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Washington Matters

Russian Move May Benefit McCain

Mention Georgia in a presidential election year, and most Americans will automatically think of the Peachtree State. But the ex-Soviet republic of the same name has just pushed itself into the campaign, thanks to the war that broke out today between Georgia and Russia.


The Kremlin has been furious with the


It's always tough to forecast the outcome of a war. The Russians have had their noses bloodied too often in Chechnya and elsewhere in the Caucasus to want to see their army tied down occupying a hostile population. For that reason, I doubt that the Russians want to get sucked into occupying the whole country. Nevertheless, Russian jets have already hit Georgian targets outside South Ossetia, so there's a high risk the fighting will spread.


If the fighting does drag on, and particularly if the Russians start pushing deep into Georgia, the war could have an impact on the U.S. presidential election. Any development that draws voters' attention abroad works to John McCain's advantage. It allows him to contrast his strong foreign policy credentials with Barack Obama's lack of them. But in this case, the Republican candidate is an unusually solid position. McCain has argued for years that the U.S. should take a tougher line with Moscow, even calling for Russia to be expelled from the G8.


Obama has no official policy on Russia beyond advocating closer U.S.-Russian cooperation in dealing with nuclear proliferation. That by itself wouldn't work against him. It would be easy enough for Obama to condemn Russian actions and place himself on the same page as McCain. But Obama has another problem. He has chaired the Senate Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe since the Democrats regained control of the Senate. Russia falls squarely in his bailiwick. Arguably, he should have been right on top of this. But in the nineteen months he has run the subcommittee, he has been off running for president and has held no hearings on Russia's aggressive policy either towards Georgia or towards any of its other ex-Soviet neighbors. The longer the fighting in Georgia goes on, the more opportunities McCain will have to point that out.



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