Yikes, when even the Financial Times excoriates John McCain and his damn-the-torpedos mentality, one has to wonder.
Mr McCain will not run a “safe” foreign policy. He adores rolling the dice. His decision to select Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate typifies the man. It is a big risk. It could turn out to be inspired. Or it might turn out to be a disaster. But it is not “safe”.
Mr McCain approaches international affairs in the same spirit. His instinct is always to take the radical option and to march towards the sound of gunfire.
The Georgian crisis also looks, at first sight, like a vindication for Mr McCain. He has been a longstanding critic of the Russian government. He saw the crisis in Georgia coming a long time ago.
When I visited Georgia last April I discovered that President Mikheil Saakashvili counted Mr McCain as one of his closest friends and allies. Mr Saakashvili told me (with a laugh) that the South Ossetians – whose rebel enclave he later attacked, with such disastrous consequences – had even shot a missile at a helicopter carrying Cindy McCain, the Senator’s wife. And the Georgian president told me proudly that Mr McCain had given him a gift – a bullet-proof vest.
Even at the time, this struck me as an ambiguous present. Was it saying, I’m behind you all the way; or was it saying, best of luck, I’ll be cheering for you – from a safe distance? Now that Georgia has been so severely mauled by Russia, the dangerous ambiguities in the policies pushed by Mr McCain and the Bush administration are even clearer. The Georgians were flattered, hugged and trained by the Americans. But when the Russian tanks rolled in, there was little the west could do.
Mr McCain says that President Teddy Roosevelt is one of his heroes. But Mr McCain’s proclamation in the aftermath of the Russia’s invasion – that “we are all Georgians now” – was the opposite of Roosevelt’s famous advice to “speak softly and carry a big stick”. It was tough talk, with very little to back it up.
Mr McCain’s failure to spell out the implications of his strong rhetorical support for Georgia may mean that he has failed to think things through – or just that he does not want to alarm voters. But the Republican needs to answer some difficult questions.
Is the US really prepared to fight Russia to protect Georgia and Ukraine – as Mr McCain’s firm support for swift Nato membership for these countries implies? Are we entering a new cold war, as his determination to isolate Russia suggests? If the tough talk is not backed up by tough action, what does that do to American credibility?
Mr McCain’s instinct certainly is to confront Russia – and indeed China. Even before the conflict in Georgia, he was arguing for throwing Russia out of the Group of Eight and forming a new League of Democracies.
Mr McCain’s confrontational instincts are even more to the fore when it comes to Iran. He has said that the only thing worse than a war with Iran would be a nuclear-armed Iran. Taken at face value – and given what we know of Iran’s nuclear programme – that sounds like a commitment to attack Iran within the first term of a McCain presidency.
I don’t the world’s leaders are very gung-ho for a McCain presidency: too much is at stake for the United States to be helmed by a belligerent and impetuous Commander in Chief.