the troops — something that I personally greatly appreciated. It was those trips, I think, that caused Oliver North to write his column supporting McCain.

It has not, however, been just Iraq. McCain knows his stuff concerning foreign policy, military matters and national security. With my two sons in the military (the older a U.S. Army Captain and the younger a U.S. Marines Second Lieutenant), I cannot imagine anyone but McCain as the next Commander in Chief. Given McCain’s expertise in foreign policy, former Secretaries of State Schultz, Kissinger, Eagleburger and Haig all endorsed McCain early on.

We live in a very dangerous world. What McCain brings may be just what America needs at this point in its history.

Phil Byler on August 12, 2008 at 9:11 PM

Many Russian women are beautiful; their workers are stalwart; their scientists brilliant; their composers can make you laugh or cry; their athletes are world-class; their technical work precise…

But their leadership are scheming bastards and their security forces are thugs.

If only we could have the noble Russians without the others.

cthulhu on August 13, 2008 at 4:48 AM