Tough Talk On Russia

November 7, 2008

From the NY Times:

“Some of [President-Elect Barack Obama’s] comments during the campaign may already have boxed him in.
When Russia invaded Georgia in August, Mr. Obama’s initial response, drafted just before he left for vacation in Hawaii, was nuanced, urging both nations to exercise restraint. His statement was similar to the State Department’s initial, equally nuanced response, which also did not immediately blame Russia.
The Republicans’ presumptive nominee, Senator John McCain, responded with a hard-line approach, saying that Russia had crossed ‘an internationally recognized border into the sovereign territory of Georgia; and should ‘unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces.’
When the McCain camp criticized Mr. Obama’s response as too measured, Mr. Obama hardened his position. His next statement accused Russia of encroaching on Georgia’s sovereignty. The next day, he said that Russia bore responsibility for the escalation.
By the time of the presidential debates in the fall, Mr. Obama had moved even closer to Mr. McCain on Russia and Georgia, voicing support for Georgia’s entry into NATO, a line in the sand that Russia had dared the West to cross.”

So Obama got bullied into tough talk that antagonized the Russians when (a) we have to work with Russia on a gazillion important issues from Iranian nukes to oil to terrorism, and (b) we can’t back up the tough talk anyway. The Russians have already reacted very coldly to Obama’s victory (see here) and it’s going to take a lot of work to back away from the overblown rhetoric and to adopt a more nuanced approach. And we may be married to positions like missile defense and future NATO membership for Georgia (and Ukraine). You can also count on the Republicans screaming “appeasment” and “weak” every time Obama tries to back away from the hard line. Jesus, the right really needs to paint the world black and white, good guys and back guys, don’t they? We’re all fucking Georgians now…real constructive.

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