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Feature Story February 9, 2008
US Elections Special Part I: A McCainiac On The Loose
By Alexander Zaitchik Browse author Email
Page 2 of 3

A recent New York Times profile of McCain mentioned other "realist" advisors unlikely to push him into confrontation with Moscow unless serious red lines are crossed, such as Richard Armitage, Colin Powell, Lawrence Eagleburger, and Brent Scrowcroft. Other names that have popped up in recent months include ex-drug war czar Barry McCaffrey and Harvard historian Niall Ferguson. Ferguson, who has no problem with empires so long as they are Anglo-American, has predicted that Russia will attempt to reconstitute a capitalist, Christian version of the "evil empire."

Another issue muddying up McCain's Russophobic credibility was revealed in a recent Washington Post article exposing McCain's friendly links to (and vacation getaways with) Kremlin oligarch Oleg Deripaska. More importantly, the piece revealed cozy ties between McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis and the Russian power elite more generally, from Deripaska to pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovich, who battled against the pro-Western Orange Revolution in 2004.

The variety, some would say incoherence, of McCain's foreign policy advisor list is nothing new. During the early days of the 2000 Republican primaries, the Detroit News asked McCain to name the first thing he would do as president. "The first thing I would do," he responded, "is call in John Kerry, Bob Kerrey, Joe Biden, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger, Dick Lugar, Chuck Hagel and several others and say we've got to get foreign-policy, national-security issues back on track."

And this was in 1999. Among the above list, only Brzezinski approaches the crazy side when it comes to playing chicken with Russia over its security interests in its neighborhood. (Brzezinski is now a top advisor to potential McCain opponent Barack Obama.)

Sometimes McCain sounds as angry and distrustful toward Russia as ever. In an early GOP debate in Orlando, he promised "tough times ahead" with Russia and has spoken about the coming "consequences" of the Kremlin's actions. He seems certain about Russia's desire to regain its empire (possibly reflecting the influence of Ferguson) and has never once hinted that Russia's concerns should be taken into consideration with regard to missile defense or NATO expansion on Russia's western and southern flanks.

At times, he has also hedged his comments. In a recent interview with Pajamas Media, McCain seemed to pull back from the implications of his harsher comments, saying, "I'm not saying there's going to be a re-ignition of the cold war; there's not. It's not going to be the old Soviet Union. Now, there will be an attempt on Putin's part to restore the old Russian empire. But demographically, economically, militarily, every other way there's not going to be a new Cold War."

Then there's his 2007 Foreign Affairs essay, "An Enduring Peace Built on Freedom." Laying out his foreign policy vision, McCain calls for maintaining military spending at Cold War levels and plugs the League of Democracy as a tool to "provide support to struggling democracies in Serbia and Ukraine." Political NATO, basically. There is one paragraph devoted exclusively to Russia. It comes after the war on terrorism section and before the one on China. McCain writes:

We see in Russia diminishing political freedoms, a leadership dominated by a clique of former intelligence officers, efforts to bully democratic neighbors, such as Georgia, and attempts to manipulate Europe's dependence on Russian oil and gas. We need a new Western approach to this revanchist Russia. We should start by ensuring that the G-8, the group of eight highly industrialized states, becomes again a club of leading market democracies: it should include Brazil and India but exclude Russia. Rather than tolerate Russia's nuclear blackmail or cyberattacks, Western nations should make clear that the solidarity of NATO, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, is indivisible and that the organization's doors remain open to all democracies committed to the defense of freedom. We must also increase our programs supporting freedom and the rule of law in Russia and emphasize that genuine partnership remains open to Moscow if it desires it but that such a partnership would involve a commitment to being a responsible actor, internationally and domestically.

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Alexander Zaitchik is an editor at The eXile. Email him at

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