I stood about five feet from John McCain last night, as he gave an after-dinner speech at the German Marshall Fund’s Brussels forum. It was odd to see him wandering around the hotel lobby alone and sitting quietly in seminars, and to think that if things had turned out differently … As for the speech, it was about Afghanistan – and a pretty standard, if well-delivered, version of the case for sticking it out. According to McCain, Nato’s credibility is on the line, we can’t afford to lose, if we do then the Taliban will come back to power, terrorists will roam wild and free. But we need to level with the public or there will be a backlash. This is going to take years, there will be an upsurge in fighting initially, it’s going to be really difficult. Or as Winston Churchill once put it, “I have nothing to offer you, but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Except at the Brussels forum, there is also a rather nice pastry desert.
Standing in the front row while McCain spoke was none other than his pal, Misha Saakashvili, the president of Georgia. In fact, it was something of a coup for the organisers to have both Saakashvili and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, at the same event. Lavrov was brusque, aggressive, confident and even funny – in a sinister sort of way. As for Saakashvili, he was more relaxed than I would have imagined given the external and internal assualt he has recently been under. And he certainly still has firm supporters. McCain is a long-time backer. But I was struck that Richard Holbrooke, now very senior in the State Department, also spoke very warmly of him. Read more