Listen to Joseph Biden closely tonight. How will he discuss the U.S. stance against Russian neo-imperialism? He will predictably say how we must stand behind our Georgian allies and boost humanitarian aid there -- typical touchy-feely Democrat stuff. But will he frame what lies ahead for U.S.-Russian relations in the same blood-curdling, Brezhnev-era language as the neocon hardliners on the right? Will he dare drop the c-bomb?
Russia experts, especially those nesting in right-wing think tanks, love nothing more than to talk about a new cold war. It's the topic that launched a thousand Washington brown bags (Many an inbox groans from invitations to events with hackneyed titles like "A New Cold War?", where inevitably Bush's looked-into-Putin's-soul comment gets mentioned as the most important thing to happen in U.S.-Russian relations since Khrushchev removed his right shoe and threatened to bury us).
Russia could not have timed its invasion of Georgia any better for the Republicans. Surely they were smirking when they read of its incursion into Gori and thinking: This only helps McCain! He can now say, See? I told you we can't trust these rascally Russians. Let's give them the heave-ho from the G-8, put the kibosh on their WTO prospects, and keep Jackson-Vanik on the books. Let's also accelerate that missile shield in the fields of Poland (even if it's supposedly aimed at, uhum, Iran and not Russia).
With Iraq fading from the front pages, enter Russia stage-right. Notice how little neocons seem to mention terrorists and that amorphous war we have been waging. They have set their sights on a more traditional foe: Russia. The right will drop phrases like a "new cold war" not because there is in fact a new cold war (there's not) but because it benefits McCain. A new cold war demands somebody who will stand up to Russia, a cold warrior with white hair, not somebody who will coddle dictators and dare note the nuances of the Georgian conflict (never mind that Georgia invaded South Ossetia first, not Russia). "The same Republican neocons who fabricated the reasons for going to war in Iraq are back, and now they have been paid to trigger a new cold war with Russia that benefits John McCain," Tom Hayden correctly noted in The Nation. "These are dangerous, expensive unwinnable games being played with American lives to benefit Republican politicians and their oil company friends."
Biden, who was just in Georgia, should not fall into the Republicans' trap. I can already imagine Randy Scheunemann (whose large paycheck from the Georgia he long ago cashed) and his band of attack dogs are just drooling to slam the vice presidential candidate's less-than-Churchillean stance against Moscow.
McCain likes to say that Obama is willing to lose a war (in Iraq) to win a campaign. Interestingly, it appears that McCain is willing to start a new cold war to win a campaign.