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What Matters Most

By Mark Thompson

I've long abandoned any pretense of supporting Obama. But that doesn't mean I still don't think he's a less-bad choice than McCain. As much as Obama has increasingly come to parrot the foreign policy establishment consensus that has held sway in Washington for, well, a really long time, Obama's consensus view is far less dangerous than the reflexive aggression characterized by the last eight years and, yes, Senator McCain. It is the rejection of this reflexive aggression, which adds trillions to the national debt, destroys American credibility and moral standing, and directly destroys untold thousands of lives both at home and abroad, that I view as the single most important issue this fall.

The events of the last week or so related to the conflict in Georgia/South Ossetia, and the responses of the candidates do a good job demonstrating this. To be sure, McCain is now receiving plaudits for immediately blaming Russia when hostilities began in earnest last Friday in a way that not even President Bush was willing to do. But Hilzoy points out why, exactly, those plaudits are entirely undeserved - the bottom line is that at the time McCain's statement was issued, the known facts made clear that both Russia and Georgia were at fault in their own way. Although the facts on the ground have changed and Russia is now clearly going far beyond any sense of a proportional response, this does not change the fact that McCain's statement was simply wrong at the time it was made to the extent that it laid all blame for the situation on Russia.

McCain's response reflects a simplistic world view in which those nations deemed inherently enemies of the US are reflexively blamed in toto for any conflicts, wars, or disagreements. Those deemed allies are reflexively held to be innocent - and not only innocent, but also bastions of liberal virtue and democracy.

Unfortunately, in the case of Georgia, the narrative of the bastion of democracy is far from the truth. This is not to praise the Russians or Putin or Medvedev - only to point out that neither set of players is particularly sympathetic or worth defending on a political level. Yet the knee-jerk reactions of "National Greatness" conservatives again pretends to defend liberal virtue and democracy by defending one group of authoritarians against another simply because the friendly authoritarians like the other authoritarians even less than we do.

And so we get the "National Greatness" crowd (which usually includes McCain) rattling sabers all over again, demanding that we "do something" to aid the Georgians in their fight against the Russians. And let us not forget the longstanding insistence of McCain and others that Georgia be admitted to NATO, no matter whether that would have obligated us to come completely and totally to Georgia's defense this week, as required in any chills me to think what we would have done in such a situation at a time when the US military is already fighting in two armed conflicts.*

The fact is that the simplistic view of good and evil advocated by so many on the political Right results in a situation where all foreign policy follows the dictum "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." While unintended consequences are inevitable in almost anything government does, a foreign policy based on this dictum is a recipe and guarantor for the worst kinds of unintended consequences. It results in needless provocation of enemies or potential enemies; it further destroys American moral standing by propping up autocracies that are barely distinguishable from the enemy autocracies over which we claim moral superiority; it entangles us in foreign adventures that only minimally implicate American interests, if at all; and it ensures the ever-upward increase in military spending (and thus the national debt).

Mark blogs regularly at Publius Endures