THAT WORD “CRISIS” DOES NOT MEAN WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS, SENATOR…. Apparently John McCain thinks the Russian invasion of Georgia is “the first probably serious crisis internationally since the end of the Cold War.” This is, pretty obviously, factually wrong, since you could trot out the Gulf War, Bosnia, Kosovo, the al-Aqsa Intifada, 9/11, Afghanistan, and Iraq at a minimum as other serious international crises since the end of the Cold War. But in a way, that doesn’t matter. What this demonstrates is McCain’s urgent, deep-seated desire to believe that he, John McCain, is right smack in the middle of world historical events, a desire remarkably similar to one we’ve seen from George Bush since he took office. That temperament hasn’t worked out so well for the past few years, and I’m not sure the country is ready for a repeat.
On a slightly different note: I suppose this is true of lots of presidential campaigns (anyone remember Quemoy and Matsu?), but it’s remarkable how this campaign is, so far, being driven by truly trivial events. Offshore drilling has been a big deal for weeks, even though it’s plainly an issue of almost no long-term importance at all. Obama’s “celebrity” is surely a winner in the all-time campaign trivia contest. And I’m willing to bet that a decade from now, far from being seen as the first step in reassembling Russia’s old empire, the Russo-Georgian war will be virtually forgotten, a tiny, weeklong border conflict over a couple of unimportant territories that had been in limbo for 17 years and were bound to blow up sooner or later. I think President Bush has, perhaps miraculously, actually taken roughly the right attitude over the past week: warning Georgia off its invasion, denouncing the Russian response but not making more of it than it deserved, denouncing harder once the Russians crossed the South Ossetian border, quickly sending humanitarian supplies once the fighting was over — an action that’s useful both symbolically and as a tripwire to deter further Russian aggression — and then hinting at longer-term problems with U.S.-Russian relations if Russia doesn’t withdraw from Georgia quickly. This doesn’t mean I approve of his previous actions offering NATO membership to Georgia or installing missile defense in Eastern Europe, which may have helped foster this crisis, but honestly, that’s more because I wasn’t keen on either of those things to begin with than because I thought they might lead to renewed Russian adventurism in the Caucasus.
In any case, once the crisis hit, he didn’t do too badly — so far, anyway. I wonder if a gunslinging President McCain would have done as well?