John McCain has recently been criticized for defending a place called Czechoslovakia, a ex-country that divided into two separate states in 1993. But those all-too-clever critics at the Huffington Post are wrong. Czechoslovakia still exists. Only now it is called Georgia.
The ex Soviet satellite state of Czechoslovakia and the ex Soviet Republic of Georgia. No, we aren't exactly back in 1938 and Putin's Russia isn't quite like Hitler's Germany. But there is an appropriate comparison -- and that's between the pathetic appeasing western governments of Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier and today's equally pathetic Western appeasers of militaristic Russia. The midget trinity of Sarkozy/Brown/Bush rivals the Chamberlain/Daladier duo for its disgraceful failure to defend loyal friends -- a quality that, whatever else one thinks of McCain, the old warrior possesses in spades.
No, McCain wasn't wrong. Indeed, his July 14 remarks about "Czechoslovakia" were made in the context of not only Russian bullying of the Czechs and Slovaks, but also of Russia's threats against Georgia:
I was concerned about a couple of steps that the Russian government took in the last several days. One was reducing the energy supplies to Czechoslovakia. Apparently that is in reaction to the Czech’s agreement with us concerning missile defense, and again some of the Russian now announcement they are now retargeting new targets, something they abandoned at the end of the Cold War, is also a concern. So we see the tensions between Russia and their neighbors, as well as Russia and the United States are somewhat increasing. We need to try to do everything we can to lessen those tensions including the tensions between Russia and the country of Georgia.
Clearly, McCain had Georgia on his mind. As the literalists at the Huffington Post revealed, McCain has been obsessed with Czechoslovakia ever since it ceased existing in 1993. But his slips are more Kunderesque than Freudian. As Milan Kundera has always reminded us, it's the idea of Czechoslovakia that is so important. The sacrificing of the country first to Hitler at Munich and then to Stalin at Yalta were the most shameful international events of a shameful century. Czechoslovakia is symbolic -- a symbol that should lie heavily on our conscience. Thus McCain's linguistic loyalty to a now non-existent country -- a loyalty, for better worse, that comes naturally to this intrinsically moral politician who perceives the world in black and white terms.
And now Georgia threatens to become the Czechoslovakia of the early 21st century -- a country so loyal to the United States that its 2,000 troops in Iraq made it the third largest contingent of foreign soldiers supporting us there. The question, of course, is whether it is the postmodern Obama or the premodern McCain who is more suited to confronting the resurgent Putin. David Brooks has observed that loyal friendship isn't Obama's strongest suit. I wonder if the half white, half black Obama, who Brooks dubs a "boomer meritocrat", is able to view the world in black and white terms when it comes to Russia. He can certainly learn something from the more manichaean McCain here. I hope he does.
John McCain famously said that when he looked into Putin's eyes, he saw three letters, "a K, a G and a B." But maybe the eyes of this bully only contain two letters -- a C and a Z. Czechoslovakia: that eternal lesson of the failure of pusillanimous western powers to stand-up for friends against bullies.