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By Playing its Iraq Card, Russia Exposes McCain's Poor National Security Judgment
Sunday, 28 September 2008 18:59
by Walter C. Uhler

ohn McCain is a blowhard and a fraud. Behind his strained, twinkling-eyed smile is a man set to explode, especially whenever anyone threatens to expose him. As former CIA counterterrorism expert, Michael Scheuer, put it: McCain's "a little man with mediocre intelligence, a taste for bullying, and an appalling temper who thinks the presidency is his birthright."

At his blowhard worst, Senator McCain will tell you, as he did in June 2008, "Look, I know the area. I've been there. I know wars. I know how to win wars, and I know how to improve our capabilities so that we will capture Osama Bin Laden - or put it this way, bring him to justice. We will do it. I know how to do it."

Bullshit! If McCain knew how to capture Osama, he'd be honor bound to give President Bush, the U.S. intelligence services, or the U. S. military the benefit of his supposedly invaluable knowledge - rather than let Osama remain at large. Thus, McCain's either a reckless blowhard seeking to dupe the "impaired" among our electorate, or he's deliberately subordinating U.S. national interest to his political ambitions. (Keith Olbermann spoke forcefully about this matter during the September 10, 2008 edition of Countdown.)

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McCain also boasts that he's the only presidential candidate to possess the experience and judgment necessary to keep Americans safe and secure in this dangerous world. Yet, notwithstanding his supposedly superior experience and judgment, McCain enthusiastically supported Bush's decision to launch an unprovoked attack on Iraq - a war crime under international law. And he did so without even reading the CIA's October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Which is why he could say such asinine things as: Saddam Hussein is "on a crash course to construct a nuclear weapon."

Such recklessness supports the conclusion reached by Jeffrey Goldberg, in the October 2008 issue of The Atlantic: "In one area, though," McCain "has been more or less constant: his belief in the power of war to solve otherwise insoluble problems."

Thus, McCain supported an illegal invasion and devastating occupation that needlessly murdered tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of innocent Iraqis, forced the dislocation of some 5 million Iraqis, sparked ethnic cleansing and a simmering civil war, provoked an explosion of terrorist attacks around the world, enhanced the influence of Iran in the Middle East and trashed America's reputation worldwide.

As U.S. Defense Secretary Gates admitted in February 2008, "many Europeans do not support NATO's security mission in Afghanistan because they opposed the invasion of Iraq." And, as the New York Times reported on February 10, 2008, Gates' "remarks were also an acknowledgment that the war in Iraq has exacted a significant political cost, even among Washington's closest allies."

Thus, when John McCain talks about "winning" in Iraq, after all of this needless carnage, it's a sure sign that he's a man possessing a very constricted view of honor and shame. Even General Petraeus has asserted that "he did not know that he would ever use the word 'victory': 'This is not the sort of struggle where you take a hill, plant the flag and go home to a victory parade... it's not war with a simple slogan.'"

Moreover, were it not for the existence of a huge number of impaired American voters - including a subset of political morons known as die-hard Republicans -- it would go without saying that Barack Obama demonstrated vastly superior judgment, when he opposed Bush's invasion of Iraq months before the invasion took place. He said the war would lead to "an occupation of undetermined length, with undetermined costs and undetermined consequences." Imagine all the lives, money and reputation that could have been saved, as well as devastation that could have been avoided, had the U.S. listened to Barack Obama back then.

It's certainly not something John McCain wants Americans to contemplate. Which is why he touts the success of the "surge" and criticizes Obama for opposing it. Yes, the "surge" - along with the stand-down of Shiite militias and the rise of the Sunni "Awakening" - has helped to reduce violence in Iraq.

But Bush's "surge" was never meant to be anything more than a means to an end. Bush's goal was the political reconciliation Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, which has yet to occur. As Travis Sharp recently put it: "The purpose of the surge, as President Bush said, was to provide breathing space for Iraqis to achieve political reconciliation. Tactical military successes under the surge are to be applauded, but political results are the ultimate objective. Lacking political progress, the United States is simply surging to nowhere."

While McCain seems content to hold American forces hostage to Iraq's political dithering, Obama has correctly noted that America's military forces have been stretched to the breaking point by an unnecessary war that has distracted us from the fight against against bin Laden and al Qaeda, undermined America's ability to confront other foreign policy challenges and, actually, has rendered the United States less secure. As Mr. Sharp correctly observed: "Barack Obama demonstrated …that he is thinking several moves ahead on the chessboard in Iraq. John McCain seems content to remind us how great he is at checkers."

McCain continues to dispute Obama's claims, but Obama's chessboard wisdom was vindicated - and McCain's checkers childishness demolished - when Russia decided to play its "Iraq card."

In June 2008, while McCain was boasting about his still secret knowledge that will enable him to capture bin Laden (but only if you elect him President!), an editorial in the Russian newspaper, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, was urging that Russia's diplomats finally play its Iraq card against the United States.

According to the editorial: "Moscow took a principled stance right from the start by condemning the invasion of Iraq. At the same time all these years it behaved passively with regard to the conflict and made no use at all of the Iraq card to advance its own interests in other areas in the dialogue with Washington."

"During this same period the United States has been able to accomplish quite a few actions which run directly counter to Russia's security interests (missile defense, rapprochement with Georgia and Ukraine) and has not fulfilled its promises, including repealing the Jackson-Vanik amendment. The time evidently has come for more active diplomacy on the Iraqi salient as well."

If Russia did "behave passively with regard to the conflict," such passive behavior hardly indicated Russian good will toward the U.S. For, as the prominent Russian pundit, Vyacheslav Nikonov, personally told me - during private conversations in St. Petersburg in 2004 and 2005 - "From a humanitarian point of view, we all would like to see a rapid termination of America's war against Iraq. But, from the perspective of Russia's national interests, America's invasion has benefited Russia in three ways: (1) By raising the price of oil, which Russia exports, (2) by drawing terrorists away from Chechnya to Iraq and (3) by sinking the U.S. military in a quagmire, thus limiting the possibilites of U.S. mischief elsewhere in the world." (That is not an exact quote, but its captures the essence of our conversations)

But recent talk about playing a diplomatic Iraq card suggested that prominent Russians no longer subscribed to Mr. Nikonov's point of view. Yet, little in the Russian discussion suggested that, when Russia played its Iraq card, it would do so militarily and not diplomatically.

In a cogently argued article in the latest issue of The New York Review of Books -- one that actually understates the long list of legitimate Russian grievences against U.S duplicity - George Friedman of Stratfor cites U.S. meddling in Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" and America's recognition of the independence of Kosovo as the two main reasons motivating Russia's decision to exercise its Iraq card militarily, by invading Georgia.

"From the Ukrainian experience, the Russians became convinced that the United States was engaged in a plan of strategic encirclement and strangulation of Russia. From the Kosovo experience, they concluded that the United States and Europe were not prepared to consider Russian wishes even in fairly minor affairs. This was the breaking point."

And although Friedman makes it quite clear that Georgia actually started the war (by bombing the civilian population of Tskhinvali in South Ossetia while they were asleep in their beds), he suspects "Russia had laid a trap, hoping for a Georgian invasion to justify its own counterattack."

By invading Georgia, Putin played his Iraq card. What does that mean? As Mr. Friedman puts it: "While the United States is tied down in the Middle East, American guarantees have no value. The lesson is not for American consumption. It is something that, from the Russian point of view, the Ukrainians, the Balts, and the Central Asians need to digest. Indeed it's a lesson Putin wants to transmit to Poland and the Czech Republic as well."

"The more vocal senior U.S. leaders are, the greater the contrast with their inaction, and the Russians wanted to drive home the idea that American guarantees are empty talk." After all, not only is the U.S. bogged down in Iraq, Russia is quite more difficult to intimidate than most countries, given that it alone possesses a nuclear arsenal capable of obliterating most of America's major cities within an hour's notice.

Thus, while blowhard John McCain spins fables about his unique ability to capture Osama bin Laden and touts his so-called superior national security experience and knowledge, the Taliban in Afghanistan, al Qaeda in Pakistan and, now, the Russians in Georgia, have exposed the strategic stupidity of his obsession with keeping most of America's military forces tied down in Iraq. One can only speculate which country will next play the Iraq card to America's detriment.

Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also is President of the Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA).

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