Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thinking about global politics at sunrise

At this point in the summer, the morning is not just the best time for walking; it’s the only time for walking. That is, if you want to walk comfortably without being soaked in sweat. At 9 a.m., the temperature is already more than 30 degree Celsius (85 or so Fahrenheit). So, I walk early in the morning.

It’s also a beautiful time for walking, the sun rising, the traffic sparse. On the pedestrian boulevard by the Caspian Sea, the ice cream vendors sleep on benches or next to their stands. The exercise aficionados of all ages walk, run, or roll along the pavement. The fishermen line the pier, tugging on their long poles in the strange hope of landing a fix perhaps three or maybe four inches long. The sun rises. I’ll include here some photos, and also a video clip I’ve put together.

As I walked, I thought about conversations of the previous day. I heard from a friend of mine in Moscow. We had a lively little e-mail exchange. I was curious about his opinion, because he is Western educated, and he was not a fan of Putin when Putin came to power. But in recent years, I have sensed that his opposition to the status quo has diminished. Like many Russians, he shares an understandable sense of being disrespected. In the last seven years especially, the United States has acted too often as if the objections of Russia to US strategic plans do not need to be taken seriously. The war in Georgia put the United States and the rest of the world that yes, Russia does still matter. Quite a bit. (My friend recommended this recent article in The Guardian for an even-handed treatment of the issue.) Here's another article that provides a some different perspectives. It's a bit rambling - but it makes some good points.

I was also thinking about a conversation with another friend – alluded to earlier – about the Russian people being losers in this war too. I think this is true. In fact, as I think about it – the one player who seems to act as if he has won from this situation is John McCain. I was thinking about this especially after a recent NY Times poll about voters and their priorities. If the voters are focused on the economy, McCain comes out behind. But the US public appears to think that he would be a better commander-in-chief. (This perception drives me crazy – because I think he is incomparably worse than Barack Obama in that regard too. To my mind, McCain’s statements on foreign relations have been rash and foolish. We do not need another fool in the White House.) So, creating some sort of international crisis situation plays to McCain’s perceived strength. Also, don’t forget that McCain’s top foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann received more than $730,000 in lobbying fees from Georgia since 2001.

So, it would be in McCain’s benefit if Georgia President Saakashvili felt emboldened to take aggressive action against the South Ossetians and their Russian protectors. The response of the Russians was almost entirely predictable, but it could be worth it for Saakashvili if he understood that the United States would support him.

Of course, Scheunemann couldn’t guarantee that support, and the Georgian people lose in the gamble. But John McCain gets an opportunity to look aggressive in a situation that seems to benefit a hawkish stance. Look at the polls. In the week after the fighting in Georgia, McCain has done well versus Obama. Reuters even produced a poll last week that showed him up by five points over Obama.

In general, I am not a conspiracy theorist. Conspiracy theories tend to make the world simpler than it is. But – secret arrangements in government and between governments occur all the time. Reality can be just as weird as anything dreamed up by Robert Ludlum. (Remember Oliver North?)