The Giant Bear roars again…

Prime Minister Putin – er – President Medvedev has laid out five “principles” of foreign policy, according to this article from the BBC.  The funny thing about principles is that there things people aspire to, but often times don’t meet.  And Russia is no exception.  And to be fare, principles often conflict with one another.  Let’s see…

3. No isolation

“Russia does not want confrontation with any country; Russia has no intention of isolating itself. We will develop, as far as possible, friendly relations both with Europe and with the United State of America, as well as with other countries of the world.”

You would think that means not overrunning your neighbors with troops, but the Russians may choose to hide behind the next one to get around that little inconvenient fact:

4. Protect citizens

“Our unquestionable priority is to protect the life and dignity of our citizens, wherever they are. We will also proceed from this in pursuing our foreign policy. We will also protect the interest of our business community abroad. And it should be clear to everyone that if someone makes aggressive forays, he will get a response.”

While one cannot argue with the general idea, there are many Russians in neighboring countries who have Russian passports.  Is that grounds for invasion?  But if it is not, perhaps the next one is:

5. Spheres of influence

“Russia, just like other countries in the world, has regions where it has its privileged interests. In these regions, there are countries with which we have traditionally had friendly cordial relations, historically special relations. We will work very attentively in these regions and develop these friendly relations with these states, with our close neighbours.”

As Bill Cosby would say, “Riiggght.”  Read: if you aren’t friendly to us, we’ll invade to “protect our citizens”.

Cuba, are you listening?  Still, better to oppose the principles and the bad behavior of one state rather than compound it.  Of course that might depend on who makes the decision.  President Bush might decide that one more crusade is in order.

Georgia: In the “Better Late than Never” Category…

Seven years and six months into his administration, President Bush seems to have realized that Vladamir Putin isn’t always such a nice guy.  The Wall Street Journal reported today that the administration is putting all bilateral contacts with Russia under review.  This occurred after a near face-off between a Coast Guard cutter and the Russian navy.  As I have written previously, we are at least in part to blame for the fiasco in Georgia, and so this can be seen as corrective at best, and palliative at worst.  Just like his father, had President Bush sent strong messages (perhaps with soldiers) before the invasion, perhaps there never would have been one to begin with.

This was a win/win/win for Russia.  They managed to demonstrate to the west and elsewhere that they will have their views taken seriously, they invaded the portion of a neighbor that has many Russians, and they may well have destabilized alternative energy transmission paths that the U.S. proposed, demonstrating the old axiom that all war is over wealth.

President Clinton reminded us at the Democratic National Convention this week that we as a nation cannot go it alone, that it is not in our best interest to go it alone, and that cooperation amongst nations is best for the United States.  I am glad we are standing by Georgia, even if it is very late, and I hope that other countries will send stronger messages than they have until now.  I am referring in particular to Germany and France.

Obama v. McCain: Foreign Policy

How the United States deals with the world around us has been the principal province of the president, for as long as there has been a U.S.  It is an area in which most presidents learn it on the job, as was the case for Presidents Reagan & Clinton.  In other circumstances, presidents bring a strong policy background to the job, such as was the case with President George H. W. Bush.  (His son, President Bush, doesn’t seem to have learned anything, not really having understood anything prior to having taken office.)

Senator Barack Obama is only a little older than me.  Neither of us can seriously have understood at the time all of the implications of the Vietnam War, but both of us became well enough aware of the world around us to understand what was happening during the Carter administration (he might have even gotten it during the Ford administration).  He has spent some of his life outside of the United States, and he has spent some of his life in the time of the Cold War.

Senator John McCain is of a different era.  His views are informed by his having served in the Vietnam War and been captured and held by the Vietcong.  There are few people on earth who can relate to his nearly unique experiences.  McCain spent most of his life with the Cold War, and he was born outside of the United States.

Both of these men have interesting perspectives on foreign policy, but to be sure John McCain has been there a whole lot longer.  Which positions should we judge?  My own areas of interest revolve around the reconstituted Soviet Union, how we handle the Middle East, and how we engage the developing world.  I am also interested in continued development of international relationships to reduce cybercrime and cyber-terrorism.  As an expatriate foreign policy probably impacts me more than domestic policy, which is why it’s up front next to education.  But these days that should be the case with more Americans.  Our new found isolation in the world has empowered bad actors, like Hugo Chavez.

Senator McCain has been a strong proponent of America following international law and norms.  As a former prisoner he saw what happened personally when those norms weren’t followed.  The senator has always expressed strong concern about the way the Bush Administration treated detainees in Guantanamo Bay, and advanced legislation against such reckless behavior.

Senator McCain supported former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush on both their decision to go to war and initial tactics.  This to me represents a remarkable failure on his part, because Mr. Rumsfeld failed to ask the very question that most foreign policy experts would ask: what happens after you invade?  We take over and then what?  The departure from the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force to “shock and awe” only worked until the shock and awe wore off, if it worked at all.  The actual justification for the war is now thoroughly debunked, and the next president will have to clean up this president’s mess.

Senator McCain has been very vocal about Russia’s invasion of Georgia.  Here I am entire agreement with him, and I would perhaps have gone farther.  Russia has for years lost its luster to me, and the current president has lied – repeatedly – about Russia’s intent.  It’s all about reasserting Russia’s position as a super-power, taking control of her oil, and using economics as a policy weapon against the west.  As I wrote previously, we brought this on ourselves.  McCain has been there early on, as it is in his nature to address such threats.

Senator Obama has made statements to the same effect as of late, but has otherwise taken a less prominent stance.  Sometimes that’s not a bad thing.  If the current president plays “bad cop” in some way in the near future, Senator McCain will be left with fewer options than Senator Obama in January.  The reverse is also true.  President Bush can use the McCain’s stridency to say, “This is who you get later if you don’t solve the problem to my satisfaction.”  It’s right out of a West Wing Episode, and arguably out of the Iran Hostages playbook, where Iran resolved the matter the moment Ronald Reagan took office.

John McCain has also stated his preference for ending sugar, oil, and ethanol subsidies as part of his education plan.  Were those subsidies tied to quality standards I might have more sympathy for them, as I did with the Swiss.  Absent those, the American way of life is not on the line, and it would seem that commodity prices are doing just fine on their own at the moment, and so it’s free money to remove those subsidies.

Senator Obama is not without his own touch on foregin policy.  In 2006 he sponsored a bill that eventually became law to stablize the Congo.  He has stated that he is willing to meet with leaders of countries that we don’t especially love, like Cuba, North Korea, and Iran.  He has been extremely cagy about the terms of such meetings and he has parsed his words carefully since.  Normally such parsing drives me CRAZY, reminding me to look up what the definition of is is.  The art of foreign policy, however, is talking out of both sides of one’s mouth.  Senator McCain and our current president don’t do this, so far as I can tell.

And the Winner is…

While I find John McCain’s views on Iraq far from my own, his views on Russia seem to be more aligned than those of Barack Obama, and there can be no doubt as to who has more experience. Obama has nowhere near the amount of experience of his opponent, but he did get Iraq right, and he probably has a good handle on Africa.  Still I do not agree with his willingness to meet with just any ole dictator.

Today both candidates get passing grades on foreign policy, with McCain getting about a 80/100 and perhaps Obama getting 75.  So let’s give this round to McCain.

Russians in Georgia? Blame us.

As I wrote not so long ago, The Great Bear has awoken and the Soviet Union is alive and well.  According to CNN, Russia used cluster bombs to kill civilians in their attack on Georgia.  This represents a war crime that could be taken to The International Criminal Court (ICC).  Of course, Russia is not a member, and as it turns out, neither is the United States.  Stepping away from the ICC was one of President Bush’s first activities, which means that in a (yet another) way, we are complacent to the crimes committed by the Russians.  It also means that now is a good time for us to revisit signing and ratifying the Rome Statute that established the court and its jurisdiction.

The ICC exists because any country can go too far.  It is not meant to usurp power from functioning democracies that enforce their laws, but is meant instead to provide redress to agrieved individuals and countries against dicatorships.  Does this include Russia?  I believe so.  Russia has not yet demonstrated an impartial judiciary and prosecutorial service that provides oversight over the central government functions.  Does it include the United States?  I wouldn’t have said so until we began holding captives in Guantanamo Bay, and not providing due process.  Torture at Guantanamo is particularly troubling.  But it is nothing like the abuse currently going on in Georgia.