SAIS Next Europe

« Previous Post | Next Post »

Reason Rules in Tussle with Kremlin

By Ted Reinert

The Russian mission to New York gleefully alerted the press this weekend that they had had received an odd fundraising request: John McCain's campaign urged the Russians to "stop the Democrats from seizing control of Washington and implementing their radically liberal policy for our nation." Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin turned down the request and told the media, to illustrate that Russia doesn't try to influence elections abroad.

The solicitation of the Russians was clearly an accident - people receive unwanted fundraising solicitations all the time. But it's somewhat amusing, given McCain's stance on Russia.

George W. Bush said that he looked Vladimir Putin in the eyes in 2001 and "was able to get a sense of his soul." McCain said what he saw in Putin's eyes was "KGB" - a formulation not quite as intemperate as Hillary Clinton's on-the-hustings remark that Putin "doesn't have a soul." But McCain has a record of being outspoken against Putin and strongly condemned Russia's actions in the Caucasus this summer. A hawkish, aggressive, expand-NATO-to-Georgia-and-Ukraine-now Russian policy would be expected in a McCain Administration, with Vice President Palin keeping an eye on The Bear from her North-Northwestern Naval Observatory in Wasilla.

Barack Obama, however, will most likely be the 44th president, and it might well be Russia that gives him the early test that Joe Biden warned America to "gird its loins" for. Ukraine, balanced between Western and Eastern influences, has dissolved its Parliament and snap elections will be held in December, as the new president forms his Cabinet. Now there's an election abroad which Russia actually will try to influence.

Obama's worldview is certainly less shaped by the Cold War than McCain's, and this is a good thing. "Russia today is not the Soviet Union, and we are not returning to the Cold War," Obama's website states. "Retrofitting outdated 20th century thinking to address this new 21st century challenge will not advance American national interests."

During the Georgia crisis, Obama's reactions were more cautious and measured than his rival. His Russia policy is based on cooperation with Europe and cooperation with Russia itself where possible, on issues from nuclear proliferation to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, McCain wants to create a "League of Democracies" which would exclude Russia, and blamed Russia exclusively for the conflict in the Caucasus. If any Americans want to base their vote on Russian policy, they've got a contrasting choice between caution and Cold War. Either way they choose, America should "gird its loins" for continued geopolitical chess with Putin over the next few years.

World opinion regarding the election is certainly on Obama's side - the most recent international endorsement comes from London's Tory mayor Boris Johnson, who credits Republican rule under Bush with discrediting both Western Democracy and capitalism. But notably, the only country to favor McCain on both The Economist and Gallup's world polls is Georgia.

Ted Reinert is a graduate student in the European Studies program at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Bologna Center in Italy.

Email the Author | Email This Post | Del.icio.us | Digg | Facebook

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

Comments (2)

sjk82 Author Profile Page:

Well said, Ted!

moonpenn Author Profile Page:

"Where's all this great stuff coming from? It's not really coming out of IBM. It's coming out of little two and three man companies, because they're finding out that forty guys can't do something that three people can do. It's just the law of human nature." Roger Smith

Backwards people and the majority. What can you do? The Russians figure they can do business with one and fear the other. They want world socialism even if it's proven to fail over and over. I have some DIA material. The Cold War never really ended. It was more of a half-time. Russia is more dangerous than ever. They need Obama. It's more about discrediting the U.S. military than it is about anything else. McCain represents military U.S. values and they can't have that.

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and washingtonpost.com, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.