Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Emotes of Senator McCain: Fuel to the Fire

In response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Op-Ed in the New York Times, Senator McCain went to Pravda to voice his opinion on the matter. Some have called McCain’s response “scathing” while a few see it as “stupid”.  I agree with the latter.

President Putin constructed his Op-Ed as an argument to deter the American people from supporting military aggression on Syria for its (alleged and highly probable) use of chemical weapons. It was a nice piece of writing even if it was not logically sound. Yet he ended his argument with a personal opinion on the American people, which served no purpose other than to elevate himself by lowering others. Of course, this last paragraph received the most attention, which is another consequence of the president’s mistake; taking readers elsewhere than his argument.

And here is where we find Senator McCain, ensconced in Putin’s last paragraph. McCain’s Op-Ed in Pravda (why Pravda??) serves only two purposes: to exacerbate a personal defensive reaction to Putin’s last paragraph, and to add fuel to the diplomatic fire between the U.S. and Russia.  In short, McCain’s piece was just that—a piece of ….

Not only did McCain ignore everything else in Putin’s Op-Ed, he also intentionally and unequivocally interfered with Russian internal affairs. It may be a nice high school debate tactic to focus on one aspect of an opponent’s argument in an effort to trump the whole argument, but in college this will not work, let alone international diplomacy. McCain did nothing to address the glaring holes in Putin’s argument, but instead underscored Putin’s statement that Americans (McCain included) think their exceptional when they really are not. The exceptional thing to do was to ignore that jab and concentrate on the issue at hand: SYRIA! 

As if that were not enough, McCain took it upon himself to scathe Russian internal affairs—namely Putin, Putin’s governing, Russia’s political system, and it’s mediocre international status. Where did this come from? Nowhere did President Putin mention anything of the sort about America in his Op-Ed. This is out of left—er, right—field. At the simplest level this is akin to calling Putin a poopy-face, at the more complex level, like international diplomacy, this can be seen as an attempt to usurp the presidency of Russia. Which is it?  Even if there is a middle ground, political gumption persuades people to pounce on whatever weakness they see. It should surprise no one if Putin counters with more intensity. The situation did not need fuel, and McCain was only too happy, or at least incompetent, to provide it.

So what is the lesson here? McCain simply let his emotions overwhelm his reason.  This is common with humans; we all have done it and probably still do it from time to time. Yet, McCain is a senator with responsibilities to his electorate and the country. Attacking Putin and the Russian system, at least, serves neither. To make matters worse, this response was not spontaneous.  McCain had days to think over his response, put it in writing, read over it, and could have ultimately scrapped it.

Emotions are difficult to manage and perhaps more difficult to understand. Actions predicated on emotions are rarely appropriate and often harmful. They do not aim to address, diffuse, solve or ponder a situation, but in this case to attack a perceived offense. What about Syria?  Apparently McCain’s attention fixates on how one person views Americans in a very general way, and ignores the deaths of 100,000 people.  Too bad. McCain needed more time to cool his jets, just like we all do sometimes.