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Starting Gate: A Cold War Heats Up

These Olympics were supposed to present the opportunity to measure the increasing competitiveness between the U.S. and China, both in the medal count and on the world stage. But the sudden and violent war in Georgia seems to have turned the clock back to the days of the Cold War and tough talk between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Both presidential candidates have ended up on the same page as this international crisis unfolds, but John McCain seems to sense that this issue is in his wheelhouse – he's issued several statements as events unfold and might be benefitting just a tad from Barack Obama's vacation, which has lent him more opportunities.

Both candidates are taking a hard-line against Russia for its invasion of rival Georgia. "Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin must understand the severe, long-term negative consequences that their government's actions will have for Russia's relationship with the U.S. and Europe," McCain said yesterday.

"No matter how this conflict started, Russia has escalated it well beyond the dispute over South Ossetia and invaded another country. Russia has escalated its military campaign through strategic bombing and the movement of its ground forces into the heart of Georgia. There is no possible justification for these attacks," Obama said later in the day.

At first glance, the situation itself would appear to help McCain on at least a couple of levels. Republicans have long enjoyed an advantage on foreign policy, particularly when it comes to conflict. And instability and uncertainty would seem to play into McCain's own strength and against Obama's appeal for a different approach to foreign policy.

But there might also be an opportunity here for Obama to do what he has proven so adept at throughout this campaign – neutralize an opponent's advantage. Even though most voters say they now agree with Obama's initial assessment of the war in Iraq to be a mistake, the candidate has taken a more aggressive line on Afghanistan, which has shown that he's no pacifist when it comes to military engagement. Now, he's taking a hard-line on Russia, at least rhetorically. While McCain may get some benefit from global events, it may not be the kind of slam-dunk GOP candidates of the past have enjoyed.

Around The Track

  • The Atlantic goes inside the Hillary Clinton primary campaign to uncover a dysfunctional and torn inner-circle which contributed mightily to her campaign's failures, Josh Green reports.
  • MoveOn.org and the Public Campaign Action Fund is calling on the Justice department to investigate McCain's campaign after the campaign returned some funds raised by a Florida businessman.
  • Indiana senator Evan Bayh, a possible VP pick for Obama, gets the New York Times treatment today in a profile raising the question of whether Bayh's support for the Iraq war might hurt his chances of being on the ticket.
  • Former Clinton strategist Mark Penn says negative advertising may not be popular, but it works. "Clever negative advertising works. That is reality," Penn writes in Politico. "The tactic meets with media and pundit disapproval and spawns accusations of negativity, but the reality is that a clever negative ad can be devastatingly effective."