Revisiting the 3 AM Phone Call: The Caucasus Conflict, the US, & Russia

 www.russiablog.orgSince the eruption of fighting and violence in South Ossetia, the conflict between Russia and Georgia has been discussed widely, not just in terms of its consequences for the Caucasus region, but also in terms of its impact on the US presidential election. Republican John McCain is widely believed to have an edge over Democrat Barack Obama, when it comes to foreign policy and national security. After all, he is a Vietnam veteran and “war hero,” right?

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McCain’s reaction to the conflict has been widely covered in the media, even though Obama has been quick to condemn the violence as well. Here are some of the headlines:

New York Times: War Puts Focus on McCain’s Hard Line on Russia

Caucus Blog (NYT): McCain Calls for Halt of Violence in Georgia

Washington Post: On Georgia Crisis, McCain’s Tone Grows Sharper

SPIEGEL: McCain wettert gegen Russland

In the media, the conflict is broadly seen as a 3 AM moment, which refers to the most prominent Clinton ad that had been aired during the primary season to question Obama’s readiness to lead—a strategy that McCain is now falling back on. But a recent ABC/Washington Post poll revealed that the public opinion edge that McCain has over Obama is actually smaller than generally expected. 50% of Americans trust McCain more to handle an unexpected crisis, whereas 41% trust Obama more. In comparison, Obama is leading McCain by a 19% margin as the one Americans trust when it comes to the economy (54% - 35%).

Pragmatically thinking though, what leverage does the US have in the Caucasus region no matter what candidate becomes president? As Richard Haass, president of the Council of Foreign Relations, noted on CNN’s AC360, there is “little either candidate could propose we could do. The United States doesn’t have a lot of good options, we don’t have a lot of leverage.” But who cares about realities, right? After all, it is a perceptions game. Thus, the issue remains, as TIME Magazine’s Mark Halperin said, politically good for McCain.   

On a lighter note, Daily Show host Jon Stewart reminded the media and the public of who is currently answering that 3 AM phone call, showing a clip of still President Bush Jr. cheering at the Olympics and talking to US athletes. The Daily Show clip is, by the way, also worthwhile to watch thanks to Stewart’s analysis of comments made by the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in reaction to the Caucasus conflict.   

Hillary Clinton’s 3 AM phone call ad: