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Fantasy and Reality: McCain/Palin On Russia After The Georgia War

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Not only has Moscow not become isolated in the wake of its Georgian war, it has grown more expansive, participating this week for the first time in an OPEC meeting. Russian strategic bombers arrived in Venezuela for exercises on Wednesday.

Sarah Palin's shaky performance last night on ABC points up a big gap between fantasy and reality for her and John McCain on Russia. McCain has been very wrong about how things would play out in the aftermath of the Georgia war. And Palin, hardly to our surprise last night, hasn't a clue.

McCain declared after the Russia-Georgia War -- in which Russian forces used the pretext helpfully provided by McCain friend Mikheil Saakashvili's boneheaded decision to launch a Georgian offensive against breakaway South Ossetia to swiftly shatter the Georgian military -- that Russia would be isolated. "We are all Georgians," he declared.

Palin echoed this bellicosity last night, expanding on it to say that war with Russia may be necessary.

But it's hard to see much support for that sort of thinking, either in terms of real-world events or widespread political attitudes.

Consider the reality, rather than the fantasy.

** Far from being isolated as McCain predicted, Russia is actually more expansive in the aftermath of the Russia-Georgia War. This week, Russia participated for the first time in the OPEC meeting in Vienna. Moscow accepted a standing invitation, sending a deputy premier who is also head of the petro giant Rosneft. OPEC and Russia agreed to begin coordinating on production and price. And key Central Asian energy-producing nations are choosing to work with Russia, rather than the US.

In politico-military affairs, Israel, which has its own long-standing and complex relationship with Moscow, has agreed to stop providing arms to Georgia. Syria has offered a permanent port, which would place Russian naval forces in the Middle East. Russia is sending a naval task force for maneuvers in the Caribbean. And a pair of Russian strategic bombers just made the flight to Venezuela for exercises there, where President Hugo Chavez says he will take the controls for an aerial demonstration of his own.

Russia is reminding America that it doesn't like meddling in its backyard any more than we do.

** The European Union has done nothing to discipline Russia. After its big summit last week on the Georgian crisis, the EU issued nothing more than a harshly worded press release. There are no sanctions against Russia. And Europe is turning a deaf ear on calls to expel Russia from the G-8 group of advanced industrial nations.

Russia is Europe's leading supplier of natural gas, oil, and uranium. Something which warhawks seem to forget. And NATO, contrary to some bumptious claims, is in no position to field substantial expeditionary military forces, even if Russia were not an important business partner of Germany and France.

** The US has backed down from confronting Russia. The US Navy sent a few ships into the Black Sea, to deliver humanitarian aid. The most powerful warship among them, USS McFaul, an Aegis destroyer, was to have gone to Georgia's main port in the other breakaway province of Abkhazia. But after a Russian show of force, including deployment of the big missile cruiser Moskva in its path and a close pass from a Russian frigate, the McFaul went to a secondary port. Additionally, the US has turned a deaf ear to Sakkashvili's pleas for a US combat brigade to be based in Georgia.

But Georgia did get visits from Dick Cheney and Cindy McCain.

McCain has long been the most anti-Russian of major US politicians. Even in his thoughtful and rather moderate tour d'horizon foreign policy speech last spring in Los Angeles, he urged the ouster of Russia from the G-8. Which simply would not happen unless the Russians lost their minds.

Palin knows nothing of these issues. She's never even met a foreign head of government, something that is hard to do for a national politician. Although I must say one of my favorite Palinisms is where she pretends to know about Russia. Not because she's met Putin or Gorbachev or demonstrates knowledge. But because you can see Russia from Alaska. Well, from an island, anyway.

She's merely picking up on the bellicosity of McCain and the right with regard to Russia and other geopolitical issues.

Here's Palin last night with friendly ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson, who spent much of a debate he moderated in the Democratic primary asking Barack Obama why he wasn't wearing an American flag pin. (Gibson, of course, who was not in the military, wasn't wearing one either.)

Gibson: And under the NATO treaty, wouldn't we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?

Palin: Perhaps so. I mean, that is the agreement when you are a NATO ally, is if another country is attacked, you're going to be expected to be called upon and help.

Georgia is not a member of NATO, and is unlikely to become one now.

Here's Palin questioned on the Bush Doctrine. On the seventh anniversary of 9/11, which is what prompted the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war.

Gibson: Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?

Palin: In what respect, Charlie?

Gibson: What do you interpret it to be?

Palin: His worldview?

Gibson: No, the Bush Doctrine. Enunciated September 2002, before the Iraq War.

The Bush Doctrine is what was used to justify the invasion of Iraq. Palin might want to know the original rationale for the Iraq War, since she just saw her son Track off there with his Army unit.

Palin's amateurism aside, McCain's views favoring a New Cold War with Russia haven't found favor with American voters. A poll by the Rasmussen organization at the height of the Georgian crisis shows no appetite for US military intervention, even as part of a peacekeeping force. Only 22% wanted to dispatch any US forces.

As the poll's owner, Republican Scott Rasmussen, puts it: "Despite the numerous Cold War references that have been made publicly in the past week, Americans still overwhelmingly do not regard Russia as an enemy. Fifteen percent (15%) say Russia is an enemy of the United States; 5% say it is an ally, and 76% rate the relationship as somewhere in between."

It will be interesting to see how the Obama/Biden campaign engages with this stuff.

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