Earlier, I mentioned that the strategic crisis in the Caucasus favored Bill Richardson as a running mate for Barack Obama. Almost alone among the higher-profile potential VP picks in both parties, Richardson has extensive foreign-policy experience as well as executive experience, two qualities which Obama pointedly lacks in a position that requires both. Unfortunately, Richardson’s answer on Georgia to ABC yesterday, as captured by National Journal, shows how clueless someone with experience can still be:
RICHARDSON: My view is that the United States — if we had a stronger relationship with Russia, we could exercise strong diplomacy to stop this effort against Georgia. We should immediately go to the United Nations Security Council, condemn Russia’s action, and then get the Security Council to pass a strong resolution getting the Russians to show some restraint, and possibly at the same time generate some U.N. peacekeeping troops. The problem, though, is that we don’t have the kind of influence and strength in our relationship with Russia to persuade them. This has been one of the failures of the Bush administration, failing to build a strong relationship, a mutually beneficial relationship with Russia, so we’d have the kind of influence to persuade them to stop some of these very, very dangerous efforts within their territory.
Point 1: We’ve spent the last several years watching Bush kiss up to Vladimir Putin, which has paid off on almost nothing at all — not Iraq, Iran, Darfur, not even an obvious crisis like Zimbabwe. Furthermore, the Russians first understood American intentions in the former Soviet sphere of influence when the Clinton administration intervened in the Balkans against Russia’s allies in Serbia. The US and EU rush to grant Kosovo independence this year put the icing on the cake, but the policy of adversarial relations with Moscow started long before Bush took office, and Russian enrichment with the Oil-for-Food program was one of the consequences.
Point 2: Bill Richardson knows that the UN will do nothing, because Russia has a Security Council veto. We already went through the motions at the UNSC, and Russian stopped consideration of the issue. How does Richardson propose to get the Security Council to pass a resolution condemning Russia without generating a Russian veto?
Point 3: What exactly does “strong diplomacy” mean, even outside the confines of the UN? Should we expel the Russian ambassador? Or should we issue strongly-worded memos, which to be fair, the Bush administration couldn’t even muster in the first hours of the crisis?
Point 4: As Jim Geraghty notes, the problem isn’t what Russia does “in its own territory”. The problem is that Russia has invaded someone else’s territory. After 48 hours, one would think that Richardson would have taken the trouble to check his maps. South Ossetia, by the way, hasn’t been Russian territory anyway in over 16 years, and Russia has attacked Georgia proper this weekend.
The problem in Georgia has little to do with the US, and everything to do with Russian empire. Short of war, the US cannot hem in Russian adventurism in its back yard. We could expel the Russians from the G-8, a move we should have taken long ago when we discovered their involvement in the Oil-for-Food scam. That would actually sting Russia, but it would have hurt much more a few years ago, when Russia’s economy was struggling.
Maybe Richardson is the best on foreign policy that Democrats have to offer. If so, that is a very frightening prospect.