McCain’s handling of the Georgia/Russia conflict, continued

I wrote a few days ago about how McCain’s response to the Georgia/Russia conflict demonstrated his presidential qualities in terms of dealing with a pressing and developing international issue, and noted how Obama’s response – made while he has been vacationing in Hawaii – looks as though he’s reading off of cue cards.  The contrasts couldn’t be more stark.   Lots of other people have noticed it, too, including – surprisingly – the NYTimes. 

In this morning’s paper, underneath a picture of Senator Obama and his two daughters sitting in the HI sunshine crunching on flavored shaved ice along with two other little girls who I presume to be friends of Sasha and Malia, Times reporter Michael Falcone reports (via Memeo):

HONOLULU — For the last several days, Senator Barack Obama has seemed to fade from the scene while on his secluded vacation here, as his opponent, Senator John McCain, has seized nearly every opportunity to display his foreign policy credentials on the dominant issue of the week: the conflict between Russia and Georgia.

Only once, at the beginning of the week, did Mr. Obama discuss the fighting in public, when he emerged from his beachfront rental home to condemn Russia’s escalation, in a way that seemed timed for the evening television news. He took no questions whose answers might demonstrate command of the issue.

Mr. McCain and his surrogates, however, have discussed the situation nearly every day on the campaign trail, often taking a hard line against Russia to the point of his declaring the other day, “We are all Georgians.”

It is as if the candidates’ images have been reversed within a matter of a few weeks. When Mr. Obama was overseas last month, Mr. McCain’s foreign policy bona fides seemed diminished, if only because he could not attract the news media attention received by Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Now, Mr. Obama’s voice seems muted at a time when much of the world has been worriedly watching the conflict.

A spokesman said that Mr. Obama had interrupted his vacation several times to get updates on the situation in the Caucasus and that he had been in “constant contact” with his national security advisers. He has spoken to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, as well as former Senator Sam Nunn, Democrat of Georgia; Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana; and former Defense Secretary William J. Perry.

For his part, Mr. McCain has fielded questions daily, batting back criticism that his tough stance is reminiscent of the language of the cold war. On the other hand, the fluency with which Mr. McCain, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, discusses Georgia, citing the history of the region and the number of times he has visited, lends an aura of commander in chief. And as if he already had a cabinet, Mr. McCain said he was dispatching his allies Senators Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, and Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, to the region.

Unfortunately in politics, image all too often is more important than the actual substance of the candidate/politician.  In the case of Obama, his entire candidacy, as we all know, has been built on a “strong, capable” image of him that is a far cry from reality.  One of the only reak things about Obama’s candidacy is his concession that he is not the most experienced candidate.  He has conceded it via implication every time the issue has come up, whether it has been in debates with Hillary Clinton during the primaries, or now in the general election.  His standard answer is to suggest that he is a “Washington outsider” who supposedly doesn’t play the same ol’ “Washington politics” (cough) which, to him, equates to the “wrong kind of experience.”   Even he seems to realize, though, that that argument is only going to carry so far, which is probably one of the reasons why he has some 300+ foreign policy advisors – including actor and all-around windbag George Clooney, apparently – to try and help ease the fears of those who suggest he’s too weak on the foreign policy front.

Unfortunately for Obama, whether it’s 300 or 3,000 foreign policy advisors he has, nothing – not even one of his fancy speeches – is going to shake the images of him basking in the sun in Hawaii with his family, and issuing periodic brief wooden responses while an international crisis has continued to rear its ugly head  between Russia and Georgia the last couple of weeks.    President Bush was raked over the coals over the images of him on vacation while Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and Mississippi back in the summer of 2005, and whether the images of him on vacation that contrasted with the images of the  battered coastlines in the Gulf were fair or not, I think most of us can agree that that was a turning point in his presidency from him being a popular wartime president to one that looked – even if it was just for a few days – unaffected and disengaged while two states were heavily bruised by a devastating hurricane.   His numbers have never recovered from that.

McCain has been in solid command of the Georgia/Russia issue from the start, and some have even suggested that his responses have been even more resolute and forceful than the president’s initial statements on Russia’s attack on Georgia.   I’ve talked a lot about “images” in this post, but McCain’s strong grasp of the facts as it relates to that region of the world, and his “take charge” attitude regarding how both the US, the international community, and the respective countries engaged in this battle should respond, are more than just mere images.  In spite of the WaPo’s implication here that McCain is being presumptuous in his responses,  McCain is demonstrating that when it comes to criticial foreign policy issues, his near 30 years in the Senate dealing with foreign issues as well as domestic, along with his long career in the Navy, have served him well in terms of knowing how to handle present-day international conflicts.

Ed Morrissey sums up:

McCain spent the week leading the American response in a real way, forcing the White House to catch up.  Obama spent the week … body surfing and golfing.  For a candidate who already has a confidence deficit on national security and foreign policy among voters, Obama seems strangely disengaged on what is the most crititcal and emergent foreign-policy issue of the campaign.  He has taken a strangely passive path, and the contradictory statements by his surrogates have made Obama seem even more vacillating than usual.

Most interestingly, the media has finally started to notice.  Michael Falcone’s article acknowledges McCain’s superior performance, an acknowledgment that finds its basis in McCain’s experiential advantage.  The media has flocked to McCain for answers on a genuine foreign-policy issue, and more or less abandoned Obama and his team.  He has become almost irrelevant in the Georgian crisis, made so by his own abandonment of the field.

It’s an interesting and revealing parallel to the kind of media frenzy Obama attracted in Europe but did nothing to earn.  McCain has earned the attention for being prescient and informed on the crisis in Georgia and the nature of Russia.  The former is the attraction of celebrity, and the latter the attraction of leadership, and American just got an object lesson in the differences between the two.

Indeed.  School may be out for the summer for America’s children, but it’s in session between McCain the teacher and Obama the student. 

Yes, Virginia. Experience really does matter.

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