John McCain is Exploiting the Georgia Crisis

Since the Russian tanks rolled into Georgia, the positions of the United States and Russia have hardened. U.S. President George Bush warned the Russian leadership of possible consequences. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin blames the United States for aggravating the conflict. Even Obama and McCain are commenting on it.

America’s warnings to Russia are clear. Vice President Dick Cheney called Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakaschwili on Sunday and said “Russia’s aggression must not go unanswered.” Shortly afterwards, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe indicated more precisely that Cheney was saying that “it means that it must not stand.” Former President George H. W. Bush used the same formula in 1990 to comment on Saddam Hussein’s attack on Kuwait. At that time, Cheney was the Secretary of Defense. The signal to Moscow could not have been clearer.

At the same time, the U.S. Air Force flew 2000 Georgian soldiers serving in Iraq home to the conflict. Washington said that every single flight with American aircraft will be announced to Moscow, presumably to let Russian fighters in action over Georgia be aware of this activity.

The unmistakable warning was garnished along with some diplomatic statements by George W. Bush in Beijing. Bush told NBC News there that he was “very firm” with Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedyev and expressed his “grave concern about the disproportionate response of Russia.” The United States “strongly condemns the bombing outside of South Ossetia.”

“Outside of South Ossetia” – This was an indication that Bush definitely considers Georgia’s military actions in South Ossetia as a legitimate reason for the Russian response. Bush’s and Cheney’s comments differ in their contents. Cheney’s phone call was his first public comment since the middle of June. The Vice President seemed to be absent while Bush was putting out feelers to Teheran.

Until March, John McCain’s foreign policy advisor, Randy Scheunemann, was an officially registered lobbyist for the Georgian government in Washington. As a result, the Republican presidential candidate has a direct line to Tblisi. He has long advocated the exclusion of Russia from the G8. On Friday morning, he demanded the “unconditional withdrawal” of Russia and the cooperation of the E.U., NATO, and the KSZE [Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe]. Yesterday he made a second telephone call to Saakaschwili. “For many years, I have warned against Russian actions that undermine the sovereignty of its neighbors. Unfortunately, we have seen in recent days Russia demonstrate that these concerns were well-founded.”

McCain called upon Moscow for an “unconditional withdrawal” and welcomed the E.U. initiative for settlement of the conflict. In addition, he maintains that “in light of this, the United Nations has been prevented from taking any meaningful action by Russian objections,” and supports the position of “democratic countries.” He especially emphasized the statement by Poland and the Baltic States that “aggression against a small state in Europe is not passed over in silence.” This was a clear sideswipe at Barack Obama. McCain “shares their regret that NATO’s decision to withhold from Georgia a Membership Action Plan” has prevented it from joining NATO.

The Polish-Baltic statement was a sudden return to the “old Europe” and the “new Europe” of Donald Rumsfeld, and, for McCain, a convenient swipe at his rival Obama. Obama’s first comment on the crisis while on vacation in Hawaii was “now is the time for Georgia and Russia to show restraint and to avoid an escalation to full-scale war.” Obama’s mention of Georgia ahead of Russia was significant. This likewise follows, after a telephone conversation with Saakaschvilli, a more stern declaration.

Obama said “over the last two days, Russia has escalated the crisis in Georgia through its clear and continued violation of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” He went on to say “as I have said for many months, aggressive diplomatic action must be taken to reach a political resolution to this crisis, and to assure that Georgia’s sovereignty is protected.” Obama demanded a “genuinely neutral mediator.”

McCain’s staff, of course, immediately went after the first statement and broad casted that Obama was “in sync with the Kremlin.” McCain has been trying for a long time to portray himself as the experienced commander-in-chief. The press and news media responded yesterday that they, like the Democrats, considered Obama’s vacation and the concurrent Moscow attack to be just a coincidence. McCain is having the topic of Russia, which he has been emphasizing for a long time, all to himself all week long in the United States.

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