McCain, Kagan, and America’s New Plan for Russia

The Telegraph reports:

A John McCain presidency would take to a more forceful approach to Russia and China, according to senior foreign policy advisers to the Republican candidate. The Arizona senator has already signalled that he intends to confront Russian president Vladimir Putin more directly than George W Bush if he wins the White House in November.

In a recent foreign policy speech, Mr McCain advocated removing Russia from the G8 group of major industrialised powers, while this week he announced he would not attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics if he were in office because of China’s suppression of Tibetan protest. His experience of foreign affairs is one reason why the 71-year-old Vietnam war veteran has drawn level with both his potential Democratic rivals, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, in opinion polls, suggesting the public may accept his more muscular approach to the world.

Robert Kagan, who wrote much of the speech delivered in Los Angeles, told the Daily Telegraph: “Russia will loom large for both Europe and the US, and John McCain has been ahead of the curve and has seen this coming down the road. “We have made the mistake of being too passive as Putin has consolidated his autocracy. There have been key moments when he took away power of opposition parties, suppressed the media and arrested key figures, which were greeted with relative silence in the West. “Because Putin feels he has to maintain the trappings of democracy there are opportunities to be stronger but the West hasn’t done that.”

At the recent Nato summit, Mr Putin succeeded in bullying Western European nations to reject applications by Georgia and Ukraine to join the alliance. The failure of their bids, championed by President Bush, was a major coup for Mr Putin. The Russian leader hands over to his hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev next month but will immediately become prime minister and is expected to continue to run the government.

Mr Kagan, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a leading member of Washington’s Right-wing foreign policy community, was an early advocate of removing Saddam Hussein, though he was critical of the Pentagon’s handling of the war in Iraq. He is strongly critical of Mr Putin’s “increasing autocracy”, arguing that a concerted Western approach to Russia, led by the United States, can produce results, as it did over the declaration of independence by Kosovo, which Moscow was forced to accept. Mr Kagan’s approach has however reportedly put him at odds with other McCain advisers such as former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who the New York Times reported this week was disturbed by the candidate’s hardline attitude to Russia in his March 26 speech.

In that address, Mr McCain, who has two decades of foreign policy experience in the US senate, described himself as a “realistic idealist”. He said he would abandon the unilateralism that led Mr Bush to invade Iraq with limited approval from other states but adopt a tough stance when called for. Mr Kagan rejects the tag of “neo-conservative” that is often attached to him. But along with other advisers, such as Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, he would likely argue that American values such as democracy should steer foreign policy if they were advising a McCain administration. Both men argue that China, like Russia, should be more robustly criticized for its human rights abuses.

While continuing a “multi-faceted approach” to Beijing, Mr Boot said the US needs “to be forthright on their human rights abuses and not shrink from condemning what they are doing in Tibet for example, or from trying to help Chinese dissidents to stay out of jail. There isn’t an easy answer to China or Russia because have to cooperate on some issues but will clash on others. But our attempts to cut deals with Putin haven’t really accomplished very much and has emboldened him to become more truculent,” he said.

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