President Bush (right) at the White House with Arizona Senator John McCain
According to the latest national polls, Barack Obama is topping the charts six to eight points ahead of his Republican rival John McCain. It is still a long way to the November election and things may easily change, but as matters stand now voters clearly favor the Democratic hopeful. The reasons are many, but several recent rows provoked by McCain's top aides certainly played some role.
For a start America's largest aviation company Boeing lost a hefty contract worth $35 billion to its European rival Airbus for supplying the U.S. Air Force with 179 aerial tankers. It turns out that the team of Airbus lobbyists included several of McCain's key advisors, like Tom Loeffler and Susan Nelson of The Loeffler Group, as well as John Green of Ogilvy Government Relations. Loeffler, a former congressman from Texas, headed the finance committee in the McCain election staff while Green acted as a Congressional liaison. Incidentally, Loeffler has been making some additional money on the side, lobbying for Saudi Arabia, too. Some observers believe that behind-the-scenes activities of McCain himself, who wrote several letters to the Pentagon, helped Airbus win the contract.
Senator McCain's foreign and defense policy aide Randy Scheunemann
Not surprisingly, politicians from Washington State, the home of Boeing, U.S. trade unions, and many other groups raised a mighty stink demanding revision of the Pentagon's decision. How the row will end is still not entirely clear, but McCain's reputation has certainly been badly dented. The thing is that McCain has for years been talking of the need to reform the laws on election campaign financing in order to fight corruption and cramp the style of big business. However, the reality turned out to be quite different.
Then there was a leak in the media to the effect that Randy Scheunemann, McCain's top aide for the foreign affairs and security, had until recently been a lobbyist on the Republic of Georgia's payroll. He and his companion Mike Mitchell were paid over $2 million for lobbying the accession to NATO of several ex-Soviet block republics, including Georgia and Lithuania. As is well known, McCain until recently has been advocating a tougher policy toward Russia. He has used every opportunity to demand Russia's expulsion from the G8; further NATO expansion through the inclusion of Ukraine and Georgia; replacement of the United Nations with a new League of Democracies where Russia, China, and others would not be invited, and so on. Thus McCain as good as called for Russia's isolation and a reversion not just to the Cold War, but to an even more dangerous confrontation.
It is hard to tell how much McCain's utterances were the result of Scheunemann's influence, but a conflict of interest, just as in the case of Boeing and Airbus, is well in evidence. Relations with Russia are extremely important to America's security and that of its European allies; therefore a potential U.S. president cannot afford to have an advisor on the payroll of a state that has a complex relationship with Russia, putting it mildly.
Finally, Charles Black, yet another closest advisor of McCain's, said in an interview that a new terrorist act on U.S. territory would improve his boss's chances in the November election. Naturally, the Obama camp jumped at their rivals' gaffe. His press secretary described Black's statement as "shameful," adding that it was a most eloquent example of the cynical policy "we wish to change."
These three rows and most likely a few other things almost certainly have occasioned the drop in McCain's popularity ratings, since until very recently Obama and McCain were running more or less neck-and-neck.
Being scared by McCain's rhetoric, many Russians are rooting for Obama as the more preferable candidate, but those who think so overlook the fact that because the 46 year old African-American Senator from Illinois lacks experience in international affairs, he is bound to rely on the opinion of his advisors. The more prominent of these are Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madeleine Albright, hardly Russia's best friends.
So the way I see it, the most dignified line Russia might take would be endeavoring to keep out of the U.S. presidential campaign and wait calmly for its outcome while constantly devising and offering various mutually advantageous programs for cooperation between the two countries. These programs should be forwarded through official government channels, U.S. Congress, NGOs, and the press. A country's authority is best built up not by belligerent statements, threats of missile retargeting or mud-slinging matches with ill-wishers, but by steadily and painstakingly furthering cooperation ideas. The latest statements by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev suggest that this is precisely the road he has chosen, which is highly gratifying.