Developments in the ongoing conflict between the nations of Georgia and Russia grew very hot this past week. The conflict has very long historical roots and has been potentially ready to explode since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The comments of John McCain on the current outbreak of war has demonstrated the close connection between “sounding strong” for domestic political considerations and “being stupid” in the execution of American foreign policy.
McCain has a tendency to talk tough and to threaten military consequences far too often for the comfort of many foreign policy experts and American citizens. McCain seems to have the first response impulse to use force and to send in the troops. This sometimes is appropriate but often is not the wise or intelligent course of action. McCain seems to discount the limits of military force in achieving foreign policy objectives and the negative blowback or other unintended consequences of getting involved in military conflicts without carefully studying the facts first.
Basically, McCain’s well-known bad temper marks him as a seemingly dangerously hot-head when it comes to foreign policy. McCain is very opinionated when it comes to many aspects of foreign policy.
When conflict first erupted this week, McCain quickly made harsh comments criticizing Russia. McCain clearly appears to be threatening Russia with economic, diplomatic and, maybe military actions without considering the consequences for the United States.
His comments were not very helpful in persuading Russia to halt military actions. The Russians never respond well to direct public threats or orders from the United States. Intelligent diplomacy requires the very careful use of both carrot and stick measures to achieve the desired results. When you start “being stupid” in your public rhetoric by “talking tough” before thinking through the situation, you almost always fail to achieve your foreign policy goals.
Our foreign goals in the current Georgia-Russia conflict should be (1) halt the exchange of hostilities, (2) get Russia to withdraw their soldiers from occupied Georgian territory, (3) obtain a solid diplomatic front with our European allies especially NATO members regarding this conflict, (4) guarantee the international border integrity of Georgia, (5) protect the international oil pipelines running through Georgian territory, (6) guarantee the safety of American citizens in the war zones, (7) preserve both democracy in Georgia and a measure of ethnic self-rule in the breakaway provinces within Georgia, (8) avoid outright American military conflict with Russia and (9) avoid a new Cold War between Russia and the United States. “Taking tough” to “sound strong” in order to win points with the American electorate is a poor way to achieve any of these desired foreign policy goals. McCain was reckless and self-serving in his highly charged rhetoric.
Military action is all but impossible for the American government when it comes to responding to Russian actions in Georgia. The foreign wars launched by Bush (with the enthusiastic support of McCain) in Iraq and Afghanistan have drained away our military response ability when it comes to real threats to world peace and international emergencies. McCain, like Bush, seems to be recklessly saber-rattling regarding Iran without having the necessary military forces required to back the threats being made. We need not to make the same mistake in Georgia.
How are we going to pay for more wars? McCain and Bush have not explained how we are going to pay for the current military conflicts or rebuilding our nearly exhausted military forces, much less launch even more foreign military misadventures. Economic mismanagement and disastrous trade policies have crippled our national finances and undermined our industrial capacity to fight wars.
Even economic conflict with Russia will have a very negative effect on the American nation. The world needs Russian oil. Disruptions in the oil supply from Russia will create severe hardships on American consumers. Only the oil companies financing much of McCain’s Presidential campaign would profit from such a situation. McCain’s “tough talk” might already be keeping oil prices higher than they would have been if McCain had not made those comments.
The fact that McCain has had a chief foreign policy advisor that was directly employed by the nation of Georgia while working on the McCain campaign demonstrates very poor judgment by Senator McCain. His chief foreign policy expert on Georgia was half of a two-man lobbying firm which received around $800,000 from the Georgian government while he was advising McCain. No advisor to any Presidential candidate should be a paid agent of any foreign government. It is no wonder that McCain does not have a balanced, well-informed approach to this subject.
McCain has dangerously injected himself into this touchy foreign policy/military crisis in a very public way. McCain should remember that he is not the President. Hopefully, for the sake of the American nation, he never will be.