McCain, Obama blast Russia

August 11, 2008 6:45:51 PM PDT
Republican presidential candidate John McCain has seized on Russia's invasion of its former Georgian republic to call for a muscular series of U.S.-led countermeasures in an apparent bid to underline for American voters his experience in foreign policy and security issues. McCain's Democratic opponent Barack Obama - who has been criticized by McCain as being inexperienced in foreign policy matters - joined the debate, interrupting his Hawaiian vacation to issue a statement that said there was "no possible justification for these attacks" by Russia.

The Illinois senator declared the crisis could have been avoided had the world listened to his calls for "active international engagement to peacefully address the disputes over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, including a high-level and neutral international mediator, and a genuine international peacekeeping force not simply Russian troops."

Abkhazia is another Georgian region that has broken away under Russian protection. Both have operated on a virtually autonomous basis since shortly after Georgia achieved independence when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Russia has what it calls "peacekeeping" forces in both regions.

The McCain statement on the crisis warned Russia that it's air, ground and sea offensive was a "clear violation of international law" that has "no place in 21st century Europe." Obama said the United States wanted "cooperative engagement" with a Russian leadership that acts "as a force for progress in this new century, not regression to the conflicts of the past."

President George W. Bush, shortly after returning from the Olympic Games in Beijing, issued a dramatic and tough statement from the White House insisting that Russia stop its attacks and withdraw. He said it now looked as if Russian forces might plan to push into the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and depose the country's U.S.-allied president, Mikhail Saakashvili.

Russia began attacking Georgian troops in South Ossetia - a breakaway region - and drove them back into the Georgian heartland by sending heavy armor, jet fighters and naval vessels into battle against the tiny country's woefully outgunned military.

By Monday, the Russians had captured the city of Gori, that sits astride Georgia's only major east-west highway, effectively cutting the country in half.

Perhaps the most controversial of proposals by both McCain and Obama were calls for NATO to consider putting Georgia on a faster track for alliance membership, which gives any signatory the promise of protection by all NATO nations in case of attack. Such a move in the case of Georgia would, in theory, have meant NATO military action against Russia.

"NATO's decision to withhold a Membership Action Plan for Georgia might have been viewed as a green light by Russia for its attacks on Georgia, and I urge the NATO allies to revisit the decision," McCain said.

Obama said, "I have consistently called for deepening relations between Georgia and trans-Atlantic institutions, including a Membership Action Plan for NATO, and we must continue to press for that deeper relationship."

McCain loses no opportunity to contrast his background - that includes 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and four terms as senator from Arizona - to that of Obama, a first-term senator.

McCain said Russia's military assault was designed to intimidate other former Soviet republics in the region, particularly Ukraine, which shares Black Sea coastline with Georgia. Russia's fleet in that sea is based in the Crimea, a peninsula that juts out from southern Ukraine.

He and Obama called for the United States to press in the United Nations Security Council for a resolution condemning Russia's behavior.

McCain also called for serious and quick consultations with the Group of Seven industrialized countries. When Russia sits at the table with other G-7 members, the organization is known as the G-8. McCain has called for Russia's expulsion because of the country's return to autocratic rule during Putin's rule.

Obama had advice for Georgia as well, suggesting that once Russia withdraws "Georgia should refrain from using force in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and a political settlement must be reached that addresses the status of these disputed regions."

In a highly unusual move earlier Monday, Obama's campaign manager has sent e-mails to supporters offering them the chance "to be the first to know his choice" of a vice presidential running mate.

The e-mail, distributed in the name of David Plouffe, says the Illinois senator "is about to make one of the most important decisions of this campaign - choosing a running mate.

"You have helped build this movement from the bottom up, and Barack wants you to be the first to know his choice."

Obama and McCain have taken extreme care to ensure their choice of vice president remains secret until they announce the selection.

The Obama e-mail promising to notify those who sign up to be notified "first" when the candidate is ready to announce his running-mate choice, appeared to be an effort to expand the campaign's electronic mailing list as it heads into the Democratic national convention that opens in two weeks in Denver, Colorado.

On the Net: