Tuesday, August 12, 2008

McCain, not Obama, was right about Georgia

Mention Georgia a few days ago, and most of us would have thought of the state evoked so sweetly in "Georgia on My Mind," the classic tune sung by Ray Charles. Very few of us had heard of the South Ossetia province of Georgia, the nation with the misfortune to have Russia as its neighbor, until war broke out last week.

Like Kosovo, Bosnia, Kuwait and other unfamiliar places before, Ossetia reminds us that a small, remote corner of the globe can explode into an international crisis. One who was up to speed on Georgia and the menace it faced from Russia was veteran Sen. John McCain. He had visited the Caucasian nation three times in a dozen years. When fighting erupted, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate got on the phone to gather details and issued a statement Friday summarizing the situation, tagging Russia as the aggressor and demanding it withdraw its forces from the sovereign territory of Georgia.

It took first-term Sen. Barack Obama three tries to get it right. Headed for a vacation in Hawaii, the presumed Democratic candidate for commander in chief issued an even-handed statement, urging restraint by both sides. Later Friday, he again called for mutual restraint but blamed Russia for the fighting. The next day his language finally caught up with toughness of McCain's.

Making matters worse, Obama's staff focused on a McCain aide who had served as a lobbyist for Georgia, charging it showed McCain was "ensconced in a lobbyist culture." Obama's campaign came off as injecting petty partisan politics into an international crisis. This was not a serious response on behalf a man who aspires to be the leader of the Free World. After all, what's so bad about representing a small former Soviet republic struggling to remake itself as a Western-style democracy?

The comparison between the two candidates served to emphasize the strength McCain's experience would bring to the White House in a dangerous world.

Obama's favored approach to international issues, diplomatic talks, failed to stop Russia's invasion. Vladimir Putin, a KGB bull in the former Soviet Union, wants to restore Russia as the supreme power of Eurasia and, to that end, bully former vassal states like Georgia out of their democratic ways. The fear is that Ukraine will come in his cross hairs next.

However the world's newest war ends, America's leadership must recognize and respond to the underlying dynamic of Russia's resurgent aggressive instincts -- the power bestowed on Moscow by its oil and gas riches.

While we don't get fossil fuels from Russia, Western Europe does, and the Kremlin's energy might is fueled by the worldwide demand for oil. Developing U.S. domestic energy sources and alternatives to oil will only enhance our national security and, by reducing the world's petroleum demand, undermine the economic, political and military advantage vast oil and gas reserves give to unfriendly powers like Russia, Iran and Venezuela.

Obama calls for transforming America's economy in a decade. He's got the right idea -- long term. But short term, this nation must push for energy security on all fronts -- now. That includes new offshore drilling for oil, which Obama loathes, and new nuclear plants, which he views with aversion. We can't just wait for breakthrough technologies for wind, solar and biomass energy.

McCain has got it right in advocating new offshore drilling and a federal push to add 45 nuclear generators over the next two decades. Given the evidence of Russia's energy-fueled aggression, he should abandon his opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve and to extending subsidies he favors for nuclear energy to include renewables.

As Georgia burns, we need to light a fire under all the talk about energy security and start doing what it takes to make it happen.


Mordy said...

By all indications, Russia is withdrawing from Georgia (though some areas are still under occupation). This resolution was accomplished by discussion and diplomacy, foremost by the President of the United States. I can't believe I'm saying this, but thank god Bush is the president and not McCain. If McCain had been the president, he would have convened G-7 and immediately accepted Georgia into NATO. Quite likely this would have lead to another Cold War, if not a Nuclear Winter. McCain was 100% wrong.

(Not to mention that he didn't understand any of the issues of the Russian invasion. Like the fact that Georgia has been attacking South Ossetia for years, and finally invaded, hoping for a quick tactical victory that would be supported by the USA. Why did they think the USA would support this? Because people like McCain say things like, "We are all Georgians." But guess what? We're not going to support Georgia against Russia because we're not idiots. And yes, Russia obviously had troops on the border waiting for Georgia to make a misstep. But imagine an analogue where Russia was supporting Cuba and then suddenly Cuba attacked the Florida Keys. We wouldn't have been satisfied until Havana was burned to the ground. And thank god, when tensions around Cuba ran high, diplomacy was able to prevail then as well.)

Stryd3r said...

Firstly, I think that McCain realizes we cannot be seen as attacking Russia. Secondly, the point is that McCain - not Obama - is able and willing to take solid stances on the issues. Obama tries to find that middle-ground where he can please everyone, and that is precisely what we DO NOT want the president of America to do. Finally, we are sending aid to Georgia and we have criticized Russia's actions. Thus, the USA is supporting Georgia over Russia.

You do make a good point however, in that if it was us being attacked we would not rest... though, that doesn't make the situation right.

Mordy said...

I think you're giving McCain too much credit. From WaPo this morning:


Obama urged restraint on both the Georgia and Russian side. I think that was the right play. It meant we didn't align with either party, and gave us room to mediate a resolution. Ironically, Bush made the same play as the one Obama recommended.

Stryd3r said...

Telling both the 100-pound kid and the 300 pound bully to employ restraint is not "the right thing to do." It is weak and uncaring; it says "I'm too scared to stand up for what I believe is right."

No, the right thing to do IS to protect the defenseless child (to the extent that you are able). What makes America look weak and vulnarable in the eyes of its enemies is the fact that it is too politically correct - what we need is the President who is willing to take a stance and not back down. America needs leaders who have backbones, not sycophants begging for their 15 minutes of fame.

Mordy said...

I think you're severely underestimating the roles that Georgia and Russia are playing here. Georgia, after all, invaded South Ossetia, which precipitated Russia's response. Additionally, Georgia has been accused of human rights violations with Ossetia (http://news.yahoo.com/s/csm/ossetia;_ylt=AqK8MMR12BLaNzkpxxPSXgYGw_IE).

The important part:

Russia has accused Georgia of committing "genocide" in its assault on the rebel republic, which they say killed at least 2,000 civilians and displaced 34,000.

Western human rights monitors caution that it's too early to make any judgments about what happened. But Lev Ponomaryov, head of the Moscow-based Movement for Human Rights, says he hopes the West will hold Saakashvili's feet to the fire on this issue.

"I can't say whether this is a case of genocide, but it certainly is a humanitarian catastrophe," he says. "The methods Saakashvili used to establish constitutional order have to be condemned by the international community."


Now, unless you knee-jerk support every underdog in every issue (much like many American liberal Palestinian supporters), I don't really understand why you'd support Georgia in this incident. They were the aggressors, and they have treated South Ossetia awfully.

Stryd3r said...

Firstly, I don't appreciate your implications - I do not support the Palestinian cause nor do I condone the methods they use in their attempt to secure a Palestinian state.

That being said, you can hardly consider the killing of 2,000 people (yes, every life has value and it is a shame that they were killed) a "genocide." Of course, if you DO consider 2,000 dead to be genocide, you certainly are horrified by the outrageous genocide perpetrated on America's own soil and as such will not be "satisfied until 'Havana' [is] burned to the ground." Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, the Sudan, Russia - truly you wish to see America punish the perpetrators of that crime as strongly as you wish to hang Saakashvili for his genocidal actions.

Oh yeah, Russia isn't exactly an angel when it comes to human rights: http://hrw.org/englishwr2k8/docs/2008/01/31/russia17710.htm

Mordy said...

Wait, so you agree that Russia had some justification for invading Georgia?

Mordy said...

And I'm not making any evaluation as to whether a genocide happened or not. But 70% of South Ossetia has Russian citizenship. Russia has a lot of concern with how S.O. is treated by Georgia.

Again, I'm not trying to make any conclusions. I just want to offer the suggestion that your support of McCain has blinded you to the actual issues here.

Stryd3r said...

"Wait, so you agree that Russia had some justification for invading Georgia?"

One can find justification for anything, that doesn't mean that the action is actually just.

There is nothing to be blinded about here - I support the candidate who supports what is in America's best interests:

Georgia is attempting to establish itself as a democracy = good for America.

Russia has constantly been a pain and has repressed democracy under the rule of Putin = bad for America.

Also, Russia isn't concerned about the people in S.O. - it cares about its heavy oil investments in the region.

Mordy said...

A) Why do you believe Russia doesn't care about the people of S.O., only about oil? In day two of the invasion, Russia hasn't even touched the oil pipeline.

B) Consider the situation like this: S.O., which is 70% Russian citizen, was made a part of Georgia post U.S.S.R. The area rebelled against Georgia and tried to leave. After much fighting, Georgia attempted to invade S.O. to put down the rebellion. It seems to me that if we are talking morale justification, S.O. has the right to determine their own fate (they held their own elections and declared sovereignty -- peacefully), and Georgia is out of order. How exactly is the invasion of S.O. an attempt to establish themselves as a Democracy? Why shouldn't the Russians intervene on behalf of their citizens?

C) John McCain may be a lovely man, but he is totally wrong about the Georgia situation and this is likely because he is personal friends with Saakashvili and has former Georgia-lobbyists as aides. This is the problem with partisanship. I don't feel like you're engaging with the evaluation of the situation because you've already made up your mind about why Russia invaded Georgia.

So I'll ask simply:

Why do you believe the United States should 100% support Georgia in this situation considering that Georgia provoked this reaction from Russia?

(Btw, I believe we should provide humanitarian support to Georgia and negotiate with Russia to withdraw. This is also the White House's position. McCain's position was to entirely blame Russia - leading me to believe he doesn't understand the actual geopolitical situation.)

Mordy said...

And if you're under any illusion that a Georgian Democracy would be substantially different than a Russian Democracy, you haven't researched the region at all. I think the Georgian refusal to acknowledge S.O. elections should certainly put an end to that belief.

Mordy said...

Okay, I need to correct something. Apparently Russia has been bombing the pipeline. But they haven't made a move to capture it.

Stryd3r said...

A) James L. Williams, publisher of the Energy Economist newsletter, said that

"For Russia, control of Georgia and the pipeline would restore much of its influence over many of the former satellites of the U.S.S.R.," he said. "It would have the clear benefit of increasing Russia's energy chokehold on Europe."

Amy Myers Jaffe, an energy fellow at Rice University's Baker Institute, believes an assertive Russia flush with oil and natural gas revenue can exercise its power by controlling crucial resources. "When the Russians are trying to claw back their power, energy is the major lever in their pursuit to do so," she said.

B) So Mexico can invade America because we aren't treating its citizens properly?

C) Obama's mentor hates America, therefore so does Obama.

I didn't say we should 100% support Georgia - in fact, I think it would be stupid to do so. However, being outspoken about the fact that Russia invaded another sovereign nation is not wrong.

In general I would actually agree with you - a nation should defend its citizens. However, a nation also has the right to protect itself from uprisings that would greatly harm its government - for example, the American colonies had the right to rebel against what it saw as a tyrannical king, while at the same time the British empire had the right to protect its colonial interests.

I don't condone the death of civilians, however I return to the Mexico analogy.

Lastly, if Texas holds an election to secede from the USA, we must recognize that vote as valid, right?

Stryd3r said...

"Okay, I need to correct something. Apparently Russia has been bombing the pipeline. But they haven't made a move to capture it."

True - but it sounds a little like "if we can't have it no one can."

Stryd3r said...

Oops, forgot the link for "A" here it is: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fi-pipelines13-2008aug13,0,671732,print.story

Mordy said...

Obama's mentor hates America, therefore so does Obama.

Lol. Well, it's been fun talking to you. But you've just crossed my rational line. I have rules about not arguing with people who make statements like that.


Mordy said...

(Which is a shame. Because I think you made some very valid other points that I'd love to discuss. But for my mental health, I have to draw lines at certain prepositions. Otherwise my life becomes: http://xkcd.com/386/)

Stryd3r said...

Sorry, I don't see the difference - if you're saying that McCain is supporting Georgia even though it's wrong because he happens to be friends (keep in mind that "friends" in politics means "good political connections.") with its president, then isn't it logical to conclude that Obama would certainly support the ideas of his life-long mentor?

Also, statements like what? That someone would be inclined to follow the teaching of their priest, pastor, rabbi, teacher, imam, whatever? Show what's irrational in that, if you can.

I think you're backing away from an argument you know you won't win.

And yeah, I like that cartoon too :)

Mordy said...

For one, Reverend Wright wasn't an aide on the Obama campaign. Second of all, saying that Wright hates America is a gross mischaracterization of his remarks and is in bad faith of his quotes (and yes, I'm familiar with the exact quotes). Third, a Rabbi/Pastor/Imam is not necessarily a mentor. I have sat in many synagogue shmoozim that embarrassed me and I did not agree with the Rabbi. But I didn't contest the Rabbi, or leave, or speak out against him. Because I felt the Rabbi was entitled to his position. Fourth of all, if you showed me an Obama position that seemed directly influenced by one of his aides, I would certainly accept the possibility that his aide influenced him. McCain having an aide who was a former Georgian lobbyist is worth consideration.

The thing is, I believe everyone understand this. Most Wright arguments strike me as remarkably bad faith on behalf of the arguer. That's why I try to back out of those arguments. If I ran for President, I wouldn't want my Rabbis brought up as examples of what I believe. Even Rabbis I've been close with. I've had racist Rabbis and sexist Rabbis and homophobic Rabbis. I am none of those things and I wouldn't want to be judged by them. Heck, I've had roommates who were rabid racists. Imagine how I'd be painted in that case. Clearly you see a difference between Obama's relationship with Wright and McCain's relationship with Randy Scheunemann, right? I mean, if you don't, I don't really know what else to say.

Stryd3r said...

Well, I'm ashamed to admit that I had not known about Randy Scheunemann. So on that point you have me.

However, since I am enjoying this conversation (or whatever you want to call it) I would appreciate it if you would address the other points you were interested in - at your convenience of course... I wouldn't want you to be late to bed ;)

Mordy said...

Ah, my apologies for prejudging you then. I had posted the Washington Post article earlier here, but it was already a bit ago.

Anyway, re: the Oil pipe. I really don't know if Russia is motivated to take it over. It certainly seems logical, but I'd have to see an actual move on it before making a judgment. I know Israel has some concern since that pipeline goes directly down through Turkey and into the Middle East. But how can I say what Russia's motivation is? The best I can say is; It doesn't seem to me like Russia is going to take it over. But if they did tomorrow, I'd recant without any guilt. For the time being, though, I think the invasion is totally related to S.O.

In regard to Mexico, let's balance two of your questions at once. If Texas was 70% (I've actually read that S.O. is as much as 90% Russian) Mexican, and they had been enfolded into the USA in the last two decades, and almost immediately after being enfolded clamored to go back to Mexico. And then held elections and peacefully declared themselves sovereign. And THEN the USA sent in a team and (according to Moscow Human Rights groups) killed 2,000 Mexican citizens trying to keep the peace in Texas... well, I'd totally understand Mexico invading the USA to try to protect their citizens.

Here's the thing. I don't like Putin. I think he has an awful track record on human rights and - an issue very close to my heart - journalism. But I also think we need to consider the situation on its face. As long as this conflict is about S.O., I think we need to allow Russia to do what they feel they need to protect their people. Once they invaded Georgia further, it became necessarily to open negotiations with them to extract themselves. (I think it's important to note that negotiations seem to be working.)

My problem with McCain's position is that he seems to be sacrificing a lot of subtlety in order to support Georgia 100%. And speaking as someone who doesn't like Putin, I don't feel comfortable with that. I think holding a G-7 and bringing Georgia into NATO would exasperate the problem. We need to explain to Russia that invading Georgia is problematic, and negotiate their withdrawal, but we need to do that without military overtures. Accepting Georgia into NATO would be perceived as a military overture and G-7 might be. (In fact, many analysts believe NATO is part of the reason why Russia feels threatened by Georgia. I personally discount that, I think it's a bizarre explanation.) Consider if McCain actually followed through on his position while he were President. Wouldn't the likely result be a reinitiation of the Cold War? Frankly, that scares me. Especially since Bush is showing us how effective discussion with Russia can be without military threats.

(And I know you like McCain. And I'm not trying to get you to dislike him. But even supporters can disagree with their chosen candidate. I personally intend to vote for Obama. But when he agreed with the FISA bill, something I appose vehemently, I was very angry at him. Agreeing with most/some of a politician's positions doesn't mean you need to agree with all of them.)

Stryd3r said...

I must say, you have certainly convinced me to revisit my position on this issue - while I still believe that claiming this as a human rights violation is stretching it, I think you have made some very valid points.

I feel very strongly that it is important to identify the actual source of a politician's decisions in order to ensure that they are the most prudent - I think you have made a very strong case that McCain's decision to support Georgia is not coming from him. Certainly, I can appreciate your point of view at least from a strategic outlook.

Mordy said...

I've gotta get to sleep soon (I've been keeping myself awake to finish watching the Olympic swimming. Now that it's over...), but it's been a pleasure talking to you. So many of these internet conversations aren't. :(

Hopefully that bodes well for the next semester. :)

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