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Department of "Huh?"

Tom "Airmiles" Friedman writes a column:

[S]ince we had finally brought down Soviet communism and seen the birth of democracy in Russia the most important thing to do was to help Russian democracy take root and integrate Russia into Europe. Wasn’t that why we fought the cold war — to give young Russians the same chance at freedom and integration with the West as young Czechs, Georgians and Poles? Wasn’t consolidating a democratic Russia more important than bringing the Czech Navy into NATO?...

No, said the Clinton foreign policy team, we’re going to cram NATO expansion down the Russians’ throats, because Moscow is weak and, by the way, they’ll get used to it. Message to Russians: We expect you to behave like Western democrats, but we’re going to treat you like you’re still the Soviet Union. The cold war is over for you, but not for us...

Clive Crook says that Friedman is pretty much wrong:

FT.com | Clive Crook’s blog | Friedman and Ignatius on Georgia: I don’t think we fought the cold war to give young Russians freedom, actually, but put that aside.

The risks of humiliating Russia after the Wall came down were perhaps given too little weight. The dilemma was certainly understood by advocates of Nato enlargement, and there were attempts at outreach through various forms of partnership between Russia and and the alliance, though perhaps this seemed like adding insult to injury. But bear two other points in mind. One, Nato was not enlarged all the way, out of concern for Russia’s reaction: Ukraine and Georgia have been sort of promised membership, but with no timetable. Two, the question was, what were we to say to Poland, Hungary, and then-Czechoslovakia, desperate for release from Russo-Soviet imperium and for the protection of the West? Remember also that the success of their post-socialist transition to market economics was very much in doubt. This was a finely balanced argument.

The real mistake, to my mind, was in taking too long to admit the Eastern Europeans to the European Union–and that in turn owed everything to the fact (a grave mistake in its own right) that the EU had deepened its political integration too fast and too far. A shallower economic union, rather than a United States of Europe in progress, would have been able to embrace Poland and the others more eagerly. As it was, the only fast-acting institutional support for the East European reformers was Nato, a military alliance explicitly created to confront the Soviet Union, and implicitly still aimed at Russia. Friedman accuses the Clinton and Bush foreign-policy teams of “rank short-sightedness” in all this. He makes a good point, but the error was not as clear-cut as he says...

But Clive Crook also says that this is a "[v]aluable column."

I say: "Huh?"

Clive also enthusiastically and I think correctly praises David Ignatius for writing:

There’s a moral problem with all the pro-Georgia cheerleading, which has gotten lost in the op-ed blasts against Putin’s neo-imperialism. A recurring phenomenon of the... [Eisenhower-Nixon-Dulles administration] was that America encouraged oppressed peoples to rise up and fight for freedom — and then, when things got rough, abandoned them to their fate.... After the brutal suppression of the Hungarian revolution in 1956... [the Eisenhower-Nixon-Dulles administration] learned to be more cautious, and more honest about the limits of American power.

Now, after the Georgia war, McCain should learn that lesson: American leaders shouldn’t make threats the country can’t deliver or promises it isn’t prepared to keep. The rhetoric of confrontation may make us feel good, but other people end up getting killed.

Clive says:

I think Ignatius is absolutely right about this. The empty threat is a very bad way to conduct foreign policy. Now, recognizing this gets you only so far. It does not tell you whether Nato enlargement–in effect, a threat backed up with tanks–was a good idea. Does Georgia ever join? What about Ukraine? Should Poland have been brought in? Should Nato have been shut down altogether after the collapse of the Soviet Union? Those hard questions don’t go away. But in the meantime, as Ignatius says, the diplomatic zinger is best avoided.

Given that making empty threats seems to be McCain's foreign policy SOP, it sounds like Clive Crook comes down on the Obama side.

His colleague Gideon Rachman last month made what he describes an an accidental endorsement of Obama:

I wasn’t consciously sitting down to write an endorsement column.... There are a few subjects on which I prefer McCain. Trade is the most obvious.... But I think that Iran is shaping up as the biggest foreign-policy dilemma facing the next president. And there - as far as I’m concerned - Obama is clearly the better choice. In fact, the McCain position is downright dangerous. Does that amount to an endorsement of Obama? Just about, I suppose...

The logic of events appears to be leading Clive Crook down the same road...