McCain Rules Out Military Action Against Russia
By Robert Barnes
BIRMINGHAM, Mich. -- Standing behind a podium and in front of a row of flags, two trusted senators ready to do his bidding, it was easy for John McCain to forgot for a moment he was just running for president.
Asked to respond to criticism that his hard-line attitude toward Russia might result in "less cooperation rather than more,'' McCain responded: "If I may be so bold, there was another president'' -- he caught himself and started again -- "at one time, there was a president named Ronald Reagan who spoke very strongly about America's advocacy for democracy and freedom.
"He was criticized at that time.''
With the man he pops as presumptuous taking R&R in Hawaii this week, McCain did all he could this week to look like President McCain, emphasizing his experience and foreign policy expertise. He repeatedly mentioned how many times he had been to the region, let it be known that he has talked daily with Georgian president Mikheil Saaskasvili since the crisis began and made clear that there had been times when he thought President Bush's response could have been stronger.
He provided a primer for why Americans should care about the "tiny little democracy'' and tried to tie the foreign crisis with a domestic one: oil. Georgia is "part of a strategic energy corridor affecting individual lives far beyond'' the region, he said.
The danger for McCain was to not overdo it. Too much could look too political, and coming off as too tough with Russia could raise scary memories.
McCain waited to be asked by reporters, but then ruled out any military action.
"I don't think we're going to reignite the Cold War here with Russia,'' McCain said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. "I think this is a very serious situation but I don't see it as a return to nuclear standoffs, etcetera, etcetera. I want to have a dialogue with the Russians, I want them to get out of Georgian territory as quickly as possible and I'm interested in good relations between the United States and Russia.''
He also was uninterested in comparing his position with that of Democratic rival Barack Obama, although allies and advisers to the two men had done that.
Asked about comments from an Obama adviser that McCain's statements have been "belligerent" and aggressive, McCain took the high road.
"This isn't a time for partisanship, sniping between campaigns,'' he said; thousands of people were either dead, wounded or homeless.
But reporters pointed out that Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Ct.), one of McCain's most ardent and vocal supporters -- and someone who also happened to be standing next to him -- had done just that.
Obama's initial statement of what Lieberman called "moral neutrality'' was another sign that the "inexperience'' of the senator from Illinois, Lieberman had said.
McCain repeated his view that the debate over which candidate had performed better in addressing the crisis should wait.
McCain earlier in the week had said Bush should send Secretary of State Rice to the region. Having no secretary of state of his own, McCain said Lieberman and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), both fixtures on his campaign plane, would be heading to Georgia.
Like McCain, both men are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. But McCain made it sound as if they were his emissaries.
Posted at 12:56 PM ET on Aug 14, 2008
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