John "Today We Are All Georgians" McCain Calls Obama "Naïve" on Ukraine
John McCain is experiencing another bout of premature emancipation. Just hours before Ukrainian President Yanukovych and opposition leaders reached an agreement that could help end the chaos and carnage in Kiev, the Arizona Republican lashed out at Barack Obama Thursday, calling him "the most naive president in history." McCain's latest bout of apoplexy is more than a little ironic. After all, McCain's call for sanctions against the Ukrainian leadership was consistent with the steps the Obama administration announced yesterday. And as it turns out, it was McCain himself who jumped the gun back in 2008 when he foolishly declared of a conflict actually started by another former Soviet republic, "We are all Georgians now."
To be sure, John McCain has never been a fan of Vladimir Putin's Russia. By the time hostilities between Russian and Georgian forces commenced in South Ossetia in August 2008, McCain's animus towards Moscow, which he repeatedly pledged to eject from the G-8, was already the stuff of legend. But seeing an opportunity to capitalize on his perceived advantage over Barack Obama on national security issues, McCain moved quickly and aggressively to commit the United States to Georgia's defense.
On his campaign bus in Pennsylvania, McCain told reporters, "I think it's very clear that Russian ambitions are to restore the old Russian empire." Three days later on August 14, 2008, McCain penned the now-famous Wall Street Journal op-ed "We Are All Georgians" which opportunistically appropriated global sentiment towards the United States after the horror of 9/11:
"As I told President Saakashvili on the day the cease-fire was declared, today we are all Georgians. We mustn't forget it."
Randy Scheunemann was quick to drive home the point for the tire-swinging U.S. media. Scheunemann, whose firm Orion Strategies represented Georgia between 2003 and March 2008 and even lobbied McCain's Senate staff on behalf of Georgia while working for McCain's presidential campaign, told Politico:
"Sen. McCain is clearly willing to note who he thinks is the aggressor here," he said, dismissing the notion that Georgia's move into its renegade province had precipitated the crisis. "I don't think you can excuse, defend, explain or make allowance for Russian behavior because of what is going on in Georgia."
He also criticized Obama for calling on both sides to show "restraint," and suggested the Democrat was putting too much blame on the conflict's clear victim.
"That's kind of like saying after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, that Kuwait and Iraq need to show restraint, or like saying in 1968 [when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia] ... that the Czechoslovaks should show restraint," he said.
Of course, the press corps, bought it hook, line and sinker, a fawning over McCain's supposed international leadership that continues to this day. After announcing that "Georgia dominates the Sunday shows," Politico on August 17, 2008 declared, "McCain reopens the national security gap."
There was, of course, a problem with John McCain's dangerously reckless bellicosity on behalf of Georgia, "this small democracy, far away from our shores, [which] is an inspiration to all those who cherish our deepest ideals."
He was wrong.
In the fall of 2009, a report commissioned by the Council of the European Union found that Georgia "started unjustified war." While the EU analysis placed blame on both Tbilisi and Moscow for what transpired, it rejected the Georgian government's explanation that the attack was defensive. As the BBC reported:
"The shelling of Tskhinvali (the South Ossetian capital) by the Georgian armed forces during the night of 7 to 8 August 2008 marked the beginning of the large-scale armed conflict in Georgia," the report says.
It adds later: "There is the question of whether [this] use of force... was justifiable under international law. It was not."
While Georgia protested those conclusions, Commissioner Jorg Himmelreich described in the New York Times "the decisive role that the United States played before, during and after the conflict":
After 9/11, however, President Bush changed the policy toward Georgia, introducing two elements that developed into serious strategic disadvantages. Mr. Bush not only made Georgia into a partner in the "war on terror," but he promoted Mr. Saakashvili and Georgia into a centerpiece of his "promotion of democracy." In Tbilisi in 2005, Mr. Bush proclaimed Mr. Saakashvili's Georgia "a beacon of liberty."
Even as President Bush became increasingly aware that he needed the Kremlin's help in Iran and for other American interests, he was kept a prisoner by this exaggeration of Georgia's importance for U.S. foreign policy.
Senior officials of the Bush administration claim they warned Mr. Saakashvili against using force against Russia. But having invested so much ideological importance in the Georgian president, Mr. Bush couldn't warn him publicly -- or, as it turned out, stop him. Having become so dependent on Mr. Saakashvili's success, the United States lost the political influence to stop him.
As Wikileaks revealed in December 2010, the U.S. position was made worse by the fact that the Bush administration--and its allies like John McCain--gullibly believed everything Saakashvili told them. The leaked cables from Tblisi, the New York Times explained, "display some of the perils of a close relationship":
A 2008 batch of American cables from another country once in the cold war's grip -- Georgia -- showed a much different sort of access. In Tbilisi, Georgia's capital, American officials had all but constant contact and an open door to President Mikheil Saakashvili and his young and militarily inexperienced advisers, who hoped the United States would help Georgia shake off its Soviet past and stand up to Russia's regional influence...
The cables show that for several years, as Georgia entered an escalating contest with the Kremlin for the future of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway enclaves out of Georgian control that received Russian support, Washington relied heavily on the Saakashvili government's accounts of its own behavior. In neighboring countries, American diplomats often maintained their professional distance, and privately detailed their misgivings of their host governments. In Georgia, diplomats appeared to set aside skepticism and embrace Georgian versions of important and disputed events.
By 2008, as the region slipped toward war, sources outside the Georgian government were played down or not included in important cables. Official Georgian versions of events were passed to Washington largely unchallenged.
The last cables before the eruption of the brief Russian-Georgian war showed an embassy relaying statements that would with time be proved wrong.
Proved wrong, that is, just like John McCain. As then Senator Obama helpfully reminded him during a 2008 presidential debate:
John, you like to pretend like the war started in 2007. You talk about the surge. The war started in 2003, and at the time when the war started, you said it was going to be quick and easy. You said we knew where the weapons of mass destruction were. You were wrong.
You said that we were going to be greeted as liberators. You were wrong. You said that there was no history of violence between Shiite and Sunni. And you were wrong.
Not just wrong, but naïve. Mercifully, John McCain never became President of the United States. Otherwise, we'd all be Georgians now.