CNN Senior Political Analyst
I'm unfortunately stuck in an airport tonight and cannot join the discussion about the way the candidates have responded to the recent face-off between Russia and Georgia. Perhaps I can add two cents on the blog.
As a general proposition, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama took different paths that represent two different approaches to foreign policy. Obama was much more the pragmatic, taking a cautious stance at first, calling for negotiations, when the facts were murky and it appeared there was some fault on both sides. As the Russians became more brutal and clearly went over the line, he hardened up, while still emphasizing the ultimate need for negotiations. In all of this, he was acting in concert with the Bush administration as well as NATO allies.
McCain by contrast was much tougher on the Russians right from the get go, siding entirely with the Georgians and their young democracy. He showed that he was experienced on the issue. His approach closely mirrored the hard line approach we often saw during the Bush first term, when neo-cons were often in the saddle.
In terms of immediate U.S. politics, I would imagine that McCain scored slightly better with the public in the early going because he was ahead of the curve in recognizing how brutal the Russians would become. But in his statement of recent hours, asserting that we are all Georgians now, I think he went too far – not many Americans think that we have a formal obligation to the Georgians and they will wince at the idea that under McCain, we might become militarily involved in a place like that.
Overall, my sense is that this raises a fundamental question for American voters: Do they want a president whose first instinct is diplomacy when there is mischief in the world? Or do they want a president who understands the darker side and stands resolutely against it, even when it makes us more belligerent?
Final point: Obama can make an argument now – and I imagine he will – that if President Bush had not been so focused – distracted? – by Iraq, the U.S. might have done a better job in heading off the confrontation up front.
Will welcome the views of everyone. Thanks for reading.
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