I happened across John McCain’s speech to AIPAC this afternoon (I was on a treadmill with nowhere to go). It really was a beaut: full of the usual bluster and bravado and bad but winning jokes. And, of course, no strategic sense whatever except bromides about “strength” and “weakness”. Believe it or not, he declared Obama “weak” and all but invited Iran and China and Russia to take advantage of it. This, I surmised, was an act of indirection: he was really goading AIPAC to help secure a war against Iran and permanent annexation of the West Bank. To what end? As I said, you don’t listen to a John McCain speech for strategy, or an exploration of costs and benefits in a dynamic and tense situation. What’s important is strength! As if “strength” without strategy helped us in Iraq or Afghanistan.
But what’s fascinating to me is a kind of Putin-envy. For all the loathing McCain has for the desperate autocrat, he also clearly gets a thrill up his leg when talking about him. If only the US president could see that this is still emphatically a zero-sum world, that moving your military around is the first thing you do when confronted with a foreign policy challenge. If only we could be as tough as Vladimir! You sense in McCain’s worldview – and that of countless others still stuck in 1978 – that we need to out-Putin Putin.
McCain is too amped up right now to see that, in fact, Putin is now out-Putining himself. Russians, it appears, want nothing to do with going to war with Ukraine:
The Kremlin’s own pollster released a survey on Monday that showed 73% of Russians reject it. In phrasing its question posed in early February to 1600 respondents across the country, the state-funded sociologists at WCIOM were clearly trying to get as much support for the intervention as possible: “Should Russia react to the overthrow of the legally elected authorities in Ukraine?” they asked. Only 15% said yes – hardly a national consensus.
From Simferopol, Simon Shuster counts the costs already incurred: $60 billion was wiped off the Russian stock exchange today, and the ruble went into free-fall. Gazprom lost $15 billion in value in one day. Of Putin’s neighbors, almost all have come out against Russian aggression: Kazakhstan wants an end to hostilities right away; China opposes any intervention; Poland would have a strong case, along with the Baltics, for even stronger ties to the West, as do all of Russia’s neighbors with Russian-speaking minorities. And that leaves aside the possibility of cutting off the Western bank accounts of Russian oligarchs and of revoking Russian inclusion in the G-8.
None of this has occurred to John McCain of course. Which is one reason – after his similar “We are all Georgians now!” hissy-fit in 2008 – that Americans elected Obama instead of him. That decision looks wiser and saner by the day, doesn’t it?
See you in the morning.
(Photo: Snow falls in front of the U.S. Capitol on March 3, 2014 in Washington, DC. By Mark Wilson/Getty Images.)