I wonder what US Vice President Dick Cheney meant when he said earlier this week that Russia's actions in South Ossetia and Georgia “will not go unanswered”? What did President Bush have in mind when he said that great powers should not go about “toppling governments in the 21st century”? There have been some fine, but fundamentally empty, phrases from Messrs Bush and Cheney this week. We should all give thanks that their term of office is drawing to a close and that the opportunity for them to do further damage to international relations in general and America's role in the world in particular is now diminishing. At the same time we should look with alarm at the behaviour of the two men now vying for the next presidency. John McCain's reaction to the Russia/Georgia crisis was authentic Cold War rhetoric and although Barack Obama initially took a more cautious line he later hardened it to avoid being outflanked by McCain's extremism.

To take Cheney's phrase, there is no negative action that the United States can take militarily, economically or diplomatically against Russia that would not worsen relations between the two countries. As for Bush's observation, how can he in all conscience berate Putin for doing what he himself did - and to a much graver degree - in Iraq? In a way Russia has done the United States a favour by showing how counter-productive its foreign policies have been for the past eight years. Will Obama learn this lesson? McCain won't.


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