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Published: Saturday, 8/16/2008

McCain's foreign agent

SEN. JOHN McCain wants the 2008 presidential election to be about experience, especially on foreign policy issues. So what does it say when he gets his advice from someone with a financial interest in those policies? It raises serious concerns about the candidate's judgment and ethical choices.

Randy Scheunemann is Mr. McCain's chief foreign policy adviser, the man who prepped the Republican candidate before he issued a particularly bellicose statement insisting that the United States must get behind the Republic of Georgia, even if it means putting this nation nose-to-nose with Russia in a Cold War-like confrontation.

Mr. Scheunemann is a partner "on leave" from the lobbying firm Orion Strategies. He has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years to promote the interests of Georgia. In April, a month and a half after he stopped working for Georgia but a month before he stopped being paid by Orion, his partner signed a $200,000 deal with the Georgian government.

In the last four years, Georgia has shelled out at least $1 million for, among other things, Mr. Scheunemann's access to lawmakers such as Mr. McCain. Over the years, Mr. Scheunemann has lobbied Mr. McCain for and received support on four bills concerning the former Soviet republic. Mr. Scheunemann's firms also have lobbied for various military contractor and oil interests.

It would not be unreasonable to expect that at some point Mr. Scheunemann will return to Orion, which raises ethical questions about the wisdom of following the advice of someone who was and may again be an agent of a foreign nation. We believe it is unwise of Mr. McCain to do so, and it would be just as unwise if Barack Obama had a similar adviser.

In addition to the ethical question, there's the fact that the presumptive Republican nominee has for years been closely associated with Mr. Scheunemann, a neoconservative who has pushed for regime change in Iraq since the 1980s. As an aide to former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, he helped build support for the Iraq war and has been closely associated with former Bush Administration favorite Ahmad Chalabi. His right-wing credentials are impeccable and that's dangerous.

Considering the fruits of the policies Mr. Scheunemann has advocated, we wonder what Mr. McCain was thinking when he made the lobbyist a senior foreign policy adviser in 2007. Americans have had enough of overseas adventurism, regime change, and the fear-mongering associated with the "war against terror." Attaching his aspirations to stale, failed policies of his party's neoconservative fringe might be a good way to secure the GOP base but it hardly seems the ideal way to win the confidence of an American electorate disillusioned by a war based on lies.

Americans have grown tired of that tune, and Mr. McCain would be well advised to find someone who can whistle another.

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