The FINANCIAL — Michael has headed up the German editorial team of DW-WORLD.DE since 2004. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the English service of Deutsche Welle Radio, as well as for various news agencies.
Michael is an alumni of young professional programs with the Aspen Institute Berlin and the American Council on Germany and he was a Media Fellow at Duke University in 2006. He studied in Germany and the U.S. and holds a Master's degree in American Studies. Michael is based in Bonn, Germany.
A few months back, I wrote about the fact that Russia doesn't really play a role in the U.S. presidential election campaign. Nothing much has changed since then. Interestingly enough, despite soaring energy prices, the question of how to frame future relations with the world's largest gas and second largest oil exporter is pretty much absent from the presidential race.
Probably Paul J. Saunders and Brooke Leonard regret the omission of Russia as a campaign topic as much as anybody else. Why? Because in an article for The National Interest, a foreign policy publication with a realist bent, they argue that both Barack Obama and John McCain have an overly simplistic and unrealistic perception of Russia.
As an example of how Obama is wrong on Russia, Saunders points to the Democratic candidate's take on the tensions between Russia and Georgia. Saunders agrees with Obama that only a political settlement can end the conflicts in the region. But he calls the rest of the Obama campaign's statement on the issue "a confused combination of superficial and misleading analysis with unrealistic goals, framed by tired liberal sloganeering."
Saunders especially takes issue with Obama's characterization of Georgia. According to Saunders, Obama in his statement implies that Georgia is a "helpless victim of someone else's war plans. On the contrary, on several occasions it has been precisely Tbilisi that has threatened armed reintegration of the two territories (and likewise intimidated leaders of another renegade province, Adjara, in 2004)."
Saunders also criticizes Obama for his repetition of "tired liberal calls for the 'international community” to become 'more active.'" He asks: "But what is the 'international community' and why should it be unduly concerned about events in Georgia?" Saunders answers his own question by saying that aside from Georgia's neighbors and possibly the EU, no other countries have a reason to get involved.
Finally Saunders calls Obama's reasoning that Russia can't be a mediator in the conflicts over Abkhazia and South Ossetia because it is part of the problem naive. Saunders points to the Middle East where the U.S. is a mediator and also an ally of one of the parties namely Israel. And by eliminating Russia as a meditator, Saunders asks, "does he think that any settlement could work without Moscow? This weak analysis betrays the senator’s lack of international experience — and poor advice from his foreign-policy team."
Saunders advice for Obama: Temper your hope and your calls for change with a big dose of reality.
John McCain, the perceived foreign policy expert, doesn't fare any better in his knowledge and analysis of Russia according to Saunders's colleague Brooke Leonard. To prove this point, Leonard looks at some recent statements McCain made about Russia.
McCain's most famous remark on Russia is perhaps his threat to throw the country out of the G8. That, writes Leonard, is an idle threat that no other country supports and Russia doesn't take seriously.
Leonard also takes issue with the Republican candidate's statement that Russia is blocking action against Iran in the UN Security Council: "Russia’s record on Iran in the UN Security Council is far more complex than McCain suggests. Moscow has blocked some measures against its longtime partner, but has supported others. The Russians clearly do not want to see a nuclear-armed Iran, and have taken a variety of steps to negotiate with the Iranians outside of the Security Council as well."
Finally, Leonard thinks McCain gets the leadership situation in Russia wrong by stating that he is confident that former president Vladimir Putin is still in charge. According to Leonard, most Russia experts agree that some sort of powersharing agreement exists between President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin. McCain, however, sounds quite certain that he knows something that even the Russians themselves do not, quipps Leonard.
So what's Leonard's overall assessment of John McCain's expertise on Russia? "His overly simplistic answers seem to show, in the words of the Senator himself, 'a fundamental lack of understanding.'"
While the Saunders and Leonard bash Obama and McCain for what the authors think are unrealistic perceptions of Russia, unfortunately, they don't tell us, which of the two candidates they view as the lesser evil concerning Russia. I guess, they want to leave that up to the readers and voters.