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McCain's Revisionist History on Russia and the G8

June 26, 2008

When it comes to his foreign policy, John McCain is a revisionist historian and a particularly clumsy one at that. Having asked Americans to ignore his record as the master of disaster on Iraq, John McCain similarly underwent an election-year transformation from rabid France-basher to born-again multilateralist and fawning Francophile. Now, the McCain campaign is hoping to erase any vestiges of John McCain's 2007 pledge to expel Russia from the G8.
As Reuters reports, an anonymous McCain adviser essentially told Americans not to look behind the curtain on Mr. Straight Talk's two-faced posture towards Moscow:

He also dismissed McCain's comment last October on Russia and the G-8 as "a holdover from an earlier period," adding: "It doesn't reflect where he is right now."

McCain's retreat from his hard line against Putin's Russia began in May. In what was billed as a major address on nuclear non-proliferation, John McCain offered the latest installment in the ongoing saga of strategic incoherence that passes for his foreign policy. Just months after calling for a "League of Democracies" and the expulsion of Russia from the G8, McCain in an abrupt about-face portrayed Russia as an essential partner in the global struggle to contain the spread of nuclear weapons.
Over the past year in multiple speeches and in his November 2007 article in Foreign Affairs, McCain outlined a vision of the world's 100 democracies as like"-minded nations working together in the cause of peace." The organization, which would not include Russia, could act "with or without Moscow's and Beijing's approval." As the LA Times noted, McCain's League "could use military force as well as economic and diplomatic pressure" in Iran, Darfur and other global hot spots.
As former Bush UN Ambassador John Bolton noted last month, McCain takes a particularly dim view of the prospects for partnership with Russia. McCain, he said approvingly:

"Takes an even harder line than I do. He wants to toss them out of the G-8. He is not about to be pushed around by an assertive Putin."

Which is precisely what so concerned foreign policy realists here at home and America's friends abroad. Despite McCain's claims to the contrary, the Los Angeles Times reports that "European officials were cautious." In April, one senior EU official said McCain's league, with its confrontational stance towards Russia, "can appear as something divisive." Ford and Bush 41 national security adviser Brent Scowcroft wrote "that it was a 'bad idea' to create a new bloc in global affairs that would divide the world 'between the good and the evil.'" As ThinkProgress reported earlier this month, McCain's plan to eject Russia from the G8 wasn't merely dangerous, it was impossible:

The Group of Eight, or G-8, as it's popularly known, makes decisions by consensus, so no single nation can kick out another. Most experts say the six other countries - Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan and Canada - would never agree to toss Russia, given their close economic ties to their neighbor. A senior U.S. official who deals with Russia policy said that even Moscow would have to approve of its own ouster, given how the G-8 works.
"It's not even a theoretical discussion. It's an impossible discussion," said the senior official, who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly. "It's just a dumb thing."

Alas, that was then, this is now. Fast forward to Tuesday's speech and McCain's plan to boot Medvedev's Russia is nowhere to be found. No doubt eager to both continue his move to the center and try to offset Barack Obama's leadership on the proliferation issue, McCain today decided to go to Russia with love.
McCain's threat to blackball the Russians wasn't merely absent from his speech. The Republican nominee promised close American consultation with Moscow in reducing the nuclear stockpiles of both nations, as well as limiting tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe:

"As our two countries possess the overwhelming majority of the world's nuclear weapons, we have a special responsibility to reduce their number. I believe we should reduce our nuclear forces to the lowest level we judge necessary, and we should be prepared to enter into a new arms control agreement with Russia reflecting the nuclear reductions I will seek. Further, we should be able to agree with Russia on binding verification measures based on those currently in effect under the START Agreement, to enhance confidence and transparency. In close consultation with our allies, I would also like to explore ways we and Russia can reduce - and hopefully eliminate - deployments of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. I also believe we should work with Russia to build confidence in our missile defense program, including through such initiatives as the sharing of early warning data and prior notification of missile launches."

And when it comes to Iran and its nuclear program, McCain acknowledged the special role Russia may still have to play in reaching a solution short of American military action:

"Nations that seek nuclear fuel for legitimate civilian purposes will be able to acquire what they need under international supervision. This is one suggestion Russia and others have made to Iran. Unfortunately, the Iranian government has so far rejected this idea. Perhaps with enough outside pressure and encouragement, they can be persuaded to change their minds before it is too late."

This is McCain's second substantial deviation from his previously stated foreign policy vision in the last two months. In April, McCain reversed course on the role of his League of Democracies as a military organization, claiming the group would not use military force and concluding "it does not envision military action." No doubt, John McCain's new-found embrace of Russia will cool the ardor of neo-conservatives such as Charles Krauthammer, who had praised McCain's "hidden agenda" behind his League as having the goal to "essentially kill the U.N."
And so it goes for the supposed maverick John McCain. His tough talk towards Russia of only month ago is replaced by a new commitment to multilateralism that global nuclear non-proliferation - and American politics - require.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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