"Goldfarb: Can’t Show Weakness In Front Of The Russians!"
Leaving aside former McCain spokesblogger Mike Goldfarb’s yawn-inducing insinuation that criticizing neoconservatives qualifies as Jew-baiting, I think his interpretation of President Obama’s response to Russia is interesting:
There were very few times in last year’s campaign when McCain completely outmaneuvered Obama, but one of those instances came during the invasion of Georgia, when McCain’s deep suspicion of all things Russian led him to condemn Russia’s aggression quickly and forcefully. Obama, on the other hand, allowed his staff to put out a pathetic statement calling on both sides to show restraint. The invasion of Georgia provided no opportunities for this country, it was a moment that brought into sharp relief the dangers posed by a resurgent and more confident Russia. Even as a decline in energy prices and a global recession threaten the collapse of the Russian economy, that country continues to assert itself by pressuring the Kyrgyz to shut down a critical U.S. supply line. [...]
Obama projected weakness and indecision when Russia first invaded Georgia last summer. Now the Russians are trying to choke off U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the Obama administration has offered no discernible response — though, presumably, hopefully, a serious behind-the-scenes effort to determine a strong response is underway.
It’s true that the Georgia crisis temporarily boosted McCain’s campaign, but this probably had less to do with McCain’s “maneuvers” than with the way that international crises of this sort generally redound to Republicans’ benefit. Something similar could be said in regard to the economic crisis and Democrats.
But while it’s less than surprising that members of McCain’s own staff were deeply impressed by his response to the Russian invasion — bellicosity, after all, qualifies as good policy in conservativeland — I actually think it probably did more in the long run to hurt him by highlighting his tendency to perpetually careen from crisis to crisis, an image that was finally and forever cast in granite when, in a matter of days, he went from barely noticing the economic collapse to frantically suspending his campaign to deal with it.
Meanwhile, the fact that Obama undertook a serious behind-the-scenes effort to determine an appropriate response, rather than simply popping off at the mic in an attempt to appear “strong,” was interpreted by the American people as evidence that he was prepared to govern.
Certainly, Russia’s recent behavior is troubling, but it’s worth pointing out that none of the dire predictions being floated by McCain or his brain trust during the Georgia crisis — Bill Kristol and Bob Kagan, for example, couldn’t agree on whether Putin was more like Hitler or Stalin — have come to pass. In retrospect, it almost seems like these guys were milking the crisis for maximum political benefit, but I know that can’t be true.