McCain said we will not have another Cold War with Russia. But just said Ukraine was "in Russia's sights" and repeated his oft-repeated line that when he sees Putin he sees the letters "K.G.B." This is a good line if you are pundit, not if you are a president and want to avoid a new Cold War. The fact is that our relationship with Russia is bigger than what happened in Georgia. The five former Secretaries of State - including Kissinger, Powell, and Baker - that famously rebuffed McCain on Iran also did so on Russia. McCain's initial response was reckless, as well as his continued approach.
As conflict erupted, McCain recklessly issued bellicose statements, condemning Russia without waiting for all the facts, while Barack Obama, other world leaders, and President Bush took a more measured approach. Henry Kissinger said the unpleasant fact is that "the first shot was fired on the Georgian side" and Colin Powell said the Georgians provoked the crisis. Additionally, all three Republican Secretaries of State called for some perspective. James Baker argued that we have to look at this conflict "in a strategic context not tactically...we have some big-picture issues to be conscious of" and that while the U.S. should support democratic governments "these are little flash fires that we need to be aware of and deal with properly, but that should not be cause for rupturing the entire big relationship." Colin Powell explained that "you have to treat Russia...in a straightforward, businesslike, objective way and not emotionally." Yet McCain's emotional outcry that "we are all Georgians" and his dangerous proposal to kick Russia out of the G-8, are completely counter to this approach.
Henry Kissinger: U.S.-Russia relationship too important to sacrifice over situation in Georgia. "We have a number of common issues that we have to settle, if possible, with Russia. We need Russia for a solution of the Iranian problem. We may need Russia if Pakistan evolves in some of the directions that it might. And it is helpful to cooperate with Russia not just on the [nuclear] question, but on the issues of energy. It is an effort that should not be decided by what happened in Georgia." [CNAS, 9/15/08, NPR, 9/23/08]
Henry Kissinger: Georgia shot first, should not overreact to crisis. "We have to face the fact that the first shot in Georgia was fired on the Georgian side. Now, Russia reacted in an excessive manner, but we should not make the whole relationship depend on the pictures that you showed. And I would urge the new President, as I am urging this President to explore the possibilities of cooperation and be very sure before we go the route of cutting off WTO and the other international measures for which cooperation with Russia may be very important." [CNAS, 9/15/08]
Colin Powell dismisses McCain's reckless "we are all Georgians" statement - says we have to be careful in a crisis and act businesslike, not emotional. Asked by CNN's Christiane Amanpour to explain McCain's statement that "'we are all Georgians now.' What does that mean?" Secretary Powell responded, "One candidate said that, and I'll let the candidate explain it for himself. (Laughter.) No, the fact of the matter is that you have to be very careful in a situation like this not just to leap to one side or the other until you've taken a good analysis of the whole situation....So you have to treat Russia...in a straightforward, businesslike, objective way and not emotionally." [CNAS, 9/15/08]
Colin Powell: Georgians provoked and conflict was predictable. "Now, in the current situation the Russians acted brutally. I think they acted foolishly. But it was also absolutely predictable what the Russians would do. You could see them stacking up their troops. And I think it was foolhardy on the part of President Saakashvli and the Georgian government to kick over this can, to light a match in a room full of gasoline." When asked by CNN's Frank Sesno, "So you're saying the Georgians provoked this." Secretary Powell responded, "They did. I mean, there was a lot of reasons to have provocations in the area, but the match that started the conflagration was from the Georgian side." [CNAS, 9/15/08]
James Baker: U.S. should not over react; we must look to big-picture issues. "Look at it in a strategic context and not tactically...we have some big-picture issues that we need to be conscious of when we think about our future with Russia, and we ought to cooperate with them where we can, where they fit, but we ought to also be willing to confront them where our vital interests are involved. We are committed to the independence of these former republics of the former Soviet Union, and that should continue to be our position. That doesn't mean we ought to send the 101st Airborne in to guard the South Ossetian border. I mean, that would not make very good sense and that's not the kind of thing we ought to be speculating about." [CNAS, 9/15/08]
James Baker: U.S. needs strategic outlook and should not rupture relationship with Russia over its border conflicts. Secretary Baker said that the U.S. should focus "strategically and not tactically. You're going to have these border conflicts all around the periphery of the former Soviet Union. They're there. Stalin created ethnic tensions. And these are little flash fires that we need to be aware of and deal with properly, but that should not be cause for rupturing the entire big relationship because unless we can keep that big relationship together to deal with nonproliferation, to deal with the environment, climate change, you name it." [CNAS, 9/15/08]