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Foreign Policy

DW staff (kjb)August 22, 2008

Barack Obama said he supports President Bush's position in the Caucasus crisis, while John McCain used the conflict to highlight his foreign policy skills. But the next US president will have to repair ties with Russia.

Campaign buttons for Barack Obama and John McCain
Both McCain and Obama have condemned Russia's military involvement in GeorgiaImage: AP

In a rare show of solidarity with the Republican incumbent, Democratic presidential hopeful Obama said on Thursday, Aug. 21, that he agreed with President George W. Bush's stance toward Russia following the recent five-day conflict with Georgia.

"I'm supportive of what George Bush has been doing," said Obama, who disagrees with Bush on most foreign policy issues. "There will be a time later for politics. I'm a big believer that when you're in a crisis, America speaks with one voice."

Bush, who has nurtured positive personal relations with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin over the past eight years, has firmly denounced Russia's decision to send troops into Georgia after the former Soviet republic attacked the separatist region of South Ossetia on Aug. 8.

While the West has largely condemned Russia's military involvement in Georgia, Russia has sharply criticized Georgia for attacking its breakaway provinces.

New chapter in US-Russia relations

Barack Obama next to a US flag
Obama agrees with Bush -- at least as far as the Caucasus war is concernedImage: AP

The US president has insisted that Georgia's territorial sovereignty be respected. The pro-Russian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have enjoyed de facto independence from Georgia since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Nevertheless, the clash with Russia has put the chill on US-Russian relations.

The conflict in the Caucasus "indicates a new stage in the relationship between Russia and the West," said Obama Thursday. "We've got to be firm with the Russians, in alliance with our European allies, that this kind of behavior is intolerable."

Both Obama and Republican presidential hopeful John McCain have warned Russia of severe, long-term consequences from its conflict with Georgia.

The United States is caught somewhat between a rock and a hard place as it is dependent on Russia's approval in the United Nations Security Council, where Moscow enjoys veto power, on a number of international issues.

Georgia becomes presidential battlefield

McCain, who is slightly behind Obama in polls, has used the Russian-Georgian conflict to draw attention to his extensive foreign policy experience. A Vietnam veteran, former prisoner of war, and long-time US senator, McCain has said he is better suited than his significantly younger opponent to take on the position of commander-in-chief.

Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois with no military experience, recently made a highly publicized tour of Europe in an effort to boost his image on the foreign policy front.

John McCain with US troops in Iraq
McCain, seen here with US troops in Iraq, said his military experience better qualifies himImage: AP

McCain has gone beyond the White House's stance in his response to Russia in light of the fighting in Georgia, demanding that Russia be expelled from the Group of Eight highly industrialized nations, at least for a time. He has also expressed opposition to Russian membership in the World Trade Organization.

"In matters of national security, good judgment will be at a premium in the term of the next president -- as we were all reminded ... by the events in the nation of Georgia," said McCain earlier this week.

Advice from all sides

Obama promised Thursday, addressing supporters in Virginia, to call on the "best and brightest" foreign policy advisors, should he be elected.

"And by the way, they don't have to be Democrats," he said, naming Republican Richard Lugar, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, among others.

As far as foreign policy matters are concerned, McCain and Obama differ most notably in their approach to the war in Iraq, which is largely unpopular in Europe.

Obama has pledged to withdraw nearly all US troops from Iraq within 16 months, while McCain has promised to remain until victory.

Addressing US foreign policy as a whole on Thursday, Obama conceded, however, that "there are times when we are going to have to use military force."