Obama, McCain contrast on Russia

Gerald Seib points out it’s not so much the response to the 3am phone call — it’s the policies that may help avoid the crisis and make it more or less manageable that distinguish the candidates.

Gerald Seib in yesterday’s WSJ has a smart column saying not to look so much at the difference between Obama’s and McCain’s response to the Russia/Georgia crisis, when there were no longer any good options — look at how they would have dealt with Russia to avoid such a crisis.

He says that McCain’s basic stance is that Russia is a bad country and needs to be warned and brushed back by signals of resolve; Obama’s tendency would be more consultative and cooperative so that Russia would have more of a stake in its relations with the US and the West, and so that the crisis would be averted by mutual accommodation.

Of these two constructs, Tom Friedman in today’s NYT seems to be on the “Obama” side. The fact is that we do not have much power in the Russian near-abroad, and that the Bush administration’s energy and security and diplomatic policies have contributed to Russian economic strength and political grievance — a toxic combination.

Update David Ignatius in todays WaPo says McCain’s confrontational style — his shoot-from-the-hip fondness for “zingers” — creates sort of a moral hazard situation that emboldens the Saakashvilis of the world to imprudent acts. Ignatius’s piece is worth reading in its entirety– here’s a teaser:

So what encouraged Saakashvili to make his reckless gamble? Partly it was the ambivalent policy of the Bush administration, which told the Georgian leader one month that “We always fight for our friends” (as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in July in Tbilisi about Georgia’s bid to join NATO) and the next month cautioned restraint. And partly it was cheerleading from the pro-Georgia lobby, in which McCain has been one of the loudest voices.

Zingers don’t make good foreign policy. They embolden friends and provoke adversaries — and in the Georgia crisis, that has proved to be a deadly combination.

Now, after the Georgia war, McCain should learn that lesson: American leaders shouldn’t make threats the country can’t deliver or promises it isn’t prepared to keep. The rhetoric of confrontation may make us feel good, but other people end up getting killed.

So why is it that pollsters find voters have more confidence in McCain on foreign policy?

As Seib puts it, “Moderators of the Fall presidential debates, please take note.”