Potential VPs Square Off On Russia

Senator Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., on "Face The Nation." CBS

Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh from Indiana and Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota defended their candidates' stances on Russia and the conflict in Georgia on Face The Nation on Sunday.

Pawlenty emphasized presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain's experience and pointed to a statement McCain said last night during a forum with Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church in California that he would deploy military forces when the national security interests of the U.S. are challenged.

"I think he's acknowledged that military action in this particular situation is unlikely, but as commander in chief, he wants to make sure all options remain available to him, and that's understandable," Pawlenty said. "And one of the questions this crisis raises is who do you want sitting across the table from Vladimir Putin and people like him, John McCain or Senator Obama? And I think the answer is Senator McCain, and that's for obvious reasons, with his experience in national security, military affairs, his clarity, his strength, and his judgment in these matters.

"As you saw with the surge and as you see even before this crisis broke out, he said last year we've got a problem, we should be thinking about having Russia be disinvited from the G-8," Pawlenty added.

But Bayh countered by saying that McCain went too far in his statements about the crisis, and defended the judgment of his party's candidate, presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama.

"We aren't all Georgians now," Bayh said, referring to a comment McCain made earlier in the week. "If we were Georgians and the Russians were invading our country and killing our people, we'd be in a state of war. And clearly, that's not what we want. And John, sometimes, he's a good person, but he's a little bit given to this kind of bellicose rhetoric, which has a tendency to inflame conflicts rather than to diffuse them, and that's what you want in a president.

"I think Barack Obama has consistently demonstrated superior judgment to Senator McCain on a whole host of national security issues," Bayh added. "Whether to go into Iraq or not: Barack Obama was correct. How to get out of Iraq: The Iraqis embrace Barack Obama's position - even George Bush is coming around.

"He was right about Afghanistan; finally, John McCain is coming around on that. He was right about engaging Iran; George Bush has come around on that. And he was right about Georgia. Months ago, he was calling for this conflict to be diffused. Instead, the president and John McCain are so obsessed with Iraq, we dropped the ball. If we'd listened to Senator Obama and his judgment, perhaps we wouldn't be here today."

Pawlenty disagreed, and pointed to the success of the surge strategy in Iraq. "The surge has been singularly or at least very predominantly one of the main reasons for the turnaround in the war," Pawlenty said. "Senator McCain saw that … the need for it, because of his judgment, his experience and wisdom. Senator Obama to this day, to this day denies the value and the strategic benefit of the surge. That's a startling lack of judgment in my view."

"Barack Obama has consistently demonstrated the kind of judgment that we want in a commander in chief," Bayh countered. "He's strong. He's cool. He's smart. That's what we need in these difficult times."

While both Bayh and Pawlenty have been right in the middle of speculation about who Obama and McCain will pick as running mates, both said they did not have news to report about themselves or the selection process.

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was also on Face The Nation to talk about the conflict in Russia, calling on Russian president Dmitry Medvedev to keep his word to French President Nicolas Sarkozy to withdraw from the disputed provinces beginning tomorrow.

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"The problem is, first of all, that the Russian president has given his word several times and it's not been honored by Russian troops. So I assume that, this time, Russian forces are indeed going to withdraw," Rice said.

Rice also talked about the future of U.S.-Russia relations.

"President Bush has offered an opportunity for Russia to behave as a partner; offered an opportunity for Russia to make a strategic choice in favor of integration into the international economic, political, diplomatic, security structures; made an opportunity for Russia to finally act like a 21st century modern power," she said. "And I do think that Russian behavior calls seriously into question whether Russia is prepared to make that choice.

"In fact, Russia seems to want to have it both ways. It wants to be part of these institutions that are so essential to the international economy and the international order. And on the other hand, it wants to engage in, kind of, Soviet-style behavior of intimidating and invading allies - or neighbors. Both can't be true," Rice added.

As to whether the U.S. had any responsibility for the conflict or overpromised support to the Georgian government, Rice said, "All the United States has done is encouraged democratic government in Georgia, encouraged market-based economic reforms, encouraged fight against corruption, and encouraged the Georgians to look towards the modern institutions of the West.

"The United States and Georgia have had a very good relationship. This is a pro-Western, pro-European government that wants to be a part of those institutions," Rice added. "As to this particular conflict, we have encouraged Georgians and all parties to resolve this conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia peacefully. We have supported peace plans. We have supported diplomacy. We have told all parties not to get involved in military conflict."

Both Bayh and Pawlenty also defended their candidate's approaches to Russia and Georgia before the crisis broke out last week.

"Georgia, of course, has been a state that has been westward-looking, has been a friend of ours. We have indicated to them, through cultural exchanges and other exchanges that we want to be supportive of them," Pawlenty said. "But I haven't seen any evidence that the United States of America has overpromised. And when you look at the reactions of the two candidates, Senator McCain, Senator Obama, Senator McCain came out saying, you know, this really is bullying behavior by Russia against one of our friends, the state of Georgia. Senator Obama's statement came out and essentially implied that we're going to equally blame our friend Georgia and Russia. And then he revised his statement two or three times. But again, it shows a lack of surefootedness by Senator Obama."

"Let us not forget that Barack Obama has been calling for a resolution of these disputes for many, many months now, long before hostilities broke out," Bayh responded. "If we followed his advice, perhaps we wouldn't be talking about this here today. If the president and Senator McCain weren't so obsessed on an open-ended commitment to Iraq, perhaps we would have paid greater attention to some of these issues."



Read the full "Face the Nation" transcript here.

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