Georgia/Russia: Mr. Yglesias is from Missouri, Mr. Obama from inside the box


John McCain today said “We are all Georgians.” Matthew Yglesias, a formidable young liberal U.S. blogger (now at a new, frankly partisan home after leaving The Atlantic), dissents. Cleverly. If Russia’s armies had invaded Georgia the state, Americans would respond differently than McCain probably wants them to respond this week. So McCain’s statement is meaningless at best and pernicious at worst. I’ll let Matt finish the thought.

But I want to say a word about Barack Obama’s response to the Georgia war. He (or his campaign; he’s supposed to be on vacation) has played catch-up to McCain all week. Which you only do if you think the other guy is going somewhere useful.

And indeed, here’s a McCain fan arguing Obama “took three tries to get it right.” What does “getting it right” mean? Only this: instead of arguing that there are inevitable limits to American power and proper limits to American interest in the region, Obama wound up hinting disingenuously, with McCain, that there are no limits of either kind. He simply took longer to get there.

Obama’s brand advantage, if there is to be one, is that he will represent a radical and enlightened departure from the worst instincts of the Bush years. Instead I keep seeing a guy who has to be taught how to imitate those instincts. It’s not ideal.


Georgia/Russia: Mr. Yglesias is from Missouri, Mr. Obama from inside the box

  1. Agreed, Obama’s responses were dissappointing. Yet, I thought both McCain and Obama acted quite Presidential during this international crisis. There was McCain’s belligerence… and Obama went on a vacation.

  2. Reaction, at least on this side of the pond, appears to fall into two camps: “neocons,” for lack of a better term, see Russian aggression as an echo of 1938 and a sign of renewed Russian imperialism; and anti-neocons see the neocon line as proof-positive that the neocons are little more than warmongers.

    But it’s hard to interpret the anti-neocon line as anything but a form of latter-day isolationism. (And it’s important to note that this isolationist sentiment is to be found on all sides of the American political spectrum.) I say that because, aside from scoffing and scorning the neocon response, these critics haven’t offered any coherent alternative policy approach. In other words, we appear to be presented with two policy options, at least as defined by the partisans in the public arena: declare our solidarity with Georgia and (therefore) align ourselves militarily against Russia; or acquiesce in Georgia’s demise – with or without regret – on the basis that we neither can, nor should, do anything about it.

    Isn’t there a third way? And if there is, what is it, and who is championing it?

    And if there isn’t a third way – if it really is a choice between intervention and isolation – then is isolation really the better bet?

  3. David — If there isn’t a third way, and every issue must have olny two possible policy options (you’re wit us or agin’ us), then not avoiding a shooting war between 2 nuclear powers would seem like a good bet. You can call it isolationism. I would call it “staying alive”.

    Thankfully, there are more than 2 options. And it appears, since Georgia isn’t experiencing a “demise” — it still exists — that we are going down a different route than eithe rof the two options you describe.

  4. I suppose McCain meant “we are all Georgians” in the same way Kennedy meant “I am a jelly doughnut”.

  5. Kennedy was a jelly doughnut?

    Hmmm. I don’t remember the sprinkles.

  6. I know it sounds like an apology for Obama, but realistically speaking every Democratic candidate’s weakest spot is gung-ho jingoism. The fact that Obama stuttered to a McCain position on Georgia is perhaps a hopeful sign: they started out trying to be reasonable and panicked at the prospect of “Obama loves Russia!” Cut the guy some slack, man.

  7. The “3rd way” alternative to warmongering and isolationism is active diplomatic engagement in the world, understanding the interests and capabilities and political situations of the different powers and players and and attempting to influence them in the desired direction.

    It’s difficult to get everything right in a huge complicated world. April Glaspie’s apparent error is one instance. The current US administration may have erred with Russia/Georgia.

    Once a war has started and you are in reactive mode, a decision not to intervene militarily is not necessarily isolationism either. Even nonisolationist superpowers can’t intervene militarily every time.

  8. Paul, Stephen, I think you guys are broadly right with regard to the third way – careful but pointed diplomacy rather than military intervention or acquiescence. What I wonder, though, is how bright the line is between diplomacy and acquiescence at this point; in other words, diplomacy to what end and with what starting assumptions? What are our red-lines with regard to Russia, or do we have any? If it’s better to “stay alive” than to go to war over Georgia, is the same true with regard to Ukraine? Poland? The arctic? If so – if it’s better to “stay alive” than to resist Russian military expansion – how is that different than isolationism? If not – if there’s some level of Russian aggression we won’t accept – then what are we doing, on the diplomatic front, to prevent or avoid such aggression?

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