In Global Vote, McCain Would Lose – But Not in Georgia

By Beacon Staff

TBILISI, Georgia – If the world could vote in the US presidential election, only 8 percent of the global population would choose the Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, according to a Gallup poll of 70 nations released Tuesday. The international popular vote preferred the Democratic candidate, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, by a margin of 4 to 1.

Senator McCain’s low standing abroad is echoed in an online global election being conducted by the Economist magazine, where McCain has carried only three nations: Georgia, Macedonia, and Cuba. He has managed a tie in Moldova.

With the US presidential election only two weeks away, McCain is finding the base of his international support predominantly in a handful of tiny Eastern European nations. For those in Georgia who have long supported President Bush, McCain’s foreign policy, especially his support of their bid to join NATO, make him a natural choice.

For a nation that already held the Arizona senator in high esteem, the August war between Russia and Georgia helped bolster his image even further. His tough reaction throughout the war – and publicized phone call to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, in which he declared, “Today we are all Georgians” – won the hearts of an insecure nation.

“The people here understand that he does grasp the complexities of our problem [with Russia],” says ruling party parliamentarian Giorgi Kandelaki.

McCain is no stranger to Georgia. In 2006 he led a delegation of Republican senators to the country to review the progress of democratic reforms initiated by US-educated President Saakashvili and discuss its efforts toward NATO membership.

For Georgians, who believe force is the only language Russia understands, McCain’s hard-line view of Russia resonates well. People also say that his full-fledged support for Georgia’s integration into NATO will protect it from Russian aggression.

Opponents of the Republican candidate, however, worry that McCain’s aggressive rhetoric and vociferous support of NATO expansion will only aggravate the tiny nation’s problems.

“If McCain wins, he’ll take the confrontational approach, and [Russia] is a dangerous government. They’ll react,” says Edward Walker, executive director of the University of California, Berkeley, Program in Eurasian and East European Studies.

Senator Obama’s more diplomatic approach would better suit Georgia’s needs, says Mr. Walker, particularly as neither the US or NATO is in a position to provide security for Georgia.

In a country which has received a tremendous amount of financial support from the US Republican administration, nobody knows what to expect from a man who opposes the Republican platform.

“People here don’t know what Obama stands for,” says Lasha Bliadze of the Center for Social Studies in Tbilisi, who adds that Georgians expect continued military aid from McCain, given his personal military background.

Within the Georgian government, McCain may experience some oppostion from Georgia’s minority leaders, who say that the irresponsible policies of both the US and the Saakashvili administration led Georgia into conflict with Russia.

Still, many such as Mr. Kandelaki, who was a youth activist before becoming a ruling party parliamentarian, regard both candidates as having a clear vision of how best to help Georgia continue its precarious road toward stability.

“America has always helped freedom-loving nations in Europe,” says Kandelaki. “I don’t think it will change this time.”