Biden Closes the Book on Russia
On August 12th, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden, senator from Delaware and chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, published an op-ed in the Financial Times newspaper on the Georgia crisis. The Daily Kos wrote it up the following day, and one of the first commenters stated: “Biden for VP? No thanks.” A second commenter stated: “Biden, why should Russia listen to you? They probably have no [sic] idea who you are. Now shut up. God, I hope obama doesnt [sic] pick him.”
The nutroots were upset because Biden’s position in the op-ed, headlined “Russia Must Stand Down,” and in a later statement, issued after several days on the ground in the region, where he accused the Putin regime of lying about alleged atrocities committed by Georgian troops in Ossetia and about Russian intentions regarding Georgia’s sovereignty, made his position virtually indistinguishable from that of Republican John McCain. He lined up with Georgia against imperialistic Russian aggression and demanded that Russia return to the status quo ante of August 6th, removing its troops not only from Georgia proper but from the disputed territories of Abkhazia and Ossetia, submitting to international mediation and peacekeeping forces. The last thing in the world, in other words, that the Putin regime wants.
In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in March, Biden had more tough words for Russia: “The Kremlin has tried to force the collapse of democratically elected governments in Estonia and Georgia, and punished the independence of other neighbors by cutting energy deliveries. Russia also snapped up Serbia’s state oil monopoly as payback for opposing a United Nations-backed deal to grant Kosovo independence. Any successful strategy for engaging Russia must ensure that the region’s young states will remain both sovereign and democratic in the true sense of the words.”
Then in April, in a joint statement with Republican Richard Lugar, Biden chastised NATO for failing to admit Georgia and Ukraine, accusing Russia of trying to subvert Georgian diplomacy in Ossetia “which includes guarantees of broad political representation; an Abkhazian vice president; the right to veto legislation; establishment of a joint free economic zone; and international guarantees of autonomy.” He argued that “these Russian actions require a timely, robust and intensive diplomatic response from Washington.” He warned that if Europe did not take steps to support Georgia, the situation would explode into Russia-provoked violence and aggression, and called for NATO to place Georgia on an admission track in December. He was right about the violence, but his prescription was too little, too late.
Throughout the Georgia crisis, Obama himself had been moving ever closer to McCain on Russia, and the prospect of his naming Biden as his VP, which in fact has now occurred, seemed to strike fear into the hearts of the Kos stormtroopers. On August 11th, days into the crisis and after much hemming and hawing, he finally stated there could be “no possible justification” for the Russian invasion, and got tougher after that. His selection of Biden as his running mate removes all doubt as to what his administration’s policy on Russia would be. The nutroots, however, prefer to see Vladimir Putin as the misunderstood victim of misguided U.S. foreign policy. They prefer, in other words, to see the proud KGB spy the way he sees himself.
Given the fact that Biden has obviously been chosen by Obama for his foreign policy experience, which Obama sorely lacks, it stands to reason his views would receive considerable deference in an Obama administration. That means that John McCain, who has been calling for Russia’s eviction from the G-8 for more than a year now, has been utterly vindicated on Russia. His policy on Russia will be largely implemented no matter who wins the White House in November — a testament to the total failure of the Putin regime to effectively manages it relationship with the world’s only superpower.
So thanks to Vladimir Putin, the question in the next American election will simply be which get-tough-on-Russia policy Americans prefer.
Which begs the question: Why shouldn’t McCain, who we endorsed long ago, be the one to implement his own policy? Though Biden’s words have been tough, they’ve also indicated a certain amout of gullibility. In the Journal piece, for instance, even while Biden conceded that Dmitry Medvedev “is unlikely to dramatically deviate from the Kremlin’s current course” he nonetheless still claimed “he could be someone the West can work with more effectively than his predecessor” because “he has expressed skepticism of Russia’s turn toward authoritarianism by criticizing the government’s treatment of political opponents and questioning the merits of ‘sovereign democracy’ [and as] an economist, he may understand the costs of the Kremlin’s recent bad behavior.”
Those words are troubling. Biden apparently wanted to give Medvedev the benefit of the doubt and encourage him to walk away from the KGB regime that placed him in power, but Biden said nothing about any specific steps the U.S. could take if Medvedev failed to do so. The Kremlin might easily have interpreted his words, therefore, as an invitation to take actions like the Georgia invasion. Biden’s remarks since the Georgia invasion have been similarly short on specifics regarding America’s response to Russian aggression. He has called for a $1 billion aid package to rebuild the country, without seeming to notice that it is Russia who should be paying these costs. He’s ominously warned that “Russia’s actions in Georgia will have consequences” but unlike McCain, he hasn’t called for Russia’s ouster from the G-8 or any other specific punitive action designed to get the message across.
Such indecision isn’t surprising, since Biden and Obama are only now truly facing a reality that McCain has recognized for many years, namely that Russia is ruled by a proud KGB spy who acts like one at any opportunity to do so. Indeed, Putin has been waging cold war against the United States for some time now, and many have only been jolted into considering this possibility because of the shocking nature of the Georgia invasion.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, while Biden has “consistently voiced concerns about Russia backsliding on democratic reforms under Putin” and has supported resolutions condemning such actions in Congress, but he hasn’t embraced specfic policy inititiatives to push back against Russia, and he’s also flip-flopped. He originally supported repealing the the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which attaches conditions to trading with Russia, but then changed his mind and opposed it after Russia started restricting imports on chickens from Biden’s state of Delaware. In May 2007 he properly criticised the Bush administration’s giving the Putin crackdown a pass, yet his remarks were barren of specific proposals for U.S. leadership on confronting Russia. Instead, he spoke in platitudes about providing leadership to Europe.
John McCain has been clear. Step one, boot Russia out of the G-8, and see if that gets their attention. If you don’t like his idea, he challenges you to offer an equally specific alternative. What does Biden offer? He says the right things, but he does not offer real leadership, sticking his neck out in favor of specific ideas.
The United States has many, many arrows in its quiver where Russia is concerned. As Charles Krauthhammer has suggested, in addition to G-8 and NATO expulsion, it can deny Russia admission to the WTO, it can boycott the Sochi Olympiad. It can, as he suggests: “Reaffirm support for the Saakashvili government and declare that its removal by the Russians would lead to recognition of a government-in-exile.” It can dramatically increase funding for organizations like Voice of America, which strive to provide real information to Russians, and it can reach out to support opposition figures in Russia like Oleg Kozlovsky and Anna Politikovskaya’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper and Garry Kasparov’s new shadow parliament organization. It can immediately admit Ukraine to NATO, provide it with a huge infusion of military capability, and push Russia into a new arms race it cannot afford.
Which, if any, of these policies does Joe Biden favor, if he disagrees with McCain that starting with the G-8 is best? The record does not tell us. We can wait for Biden to figure it out, or we can elect the man who has been way ahead of everyone for years now.
The choice is up to us.
In short, it’s clear — no thinking person can dispute it — that Obama chose Biden because of Obama’s obvious lack of foreign policy qualifications (Obama is also totally lacking in executive expernce — George Will notes that he hasn’t run “so much as a Dairy Queen” — but it’s pretty darned impossible to kill both those birds with one nomination). Why in the world would the U.S. want a president, in these times, who needs a vice president to tell him how to deal with the world?
The choice is up to U.S. As far as we are concerned, it’s a no-brainer. But no matter which way it comes out, Russia will be the loser.