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Monday, June 16, 2008

EDITORIAL: McCain and G-8 Eviction

EDITORIAL

McCain and G-8 Eviction

Our relationship with Russia has been sorely tested by Moscow's rhetoric, by its tendency to treat its neighbors as lost "spheres of influence," and by its energy policies that have a distinct political tinge. And Russia's internal course has been a source of considerable disappointment, especially because in 2000 we hoped that it was moving closer to us in terms of values.

-- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, writing in Foreign Affairs

Writing on Salon.com its reporter Mark Benjamin claims that when Republican presidential candidate John McCain calls for Russia ’s ouster from the G-8, he’s not saying something he really believes but merely acting as the corrupt dupe of the East European lobby.

It takes a lot of chutzpah to suggest that a man who served his country not only as a solider but as a tortured prisoner of war, and who has a long and distinguished record as a U.S. Senator, is nothing but a corrupt sap. Rather than journalism, it sounds like a partisan political commercial for Barack Obama.

The idea that the U.S. can’t oust Russia from the G-8, because as a practical matter the other members wouldn’t go along, is making the rounds of the left wing blogs like wildfire. Not only does the left claim we can’t eject Russia , but it also says that if we try Russia will refuse to discuss nuclear disarmament, something McCain – in an act that gives the lie to any notion that he’s a one-dimensional old school cold warrior – recently expressed support for doing.

This is classic liberal nonsense on both counts. Russia’s feeble economy needs relief from the arms race far more than ours does, and the Russian government couldn’t care less how much fear of Armageddon its citizens have to live with (the men already have trouble reaching age 60). The left seems to have quickly forgotten that the last arms race we fought with Russia bankrupted and laid low the USSR . It’s simply amazing that the left would even consider criticizing a Republican for supporting arms control, as if they care more about nominal control of the White House than the implementation of policies they supposedly favor (a review of Bill Clinton’s presidency, which included the abolition of welfare, free trade support, a balanced budget, a Republican House and many other Republican victories would tend to bolster that idea).

And if President McCain tells the members of the G-8 they have to choose between Russia and the United States as a member, they’ll choose us in a heartbeat (though naturally they may do so kicking and screaming, just as they obstructed Ronald Reagan all through the Cold War). The G-8 without the U.S. in it doesn’t exist, it’s as simple as that. George Bush recently had a NATO conference and received unanimous support for installing a defensive missile system in Eastern Europe, with the G-8 members flouting Russian objections and promising to admit Georgia and Ukraine as members, adding insult to injury in Russia’s view. Europe is terrified of Russia ’s ever-increasing militarism and particularly its weaponization of its energy resources. All that’s needed is American leadership, something that until recently has been sorely lacking from George “I looked Putin’s eyes and glimpsed his soul” Bush.

Moreover, the left seems to have forgotten that sometimes Americans want to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, regardless of the consequences. Russia isn’t qualified, by any metric economic or political that you care to name, for membership in the G-8. It’s imposed a massive crackdown on civil society which has included a long string of political murders. Would it be wrong for the U.S. to demand Hitler’s ouster from such a group, assuming all the other members opposed it? McCain has urged replacing Russia with India, a far larger and more dynamic economy and a much more vibrant democracy. Russia is merely a bridge to Asia ; India is Asia .

Ignoring all this, Benjamin jumps right on the moonbat bandwagon. Citing Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria, he states: “If McCain were to pursue his Russia agenda as president, Zakaria wrote, it would be interpreted by much of the world as an attempt by Washington to begin a new Cold War.” Zakaria apparently isn’t troubled by Russia numerous practice sorties against U.S., British, Japanese and Norwegian targets with nuclear bombers, resulting in the forced scrambling of defensive fighter squadrons to ward of the threats (even though neither the U.S. nor Britain is undertaking this sort of harassment against Russia). It doesn’t seem to bother him that Vladimir Putin is a proud KGB spy who has wiped out opposition parties, independent media and local government and has remained the national ruler in the guise of prime minister even though his term has ended. Like Neville Chamberlain of old, Zakaria seems to think the only reason Russia is hostile is because we haven’t issued sufficient sweet words of encouragement and respect. If we’ll just do that, apparently, Russia will become a responsible ally.

That’s Jimmy Carter talking. Carter was elected in 1976 and his party was given dominant control of both houses of Congress after a Republican had alienated virtually the entire country (maybe a situation we will see eerily repeated this year). But within four years of trying out this pollyanish foreign policy, Carter was repudiated and the Senate was back in Republican hands (Democrats greedily contemplating victory this fall would do well to remember that example). He was an abject failure.

Benjamin calls Zakaria a “seasoned expert” on Russia . That’s simply false. Zakaria has never spent one day living in Russia , doesn’t speak the language, has no degree in the subject and has never been a policymaker in that area. He’s an Indian (his father was politician), a university professor (PhD from Harvard), and in essence nothing more than a gadfly journalist where Russia is concerned, writing for lightweight left-wing publications and making cameos on TV. Why not ask Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation, or Andrei Illarionov of CATO, or Leon Aron of the American Enterprise Institute what they think about McCain’s confrontational approach? How about asking opposition leader Garry Kasparov what he thinks? Perhaps that would be a little bit too much like journalism for the taste of Salon.com.

Benjamin then gets to his real point, that McCain got his ideas corruptly from an insidious “neoconservative” (Benjamin’s term) named Randy Scheunemann, his senior foreign policy advisor, who “was a paid lobbyist for former Soviet Bloc countries that are wary of Russia, and seems to advocate those policies the countries and their former lobbyist want. At various times from 2001 through early this year, Georgia , Latvia , Romania and Macedonia paid Scheunemann and his partner, Mike Mitchell, more than $2 million.” Apparently Benjamin cannot conceive of the possibility that Scheunemann’s belief in the cause of Eastern Europe came before his work lobbying on their behalf.

The again, maybe he can. He writes:

McCain might take his hard line on Russia because it plays well with some of the GOP base. Experts on Russia say some of those Republicans harbor nostalgia for being tough on the Soviet Union . Or perhaps he simply believes Russia will respond best to threats. But there is little doubt that McCain’s rhetoric and policies would please the countries Scheunemann has worked for. There is no way to tell if Scheunemann has influenced his boss on behalf of his clients, or if McCain and Scheunemann simply share a common get-tough-on-Russia philosophy. But when there are lobbyists on a candidate’s campaign staff, it’s hard to distinguish chicken from egg when it comes to policy.

As a U.S. national correspondent based in D.C., one must question whether Benjamin has the Russia chops to pontificate on a subject like this as freely as he does. In my view, it’s obvious he lacks them. And it’s rather ironic that Benjamin claims McCain is just a paid mouthpiece for Eastern Europe, when his own statement mimic so precisely the propaganda line being put out by Russia’s Kremlin (“give us what we want, or we’ll ‘bury’ you”). His own words betray the fact that he has absolutely no evidence that McCain’s views are not genuine. His analysis is truly schizophrenic, unable to decide whether it wants to say McCain doesn’t really believe his own rhetoric or that he does and it will lead to catastrophic failure. And the reason is simple: he doesn’t have a convincing (or even credible) argument either way, and that’s not the point. The point is a smear job, attempting to attack McCain at his base of strength, integrity and courage.

We can expect to see much more of this as the campaign continues, and we can expect to see any similar attack on Barack Obama labeled closet racism. If we want to get our foreign policy on Russia straight, we’d better be prepared for long, tough battle.

Meanwhile, it’s not possible to write up a critique of Obama’s proposals for dealing with Russia, because he doesn’t have any. He’s said all the right critical words about the atrocity known as the Putin administration, but he hasn’t had the courage to lay out a specific policy platform as McCain has done — not surprising, since he has absolutely no foreign policy experience to back up such a platform.

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