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The Candidates On Georgia: A Sharp Foreign Policy Divide

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The situation currently involving Russia and Georgia is the first true international crisis to hit the United States since the elections began. The response from each candidate tells us more about what kind of president they would be than anything previously seen. On Monday, both John McCain and Senator Obama gave their statements in speeches (Obama, McCain).

Senator McCain's immediate response was threatening and demanding towards Russia. His speech portrayed Georgia as completely innocent, and Russia as an evil aggressor. As always, McCain's viewpoint is simplistic and black and white; with no possibility the issues might be more complex than a 30 second sound bite.

By targeting only Russia in his statements, McCain has revealed his political ties to Georgia, with McCain's foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, having been a registered lobbyist in Washington for the Georgian government. His reference to the two-day conflict as a "war," with suggestions of responses that would take weeks to even begin, shows he believes, wrongly, that Russia intends to do to Georgia what McCain has supported us doing to Iraq. With a long list of threats against Russia, we see again the saber-rattling, do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do McCain. He ends his threats with a degrading comment, "We must remind Russia's leaders that the benefits they enjoy from being part of the civilized world..." as if they are newly civilized, and then only at our acceptance.

If you watch the McCain speech, you'll see it sounds more like a high school oral report on Georgia than a world leader giving his views on an important international issue. He even quoted Wikipedia's summary page on Georgia, without stating where he got the information. The only conclusion I can make is he believes Americans are stupid, so he had to speak to us like third graders with a little history lesson.

This speech had one purpose, to make McCain look knowledgeable in world affairs, never mind the fact that he pronounced Mikhail Saakashvili's name differently three times, each time incorrectly. Referring to Georgia as a "remote, obscure country" will go over well with our ally, too.

Alternatively, Senator Obama made a concise, educated, measured statement that took into account the core issues behind this conflict. Nothing Obama said was so provocative as to push us towards another cold war with Russia. He condemned Russia's continued use of military attacks against Georgia after a cease-fire had been called, while remaining diplomatic and respectful of the Russian government. His speech assumed an educated public, without assuming we're all "spend[ing] August vacationing with [our] families or watching the Olympics," and needing a history and geography lesson on Georgia.

From a strict foreign policy viewpoint, one candidate came out presidential, and one came out as a war hawk. One candidate was diplomatic, one was gruff and divisive. There is a simple conclusion from the comparison: If we elect John McCain to the presidency, we can expect a renewal of the Cold War, continued threatening and insulting responses to international issues, and a continuation of the Bush philosophy that everyone is our enemy so we should be proud to be hated. If we elect Barack Obama, we can expect a diplomatic president with a true understanding of the complexity of international relationships.