Sunday, August 10, 2008

McCain wisely endorses statement by Eastern Europeans on Georgia

I have my reservations with McCain, and I've expressed them. But the fact remains that intelligent and well-spoken liberals like Michael Kingsley consider McCain "honest, courageous, likable and intelligent."

Would I prefer that McCain had a more (Obama-like) cerebral bearing and approach? Of course. But whether McCain "gets it" with the Russians because of an evidence-based approach or because of a skeptical intuition that happens to be correct ultimately doesn't matter in the end.

Fact is, McCain is right on the money to "strongly support" the Joint Declaration of Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Polish Presidents on the situation in Georgia. Having visited 11 former Soviet republics within the last two years I can tell you that that declaration is not the least bit surprising. The eastern Europeans know what real imperialism looks like. Real imperialism simply doesn't give a damn about other countries think. There is no reasoning with it, no moral conscience to appeal to, no point in trying to argue at all.

US imperialism is an imperialism that's obvious to the good professors of Post Colonial Studies (imposing the "corporate agenda" on long suffering brown people) but far from obvious to sub-Saharan Africans (with whom GWB is quite popular) or ordinary people on the ground in regions that attract the interest of Moscow or Beijing.

Far from there being no point in arguing with US-style imperialism, its opponents essentially argue against it non-stop. This very fact is a tacit recognition that Americans recognize rules about how the game should be played, such that it is worth one's time to appeal to those rules.

I don't support the neo-cons. I've long considered myself either a libertarian or a paleo-con. The neo-cons are liberals who became cynical about the means while remaining idealistic about the ends. I've been a cynic since day 1. I don't like Cheney, or Rumsfeld, or Bolton. But many Canadians compare the US against some abstract, hypothesized idea of ideal behaviour in a mental exercise that much of the world doesn't have the luxury of engaging in. The eastern Europeans know that US foreign policy leaves a lot to be desired. But it's far preferable to Russian power and, indeed, nobody has the American back in the Middle East like the eastern Europeans do.

The notion that South Ossetia's right to self-determination is being crushed by the Georgians is another one of these academic exercises. Thinktanks without a radical-left bias have long recognized that the Russians have been building a hornet's nest of smugglers, criminals, and other agents of destabilization for years now, and when the Georgians finally got stung so many times they decided to take a whack at it, the Russians had exactly the propaganda narrative they wanted. Press coverage of Russia's cyberwar against Georgian and Baltic websites in July was limited, as was coverage of Russian violations of Georgian airspace. The Russians themselves have never recognized any independence referenda in South Ossetia as valid, nor have they recognized South Ossetia as legally independent of Georgia. If this were truly about self-determination for the Ossetians, the Russians would have recognized that legally first before invading. The Baltic states, of course, have no time for the Russian claims of protecting the innocent because they've got substantial Russian minorities of their own (imported during the Soviet occupation) and know how the Russians use "protecting Russians" as a pretext for interference.

The equivalency I've seen drawn between the west's stance on Kosovo and Russia on South Ossetia does not follow. The west's recognition of Kosovo followed a Russian rejection of a UN proposal that never mentioned "independence" or talked of an "independent" Kosovo. Slobodan Milosevic's extended campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo was internationally verified and recognized, with the result that more than a dozen nations decided on a proportionate, air only response to Milosevic. Milosevic wanted international involvement out, Saakashvili wants it in.

Whether McCain came to his cynicism of Russian intentions by temperament or by reflective experience, McCain is seeing Russia as those closest to the real Russia see it.

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