Damned if you do...President Bush has long been mocked for saying he trusted Russian president Vladimir Putin because he had looked into Putin's eyes "and was able to get a sense of his soul." Now John McCain is being criticized in the Times for taking a possibly dangerous "hard line" against Russiaand seeing Putin as a dictator all along.
"War Puts Focus on McCain's Hard Line on Russia" Tuesday by Michael Cooper and Elisabeth Bumiller. Bumiller's byline isn't included in the online edition, just the print version, but the stories appear to be identical, and you can spot Bumiller's slanted (left) hand in lines like "neoconservatives," a left-wing pejorative she is inordinately fond of.
The intensifying warfare in the former Soviet republic of Georgia has put a new focus on the increasingly hard line that Senator John McCain has taken against Russia in recent years, with stances that have often gone well beyond those of the Bush administration and its focus on engagement.
Mr. McCain has called for expelling what he has called a "revanchist Russia" from meetings of the Group of 8, the organization of leading industrialized nations. He urged President Bush - in vain - to boycott the group's meeting in St. Petersburg in 2006. And he has often mocked the president's assertion that he got a sense of the soul of Vladimir V. Putin, who was then Russia's president and is now its prime minister, by looking into his eyes. "I looked into his eyes," Mr. McCain said, "and saw three letters: a K, a G and a B."
His hard line has been derided as provocative, and possibly dangerous, by some so-called realist foreign policy experts, who warn that isolating Russia would do little to encourage it to change. But others, including neoconservatives who deem promoting democracy a paramount goal, see Mr. McCain's position as principled, and prescient. Now, with Russia moving forcefully into Georgia as Mr. McCain seeks the presidency, his views are being scrutinized as never before through the prism of Russia's invasion.
Charles King, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and the author of "The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus," said that rhetoric like Mr. McCain's might have spurred Georgia to act unwisely. "It hurts because it has encouraged Georgia to try to push maximalist positions - 'We've got to get this territory back at all costs, and if we get it back, the United States will support us,'" Dr. King said.
And just to prove that in Timesland everything can be blamed on George W. Bush, Monday's front-page story by Andrew Kramer and Ellen Barry canvassed Georgians bitter that the U.S. hasn't yet intervened against Russia in the brutal battle over South Ossetia: "Bitter Refrain Amid Retreat: Where Is U.S.?" As if the pro-withdrawal Times would be cheerleading such an aggressive move by Bush if it did take place.
It was the question of the day. As Russian forces massed Sunday on two fronts, Georgians were heading south with whatever they could carry. When they met Western journalists, they all said the same thing: Where is the United States? When is NATO coming?
Since the conflict began, Western leaders have worked frantically to broker a cease-fire. But for Georgians - so boisterously pro-American that Tbilisi, the capital, has a George W. Bush Street - diplomacy fell far short of what they expected....Pyotr Bezhov, who fled the violence with his daughter Oksana on Sunday, stood by a dusty dirt road.
"The biggest problem here is you, your country," he said. "You said that the Soviets were an evil empire, but it's you that are the empire.
"Not you personally, of course," he added. "But your government."