John McCain, the U.S. and the latest Russian crisis | Derek Jennings | Indy Week
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John McCain, the U.S. and the latest Russian crisis 

Georgia on my mind

I'm sorry, but previous presidential election cycles, particularly the last two, have consumed all of my patience. Damn those civics classes for duping me into believing that every four years we Americans carry out our sacred duties, selecting a president in solemn and sober fashion. Far from being exemplary of mature democracy, our elections have become habitual farce, more distant from the reasoned process envisioned by the constitutional framers than a traveling And 1 streetball exhibition is from a real basketball game.

Haven't we already tried the 'Which guy would you rather have a beer with?' method of presidential selection? And is not the misery of the last eight years its direct result? If it is our national intent to continue this full speed devolution into Idiocracy, let's dispense with the pretense. Perhaps if we were all in on the joke, if there were no preening and self-importance involved, and we acknowledged that our presidential politics were every bit as shallow and capricious as the American Idol judging process, I'd feel much better about it.

With the schools functioning all too well, mass producing consumers of material goods as well as information, the program is almost set to run in perpetuity. Perfectly complementing the schools are the corporate media, fulfilling their function like so many gulls who predigest the news before regurgitating it down the throats of the warbling masses.

To the gulls, I appeal. If a large segment of the populace can only be fed in small chunks, and if they trust the media solely for intellectual sustenance, then a huge amount of responsibility rests with the fourth estate. What they are currently feeding us, under the guise of "conventional wisdom," is a tainted and poisonous fiction.

As an example, let's look at the recent conflict between Georgia and its former Soviet-era master, Russia. In its wake, John McCain's once-moribund campaign, held afloat during the dog days of summer with reckless and desperate character attacks on his opponent (the celebrity-deriding Paris Hilton and the antichrist evocative "The One" ads), is resurgent. Rather than calcified, McCain's long-held antipathy toward Russia is being recast as "prescient."

Granted, I found President George W. Bush's first term declaration that he looked into then-Russian President Vladimir Putin's eyes and saw "his soul" to be creepy and weird. And I would no further trust a former-KGB leader atop Russia's government than I would a former-CIA leader atop our own (like our beloved Bush the Elder). But I don't want to rekindle the Cold War. As such, I found the early August military incursion of Georgian troops into South Ossetia to be profoundly problematic.

Sen. McCain, however, had no such compunctions, promptly denouncing Russia's retaliation well before they had escalated from "smackdown" to "shock and awe" status. Lost in most of the subsequent mass media chronicling of the return of the Evil Empire was some critical subtext:

  1. Georgia had been forewarned via a face to face meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on July 9 not to respond to any real or perceived Russian provocations in the area.

  2. The United States had been giving Georgia military aid and training as part of a quid pro quo for their participation as one of the painfully few nations among the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq, including joint exercises July 15 at the Vaziani military base, near the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.

  3. The United States provided such military aid and training knowing full well that Georgia had designs on forcible reincorporation of two separatist regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which contained both Russian "peacekeepers" and holders of dual-citizenship with the Russian Federation.

  4. McCain's chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, was very recently a paid lobbyist for the government of Georgia, and the firm he partly owns signed a $200,000 contract in April of this year to continue providing such services.

In addition, President Bush has been aggressively courting nations on Russia's doorstep for entrance into NATO, violating agreements made by both his father and former President Clinton.

If the preceding facts are too abstract, let me quickly construct a hypothetical. Imagine that Russia entered into a treaty with Mexico, began selling weapons to them and holding joint training exercises with the Mexican army not far from our border, while a brash young Mexican president spoke frequently about his desire to recapture parts of Texas or California. You think we'd go for that?

What if China were in talks with Nova Scotia for a nuclear missile shield? Remember, the U.S. (under a Democratic president, to be sure) almost brought annihilation upon the world rather than live with nukes in Cuba aimed at us.

In addition to McCain's saber rattling—prompting even his buddy, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, to denounce such words as useless if not backed with action—were two astounding declarations. He declared that "We are all Georgians." This from the candidate who ridiculed his opponent as "presumptuous" for speaking to world leaders on a trip he'd dared him to make. McCain went even further, sending his own delegation to Georgia in apparent competition with the Secretary of State dispatched to the region by the current resident of the Oval Office.

Incomprehensibly, McCain also declared that "in the 21st century, nations don't invade other nations." Huh? Does the U.S. have some kind of invasion coupon that allows our actions in Iraq and Afghanistan to count toward our 20th century invasion line of credit?

None of this absolves Russia from responsibility for its grossly disproportionate response, which was clearly designed to humiliate Georgia, warn the Ukraine and punk Washington and its European allies. You'd have to be an imbecile, however, not to foresee this as a likely consequence of constant American provocations in the region, especially since our current administration has left this nation militarily weak. The current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is less than sanguine about our ability to successfully fight the war with Iran that is on every neocon's Christmas wishlist. We most assuredly do not want it with Russia, conventionally, and if any of the current chicken hawk administration officials are even contemplating the alternative, may God strike them down and spare us the trouble.

Candidate McCain's long and documented history of hotheadedness, even to the extent that Senate colleagues from his own party have questioned whether he has a temperament befitting a commander in chief, is troubling enough. The next U.S. president will have his work cut out for him, needing to undo Dubya's myriad messes while simultaneously facing off against a resurgent Russia, flush with oil money, emboldened by the over-stretched American empire, and on a mission to get its swagger back.

McCain's bellicose responses to the crisis in Georgia do not inspire confidence in his ability to wield diplomacy as a primary instrument of foreign policy. Far more worrisome, however, is the very October Surprise feel to this conflict, in which he flirts with committing the United States to war while his chief strategist is a paid agent of a foreign country.

If Randy Scheunemann's Georgian connections provide even a scintilla of influence over a potential President McCain's decision on whether we go to war on that country's behalf, that is the very antithesis of democracy. And yet how many Americans are aware of any of this, as the news gulls continue regurgitating the myth of McCain as the strong and forthright policy expert—and stay close-mouthed on the man who can't tell Sunni from Shia, nor keep straight the current names of ex-Eastern Bloc nations that don't have a lobbyist on his payroll? That's not neutrality. That's complicity on a catastrophic scale.

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