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McCain and Cameron, close for now

18 August 2008

12:00 PM

18 August 2008

12:00 PM

It is common knowledge that John McCain and David Cameron get on. By convention, politicians do not enter into electoral politics in other countries, but the Conservative leader has made clear how McCain impressed him when he spoke at the 2006 Conservative Party Conference while McCain has described Cameron as a Kennedyesque figure. Their staffs are said to be in regular touch and the two men talk on the phone.  

At first blush, the Russo-Georgian War show how close they really are. Looking at their respective statements, it is hard to distinguish between the views of the two politicians.

In response to the invasion, it was McCain who struck a tough tone, denouncing the Russian move and called for a withdrawal from "sovereign Georgian territory," an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council, and the creation of "a truly independent and neutral peacekeeping force.

With Gordon Brown worrying about his autumn re-launch, David Cameron visited Georgia and gave a strikingly similar statement to McCain’s, warning Moscow to immediately end its "illegal" invasion. He also called for NATO to speed up Georgia’s application for membership and for Russia to be expelled from the G8. Kicking Russia out of the Group of Eight conclave of major industrial nations was, of course, initially mooted by Mr. McCain in a Foreign Affairs essay last year .

Both men have come out of the conflict looking better than their domestic counterparts. Gordon Brown took the humanitarian angle, and ended up looking like he misunderstood the strategic implications of the conflict. Barack Obama seems to have been caught napping, issuing the occasional press release from his Hawaiian vacation, whilst George Bush’s frolicking with the U.S volley ball team in Beijing will enter the pantheon of poor photo opportunities, only a few notches below the infamous “Mission Accomplished” snapshot on USS Abraham Lincoln .

Yet the seemingly close coordination between the McCain and Cameron camps may run into trouble when McCain presses home his advantage, raising the anti-Russian stakes. In his weekly radio address, the Arizona senator zeroed in on energy, arguing that Europe should guard against becoming too dependent on Russia’s energy supplies.

Few people doubt that Russia wants a stranglehold on Europe’s energy market, and is pursuing that aim through a cordon of natural gas and oil pipelines that would make most European countries – although not Britain – heavily dependent on the Kremlin for hydrocarbons. But most analysts agree that to avoid this, Europe will need to create a European integrated and flexible gas market. This could re-establish a more equal relationship between Europe and Russia; and break up the cosy connection between Gazprom and large utility importers in Germany, Italy and France. But how does this idea sit with the Conservatives’ European policy?

The McCain-Cameron foreign policy link-up worked well on this occasion, probably because it reflected not only the two men’s similarly good political instincts but also their shared foreign policy principles. However, the next phase of developing the West’s response to Russia may see the two political friends struggle to keep as close as they have been until now.

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