August 11, 2008
Obama's "moral" world vision goes instantly blind
Posted by: Kevin
Only 18 days ago, Barack Obama told cheering throngs in Berlin that a resurgent America could be trusted by the free world to stand up for what was right again. In the city which America rallied its battered allies to save in the face of a determined and armed Russian blockade -- intent on starving the city into submission -- Obama said: "Sixty years after the airlift, we are called upon again. History has led us to a new crossroad, with new promise and new peril. ... Let us remember this history, and answer our destiny."
But the moment Obama faced a real moral test of the "change" he promises to bring to America's position in the world, he failed miserably - and dishonorably - as Russia once again wages war in Europe.
Over the weekend, what Richard Holbrook and Ronald Asmus (both high-level State Department officials in the Clinton Administration) rightly called "a watershed moment in the West's post-Cold War relations with Russia" erupted across the Republic of Georgia, as Russian infantry, special forces, naval ships and attack planes swarmed over its democratic neighbor and ally of the U.S. and the European Union. And in response, Obama could not have been weaker or less engaged than if he was a lame-duck president playing beach volleyball in Beijing.
Russia has been engaging in a deliberate policy of destabilizing not only its southern neighbor but other countries which left the Soviet Union and pursued active friendship with the West. While it doggedly jails or murders journalists and political opponents (at home and abroad), foments ultra-nationalist groups which beat, murder and intimidate "unfavored" groups (gays included) in its cities and accumulates more autocratic powers at the cost of individual freedom, the Russian regime has even tried to assassinate critical or unhelpful leaders, such as Ukraine's Viktor Yushchenko.
As most Russia experts in Washington of both political parties agree, Russia wants the democratically elected government in power in Georgia overthrown, and its move against Georgia was inevitable -- and from the scope of its ferocity, even down to the cyber-attack on Georgia's official internet portals, apparently well-planned. As the world looks aghast at the events there (deliberate bombings of apartment blocks far from military targets, a blockade of Georgia's coastline, attacks on its oil export pipeline, an expansion of its invasion far beyond Russia's stated reasons in South Ossetia), they wonder what the President of the United States will do about it, and what the two men seeking to lead the United States in November believe it all means.
The man who went to Europe and the Middle East on an obvious campaign swing only a few weeks ago issued a press release as dawn broke over the invasion, put up his feet and went on with his vacation in Hawaii. As the bombing widened far beyond the borders of South Ossetia, and the Georgian president resorted to begging on CNN for American support, Obama and President Bush -- both ostensibly on vacation in the Pacific -- were not seen or heard from after Saturday. And as the international airport in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi came under attack, and the bombing widened long after Georgia had withdrawn its forces from Russian occupied areas and called for a truce, the Bush Administration sent envoys to the region in concert with the European Union, but the president himself was still hard to locate, and Obama was still busy at the luau.
To his credit, John McCain's response was so robust that the Financial Times of London said it "upstaged" the sitting president's own administration, not to mention the Democratic nominee. It was not only the words he chose, but the manner by which he communicated -- like a President should: strongly, in clear moral terms, in person (not just by fax), repeatedly (three separate statements, and counting), and in extreme detail.
Where was the passion we (thought we) saw in Barack Obama's primary campaign as the man who would right the wrong-from-the-beginning U.S. policy in Iraq? Where was the man so brazenly adopting the suit and posture of John F. Kennedy on the home stump and in the capitals of Europe? Where was the moral foundation in a man who dared to tell the whole world they could rejoice if he was elected leader of the free world, because he would answer the call of freedom's destiny?
In the end, we are only left to wonder and scratch our heads about this man we dared to hope for and believe in. (I confess, I did, too, a bit, last winter.) We now see a man who has reversed course on so many positions, and promised much more than a man of such light qualifications has ever promised (cosmically and dimensionally more than the thin-resuméd Governor of Texas did in 2000), who seems less than eager to deliver anything but a speech.
I've been to Georgia. I've walked the streets of Gori, whose apartment blocks were bombed. I've sat with average people in Tbilisi and listened to their dreams of a better life, and their love of the United States for its undying support against Russian bullying during and after the Cold War.
They still haven't forgotten that in 1978, the Moscow government tried to stifle Georgian identity by taking constitutional steps to destroy its native language, sending 20,000 Georgians into the streets in a brazen protest against Brezhnev-era Soviet power. (Moscow backed down.) And they are quick to remind visitors that only a few months before the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square in Beijing - on April 9, 1989 - Soviet forces (ethnic Russian infantry, led by a Russian commander) gassed and shot at 4,000 Georgians protesting against Soviet rule in Tbilisi, killing 20 in the crowd and injuring hundreds. One unarmed teenaged girl was beaten to death by Russian soldiers as she tried to run - an event categorically denied by Russian media until a video of the attack was smuggled to the west and shown on television. So searing was the experience that the Republic of Georgia intentionally declared its independence on the anniversary of the Tbilisi attacks, in 1991.
And as Asmus and Holbrook pointed out, along with nearly everyone else in the western media this weekend, Russia's pathetic justifications for its brutal and illegal attack on Georgia are a page right out of Hitler's attack on Poland in 1939. After years of intensely provocative actions, including the issuance of passports to rebels in northern regions of unrest in Georgia, they now say they are moving to protect "their people" as the Tbilisi government tried to exert authority over its sovereign territory. This is yet another in a long line of Russian outrages, but one of extreme significance at this moment in history. As a state legislator, Barack Obama wasted no time taking a moral stand on Iraq. As the presidential nominee of his party, where is he as a horrifying and unjust war rages on the eastern edge of Europe?
The Georgian people -- and the Ukrainians, for that matter, not to mention the cowering dissidents in Russia itself -- remember how fragile freedom was only yesterday, and is becoming again, but when they look to us now they must be wondering if we do. They wonder if Barack Obama has even an inkling of it, or if George W. Bush is too tired and debilitated to care anymore.
So much for change we can believe in. And that "we" now includes the people of Europe.
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