(Big ups to Heather for the movies)
In the latest Presidential debate, two of the questions dealt with Russia and while both candidates tried to stress their differences they both sang pretty much the same kneejerk tune (although John McCain sang it with feeling).
McCain, seemingly forgetting his own admonition to Obama that you don't telegraph your thoughts or intentions to a nation you want co-operation from, repeated his tone-deaf claim that he sees the letters KGB when he looks in Vladimir Putin's eyes. McCain would need the goodwill of Russia on containment of loose nuclear materials or on supply lines to Afghanistan and would likely want its co-operation of on energy policy and on responses to Iran, the financial crisis and a host of other issues. How's he going to get that by attacking the Russian Prime Minister in such a personal way?
What he sees in President Medvedev's eyes he hasn't said yet, but it's doubtful he's even noticed the shuffle in Russia's top leadership. It wasn't "K.G.B." because the guy leading Russia now was never one of the "former apparatchiks" Putin has supposedly surrounded himself with.
McCain's rhetoric was in keeping with someone so close to the luridly fascist and virulently anti-communist U.S. Council for World Freedom.
I warned about Vladimir Putin. I said I looked into his eyes and saw three letters, a K, a G and a B. He has surrounded himself with former KGB apparatchiks. He has gradually repressed most of the liberties that we would expect for nations to observe, and he has exhibited most aggressive behavior, obviously, in Georgia.
Yet again, no mention of the tiny fact that Georgia started the war and Russia finished it -and is now on timetable for withdrawal as agreed with the EU while American leaders were hyperventilating about the Return of the Red Menace.
No-one seriously imagines that Putin and Medvedev are trying to reassemble the U.S.S. R. except old Cold Warriors like McCain and neocon youngsters who love any excuse to keep fearmongering and warmongering. Most analysts say that they are instead trying to reassert Russian pride after decades of being made to understand, in a way that was humiliating for Russia, that the Soviets lost the Cold War - and to reassert their traditional vested interests in the affairs of smaller bordering nations just as the U.S. has an (often heavy handed) interest in Latin America and the Caribbean. Obama said "it is important that we understand they're not the old Soviet Union but they still have nationalist impulses that I think are very dangerous." He gets that dynamic in a way that McCain doesn't.
But neither acquitted themselves well on policy towards a newly resurgent Russia, which has the backing of the overwhelming majority of its own people - even those opposed to the current government's domestic civil rights crackdowns - for its reassertion of its local power. McCain said that the U.S. must show "moral support" for Georgia and Ukraine and "advocate for their membership in NATO". He can advocate all he likes but neither the UK, France or Germany will allow any nation with an ongoing feud with Russia to join, and they all have a veto. It's nice to say but empty of serious policy content. Obama wants to "provide them with financial and concrete assistance to help rebuild their economies" Where he'll get the money even as he admits the US must tighten its fiscal belt during the current financial meltdown he doesn't say. Again, nice words but empty of real doable policy.
Both candidates also dodged on the question of whether or not Russia was an Evil Empire. Obama said the Russians "engaged in an evil behavior" while McCain prevaricated even more, saying "If I say yes, then that means that we're reigniting the old Cold War. If I say no, it ignores their behavior." You could tell he wanted to say "Yes" but his own advice had belatedly caught up with his mouth.
Such rhetoric might go down well with listeners - no-one's ever lost a U.S. presidential election just by appearing too hawkish that I'm aware of. But even Kissinger is at odds with McCain and more liable to extend the diplomatic hand of co-operation than Obama.
"We have a number of common issues that we have to settle, if possible, with Russia. We need Russia for a solution of the Iranian problem. We may need Russia if Pakistan evolves in some of the directions that it might. And it is helpful to cooperate with Russia not just on the [nuclear] question, but on the issues of energy. It is an effort that should not be decided by what happened in Georgia." [CNAS, 9/15/08, NPR, 9/23/08]
Obama appeared to get that too, again in a way that McCain, with his renewed call to kick Russia out of the G8 and ostracize it from the world's democracies, did not - but only wins on points on this one even though he was a clear winner overall on the night.