John McCain on Russia
Senator John McCain gave an impassioned speech today at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. First, a bit of news: He and Sen. Jon Kyl are getting "close" on a deal on the New START treaty, with Kyl extracting promises on modernization and McCain working to clarify there is no hindrance to our missile defense plans. In other words, the idea is to improve the treaty, not prevent a vote.
But the bulk of the speech was devoted to an overview of our "reset" policy, which McCain sharply criticized:
The point, my friends, is that this administration's effort to reset U.S. relations with Russia, however well intentioned, is not new. The Clinton administration and then the Bush administration each came into office thinking that its predecessor had mishandled Russia. . . . And now here we are in the midst of yet another attempt to reset the U.S.-Russia relationship.
What we need most now is a greater sense of realism about Russia - about the recent history of our relationship, about the substantial limitations on Russian power, about the divergences in U.S. and Russian interests, and about the lack of shared values between our governments. We don't need Wikileaks to reach these conclusions, my friends. They have been staring us in the face for a very long time."
His use of the word "realism" is telling, for that was the term the Obama foreign policy team took as its own policy label. McCain points out, however, that instead of practicing realism, the administration has been living in a dream world and essentially giving away the store for little gain.
For example, whereas the United States has an interest in improving and deploying missile defenses in Europe, Foreign Minister Lavrov has called these systems 'absolutely inadmissible' and threatened to pull out of New START if we do so. Whereas we have an interest in beginning negotiations with Russia to reduce its stockpiles of tactical nuclear weapons, which are nearly ten times larger than ours, Russia is increasingly relying on those weapons as part of its military doctrine, as recent news reports may suggest. Whereas we have an interest in an open global energy market, Russia still uses its oil and gas as political weapons. And whereas we support the independence and territorial integrity of Russia's neighbors, Russia still treats these sovereign countries as part of its old imperial stomping grounds.
The most glaring example of this remains Georgia. Over two years after its invasion, Russia not only continues to occupy 20 percent of Georgia's sovereign territory, it is building military bases there, permitting the ethnic cleansing of Georgians in South Ossetia, and denying access to humanitarian missions - all in violation of Russia's obligations under the ceasefire agreement negotiated by President Sarkozy. Despite the constant threat from Russia, Georgia is deepening its democracy and growing its economy. The World Bank considers Georgia the 12th best place in the world to do business; Russia is 123rd. In a major recent step, President Saakashvili even renounced the use of force to end Russia's occupation, pledging only to defend non-occupied Georgia in the event of a Russian attack.
He then used of the occasion of International Human Rights Day to do what so many faux human rights groups refuse to do: cite chapter and verse on the long list of Russian human rights abuses. His point is simple: This is a country that doesn't share our values and that needs to be viewed with fresh eyes. But what is the alternative to "reset" that McCain argues has become a one-way street?
We need to stop overstating the successes of our cooperation. And we need to begin dealing with Russia more as the modest power it is, not the great power it once was. What that means, in part, is being more assertive in the defense of our interests and values.
For starters, we need to resume the sale of defensive arms to Georgia. Our allies in central and eastern Europe view Georgia as a test case of whether the United States will stand by them or not. Russia views Georgia as a test case, too - of how much it can get away with in Georgia, and if there then elsewhere. It is the policy of our government to support Georgia's aspiration to join NATO. And yet for two years, mostly out of deference to Russia, defensive arms sales have not been authorized for Georgia. This has to change. At a minimum we should provide Georgia with early warning radars and other basic capabilities to strengthen its defenses.
And he suggests sanctions for human rights abuses, using Russia's aspirations for membership in the WTO as leverage and pulling out of farcical exercises like the U.S.-Russia Working Group, which is led "by one of Putin's closest allies and ideologists."
What are the chances that any or all of this will come about? Here, I'm optimistic. The plethora of foreign policy failures -- Middle East peace talks, the growing aggression by North Korea, the unresponsiveness of China, and the inability to construct an effective policy to thwart the rise of a hegemonic Iran -- have created a sense that America is in retreat and that the president has been insufficiently assertive in advancing American interests. The lackadaisical human rights approach on everything from Burma to Egypt has unsettled foreign policy activists on the right and left.
So now, with the help of the new Republican House majority and a working center-right majority in the Senate, Congress may be able to push the administration in a more positive direction. "Engagement" per se is not bad, as long as while engaging we do more than utter sweet words and appease adversaries. The president is on the defensive at home; now is precisely the time for him, and America, to go on the offense internationally. Russia is the perfect place to start.
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