Sunday, October 5, 2008

Simplifying the nuance of foreign relations is dangerous, as Edward Goldberg points out (“McCain’s ‘sloganeering’ on Georgia irresponsible,” National, Oct.1). Not only has Sen. John McCain said, “We are all Georgians,” but Mr. McCain has also repeated that he looks into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and sees “KGB.”

Ironically, Mr. McCain himself summarized the problem with this sloganeering in his February 2007 rebuke of Mr. Putin’s critique of the U.S. seeking a unipolar world: “In today’s multipolar world, there is no place for needless confrontation, and I would hope that Russia‘s leaders would realize and understand this truth.” Here, I agree with Mr. McCain, and I hold out the same hope for the U.S. leadership.

What is wrong with the “needless confrontation” found in sloganeering? It doesn’t work. Inflammatory rhetoric escalates conflicts. After Mr. McCain’s statements, which echo the name-calling and disparaging remarks about Russian Prime Minister Putin and Russia by President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russia has: recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; sent military aircraft and navy vessels to Venezuela; and planned oil and military equipment deals with Venezuela .

We would have less of a Cold War today, and Americans and Georgians would be more secure, if the U.S. response to Russia’s military actions had, in Sen. Barack Obama’s words, called on “Georgia and Russia to show restraint.” There would be fewer Russians in Georgia, more European Union monitors there, and more of a basis for building peace and security there, if Russians hadn’t felt compelled to make a point in the face of one-sided condemnation.

Mr. McCain may have a good campaign technique. Americans are prone to think in simple terms about a complex world.

Demonizing others may work at election time, but it is a counterproductive policy.


Assistant professor

George Mason University


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