RUSSIA AND THE G8…. I really wish they’d stop doing this.

“We’re not going to let Russia, so soon after the Iron Curtain fell, to again draw a dividing line across Europe,” said Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut and close friend of Republican presidential hopeful John McCain. “It is simply unacceptable.” […]

“The G-8 should become for a while the G-7 until Russia proves that it is capable of being a law-abiding member of the international community,” he said.

Look, I’m not about to defend Russia’s recent conduct in the Caucasus, but the talk about kicking Russia out of the G8, principally from the McCain campaign and its surrogates, is misguided.

John McCain got the ball rolling in March, in hisfirst major address on foreign policy, stating his intention to remove Russia from the G-8. A few months later, the McCain campaign said the senator no longer believed what he said. A McCain adviser told McClatchy that the candidate’s policy on Russia and the G-8 as “a holdover from an earlier period,” adding, “It doesn’t reflect where he is right now.”

In July, however, McCain went back to the “earlier period,” saying excluding Russia from the G8 would be “what’s best for America” and might “improve” Russian behavior. Lieberman is singing from the same hymnal.

If McCain and his cohorts want to take steps to punish, or even isolate, Russia in the midst of its conflict with Georgia, they can certainly make a compelling case. But this G8 talk is foolish — given how the G8 works, through consensus, Russia would have to approve its own removal. A senior Bush administration official recently conceded, “It’s not even a theoretical discussion. It’s an impossible discussion.” The official described McCain’s idea as “just a dumb thing.”

But practicality aside, there’s also the issue of what makes McCain and Lieberman think this is a good idea in the first place.

From a recent McClatchy report:

[M]any wonder whether McCain’s suggestion would be wise policy. They fear that if McCain is elected and follows through on an attempt to toss Russia from the group, it could anger and isolate Russia, which has been increasingly assertive on the world stage, autocratic within its borders and is the second-largest producer of the hydrocarbons that feed the world’s energy needs.

“In Europe, there’s very little support … for a policy like that,” said Stephen Larrabee, an expert on Europe and Russia at the RAND think tank. “It’s too late in the game to try and oust Russia.”

The proposal also seemed at odds with the theme of McCain’s speech, which promised a less unilateral approach to world affairs than the Bush White House has pursued. That could reflect tension between two Republican foreign-policy camps vying for influence in McCain’s campaign: the pragmatic realists and the hard-line neo-conservatives — with the neo-cons ascendant for now in Russia policy.

“There are a lot of important issues that we need Russia’s support on….What’s to be gained by tossing Russia out? We feel more self-righteous about ourselves?” said Andrew Kuchins, the director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, a center-right think tank.

Fareed Zakaria also explained recently why McCain seems to have Russian policy backwards.

What McCain has announced is momentous — that the United States should adopt a policy of active exclusion and hostility toward two major global powers. It would reverse a decades-old bipartisan American policy of integrating these two countries into the global order, a policy that began under Richard Nixon (with Beijing) and continued under Ronald Reagan (with Moscow). It is a policy that would alienate many countries in Europe and Asia who would see it as an attempt by Washington to begin a new cold war. […]

The single most important security problem that the United States faces is securing loose nuclear materials. A terrorist group can pose an existential threat to the global order only by getting hold of such material. We also have an interest in stopping proliferation, particularly by rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea. To achieve both of these core objectives — which would make American safe and the world more secure — we need Russian cooperation. How fulsome is that likely to be if we gratuitously initiate hostilities with Moscow? Dissing dictators might make for a stirring speech, but ordinary Americans will have to live with the complications after the applause dies down.

One gets the distinct impression that McCain and Lieberman have very little to offer by way of a response to this, but they think their rhetoric makes them sound “tough on Russia,” so they’ll keep repeating it.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.