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    August 11, 2008

    Obama's "moral" world vision goes instantly blind

    Posted by: Kevin

    Georgia_horror_2 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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    1. Tim on Aug 11, 2008 5:55:47 PM:

      Well I disagree with Kevin's idea that the president did nothing, seeing how he immediately called a meeting with Putin who is also in Beijing, airlifted 2000 troops for Georgia, and publicly stated support for georgia's territorial integrity. (diplomatic for you can't annex it in chunks). It is also well known that he had specifically told the Georgian president not to get into a shooting war with Russia because he couldn't win it.

      However I did like McCain's response, versus Obama's no response, and find it telling that Obama didn't make a bigger deal over it considering the long term implications for the world and region. But I guess I'm just used to total democratic complacency in the face of hostile aggression.

    1. Kevin on Aug 11, 2008 6:09:53 PM:


      It's unclear what difference Bush's chat with Putin had, and what's more, as the war has escalated Bush has been AWOL and in no hurry to get back to Washington, nor has he showed any public diplomatic deference to the suffering in Georgia and the gravity of the crisis - his only public appearances after his statement on Saturday have been goofy, grinning photo-ops at the Olympics, and a smiley-wave departure at the door of Air Force One. Yet another bewildering moment in this bewildering presidency.

    1. Tim on Aug 11, 2008 7:16:49 PM:

      well let's just say that being closer to the conflict than he would be in Washington probably doesn't hurt. I'd like to see a larger US commitment to Georgian sovereignty and a clear red line. But it's a small country and unless you are willing to shoot down russian planes what are your expectations of US involvement. Maybe this will galvanize Europe to do something other than simply talk about diplomacy.

    1. Ian on Aug 12, 2008 8:14:59 AM:

      So, what would McCain have us do - go to war with Russia? Also, there appears to be somewhat of a conflict of interest in that McCain's foreign policy advisor, Randy Scheunemann is a paid lobbyist for Georgia. McCain has no moral authority here and hopefully will never have any authortiy in direction of US foreigh policy.

    1. Tim on Aug 12, 2008 11:24:25 AM:

      Uh moral authority and advisement are two separate things. Moral authority means that you have faced a particular temptation and over come it. Advisement means that someone has given you information about a situation that you must in turn evaluate and act upon it. Like Obama, even though he's been advised by Rev Wright to hate white people and feel entitled because he is black, I do not assume that he believes it entirely. Would you go so far as to say that Obama cannot address race relations because he's been advised by Rev. Wright, a "paid, moralist, adviser"?
      At some level most of our politicians have been advised by people who were paid in some way to get their message to a member of governments ear. We judge our politicians on what they do with that advice.

    1. JC Allen on Aug 12, 2008 12:36:40 PM:

      Now that Russia is rich with oil money nothing can stop them. However, sanctions should be made against them, and they should be stripped of G8 status. Also the future olympics should be cancelled there as well. Missle defense systems need to be built up in Europe. Putin sees what a patsy Obama is and can't wait for him to become president. This is what we get when someone talks about beating swords into plowshares...

    1. Geena on Aug 12, 2008 5:37:14 PM:

      >I've been to Georgia. I've walked the streets of Gori,
      >I've sat with average people in Tbilisi and listened to
      >their dreams of a better life, and their love of the
      >United States

      This says a lot about you as a person, nice passionate post.

    1. mademark on Aug 12, 2008 7:09:29 PM:

      Excellent post. It's one thing to support Obama out of a desire for change. It is another thing to think that the Putins of the world are as eager for peace and healing. It seems to me a particularly naive American self-obsession to think that the rest of the planet hopes for a President Obama for the same reasons his supporters do. While they may hope he wins, it is for very different motives. Given his lame response to the invasion of Georgia (timed to coincide with the Olympic games), I have to question whether he is the leader best suited in a time of peril. Oprah's support means nothing to Iran and Russia and those who may well see on Obama presidency as a green light to aggression. Whie I have serious issues with McCain, I have to wonder if he, or even Hillary, woud be better suited if the missiles fire

    1. theGayEditor on Aug 12, 2008 7:38:13 PM:

      Very interesting post and comments. For anyone interested in one perspective of the events, I recommend the following:


      I didn't take time-- or have time, unfortunately-- to read the entire page or to check the credentials or political leanings of those who posted it, but the presentation and ideas seemed well-analyzed and well-presented as I skimmed it. I hope it's appropriate.

    1. Ian on Aug 12, 2008 8:33:42 PM:

      The sad truth is that the US can not take any substantive action, and we seem to have lost sway with NATO. A sad event for Georgia, regardless of your politics.

    1. Tim C on Aug 13, 2008 9:17:53 AM:

      As I was reading about the Russia-Georgia war in it's early stages, I had visions of the Sudetenland. Russia has obviously been planning this for a while. For two years they have been issuing Russian passports to residents of South Ossetia and Abkhazi, and monetary support to separatist groups in both Georgian provinces is traceable back to Moscow. Then when a resurgent, democratically elected Georgia government moves to reassert Georgian control in the two provinces, Russia invades, ostensibly to protect the citizens of Russian ethnicity living there.

      What this really is is a warning shot aimed at any former Soviet republic that gets too cozy with the West. Putin has a burning desire to be the Czar of all Russians and to reassert Russian control over eastern Europe and central Asia. The Russians have also never been pleased with the petroleum pipeline that runs Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia, competing with Russian oilfields in the same region.

      So, what will the West do if Russia continues to flex its oil dollar-fueled muscles? When Russia begins to pressure Ukraine, how will the West react? Will it move to support the former Soviet republics or will they be far away countries populated by people of whom we know nothing? How far are we willing to push to keep West-friendly, democratically elected governments of nations bordering Russia from being forceably pulled into the Russian sphere?

    1. Scott on Aug 13, 2008 10:07:09 AM:

      Kevin, just what is you want Obama to do? You sound as if you expect him to return to Berlin, re-rally the masses and march on the Russian motherland. Uh, someone from Berlin tried that once.

      The conflict is series and I'd rather our next commander in chief respond with steely eyed reason, not passion. We've had enough foreign policy by gut in the past 8 years. I don't understand where McCain's saber-rattling leads us except to two unacceptable conclusions: we make promises we can't keep to allies (as it would seem the Bush admin has done in this case) or we go to war with Russia. I can't see how either is in the best interests of the U.S.

      Cooler heads need to prevail here. Passion doesn't need to rule.

    1. Tim on Aug 13, 2008 10:33:39 AM:

      Scotty your position makes me yearn not to know you, since your obligations mean so little to you. Your, "steely eyed reason" seems predicated on doing nothing since you immediately write off attacking or denouncing (as McCain has done). What are your remaining options? A UN resolution, (wait Russia will veto it) Asking Europe to send a letter? offering citizenship to georgian refugees?

    1. Scott on Aug 13, 2008 4:29:58 PM:

      You actually think a US led war with Russia is in our best interests? Shouldn't we finish the war with the enemy who attacked us on our soil before starting another war with a country that hasn't fired a shot at us?

      And I do not trust another Republican administration to be able to competently manage another war. For all his alleged "experience" McCain simply can't get his facts straight, whether its about Sunnis or Shiites or the names of former Soviet states. I wouldn't trust him to manage the major war that a fight with Russia would entail.

    1. Kevin on Aug 13, 2008 4:43:31 PM:


      You're blinkered. It isn't a choice between war and nothing; sorry to disappoint you (I guess). It's a choice between the American President drawing a bright line against the global threat of dictatorships run amok, and leading an effort to build a just order in the world, or a would-be President who gave the speech he gave in Berlin, and then has the gall to fax in his response to this outrage, and has acolytes like yourself saying: "He meant to do that", Pee-Wee Herman-style.

      Give me a break.

    1. Tim on Aug 13, 2008 5:17:47 PM:

      So there is never a reason for war? even horrendous war? This was the thinking that left half of the worlds populations to die under communism last time, Have we decided it was worth it now?
      I think McCain would be more competent with troops, if from nothing else than he attended a military academy and won't be learning on the fly. If you want to talk about the facts why don't you send Obama a US atlas and remind him how many states we have.

    1. Scott on Aug 13, 2008 5:21:35 PM:

      Both you guys aren't making any sense and you must feel you have weak, emotional arguments because you begin your responses with childish taunts like "you're blinkered."

      McCain's rhetoric and saber rattling if followed to it's conclusion would mean the possibility of armed conflict with Russia. Saakashvili is already responding to McCain's rhetoric by calling for deeds, not words. What do you think he means?

      I would agree with your goal of building a "just order" in the world, but don't think that in this case rattling sabers, thumping our chest and reliving the cold war is the way to do it. Quite the contrary, I think it destabilizes that effort.

    1. Kevin on Aug 13, 2008 5:53:21 PM:

      LOL well, if one is blinkered, one is blinkered. You didn't read McCain's response or the Asam/Holbrooke article if you think there is saber-rattling going on. Too bad for you.

      I know what I believe on this issue -- this was a watershed moment in global politics -- and I felt that way long before I looked into the candidates' responses. I haven't endorsed McCain; I am only glad one of the candidates agreed with me on this. I'm not the one carrying water for a candidate here, trying to call Obama's disgraceful out-to-lunch reaction as some kind of planned-out "cool headed" strategy. The Russian invasion of Georgia was a moment of stark moral clarity and Obama and Bush failed to recognize it. Period. (I'm only glad that Bush is limping late to the party in the last 24 hours with meaningful statements at long last.)

      McCain's response was very detailed and on the whole rational -- about punishment, consequences, building new alliance structures (like the League of Democracies) and setting a standard -- and not at all one which would lead to war. Quite the opposite - his comprehensive proposal would avert another war there, and put life back into the US-European alliance as a force for peace through strength and a diplomatic tool of great utility. He's been saying these things about Russia for a long time, and he is being proven right.

      Asam and Holbrook also point out that western military intervention is out of the question here, and their blueprint for a response matches McCain's in tone and in fervor. McCain's response says nothing remotely close to military action, and you obviously didn't read it or cared to. That's lazy, Scott. Think, question - don't quote talking points.

      What's childish here is this rush to defend Obama's galling failure on this issue simply because he's your man. I have no man in this -- just a belief, borne of knowing Georgia as a country and knowing what is going on in Russia. In case you didn't know, there was history before the Iraq invasion and the Bush Administration. And the United States and its allies effectively countered Russian aggression (sometimes well, sometimes disastrously) for decades without firing a shot at its soldiers. We need a President who at least knows how to govern a superpower democracy, and knows a watershed moment in world politics when he sees it, even from his Hawaii hideaway or from a sandbox in Beijing.

      I sincerely wished with all my heart Obama had proven his mettle over last weekend. But you have to face reality -- he blew it, and in the context of the Berlin speech, it was disgraceful.

    1. Matt on Aug 13, 2008 6:14:35 PM:

      A naked and increasingly deranged imperialist invades another sovereign nation that comprises democratically elected leaders who are favorable to the interests of the United States and Europe.

      Scott thinks it's a bad thing to point out how wrong that is and that perhaps there should be consequences for such behavior.

      Stop the planet; I want to get off.

    1. scott on Aug 13, 2008 11:42:40 PM:

      Matt -- no, I simply said a war with Russia is not in our best interests. And I'm not against "consequences" but I don't think bringing NATO into this, which is a warlike move if we really mean it, is going to make the world a safer place for Democracy of America. And if we don't mean it, it's a move that destroys US credibility which acheives the same undesireable end. So feel free to get off the planet you're on and come back to planet Earth, where the United States does not have the resourses to successfuly fight wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia and Iran. On its own. At the same time.

      Tim -- I never said "there is never reason for war." You are projecting your stereotype of somone who disagrees with you about military action to me. I'm not talking generalities. I'm talking about Russia's -- wrongful -- invasion of Georgia.

      You guys might do well to remember the first Republican President's reaction to the Trent affair. While the two incidents aren't directly similar, that president knew which battles he had to spill American blood for.

    1. North Dallas Thirty on Aug 14, 2008 12:23:22 AM:

      And if we don't mean it, it's a move that destroys US credibility which acheives the same undesireable end.

      And, by his non-reaction reaction, Obama has made it clear that he doesn't mean it when he talks about the need for the US to support and defend sovereign nations that comprise democratically elected leaders who are favorable to the interests of the United States and Europe -- because doing so might upset the people who attack them.

    1. Scott on Aug 14, 2008 9:58:29 AM:

      Obama has strongly condemned the invasion and his position mirrors the Bush administration's. There is no non-reaction reaction, just a failure of knee-jerk hawks to realize the cold war is over. Or maybe a desire to return to the cold war. Can we please focus our resources (and blood) on winning the war on Al Queda? Russia not attacking us and is not planning to take over the world. Putin is not a good man but he is not Stalin.

      John McCain's own words demonstrate, in jaw dropping clarity, the house of cards the GOP has built for US foreign policy From today's WaPo:

      "I'm interested in good relations between the United States and Russia," he said. "But in the 21st century, nations don't invade other nations.''

    1. North Dallas Thirty on Aug 14, 2008 12:50:09 PM:

      Obama has strongly condemned the invasion and his position mirrors the Bush administration's.

      First, since Obama and the Democrat Party have stated that the Bush administration is always wrong and knows nothing about diplomacy or international relations, the latter is quite hypocritical of Obama supporters to use as an argument.

      Second, Obama's "strong condemnation" consisting of a "UN resolution" and "UN peacekeeping forces" is rendered meaningless by the obvious facts; peacekeepers cannot be deployed by the UN unless the Security Council agrees, and, as Tim pointed out above, Russia holds a permanent position on the Security Council with the power to veto any peacekeeping action.

      Hence the "non-reaction" reaction -- or, as more poetically put, Obama's statement is "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing".

    1. Strict Scrutiny on Aug 14, 2008 2:04:27 PM:


      I'm with you. I believe Obama has spoken on this issue and am satisfied with his response. I also agree that Bush's cowboy diplomacy has been a disaster for this country and am hopeful that a President Obama will be more thoughtful in his approach and response to global crises.

      Russia needs to be held accountable for its barbaric actions, but our options are limited. Kicking Russia out of the G-8 is a good start. But aside from condemnation and diplomatic rebukes, I don't know what other options we have.

    1. Tim on Aug 15, 2008 10:08:45 AM:

      "Russia needs to be held accountable for its barbaric actions, but our options are limited. Kicking Russia out of the G-8 is a good start. But aside from condemnation and diplomatic rebukes, I don't know what other options we have."

      Drawing a red line laying down the law and saying we aren't going to stand for Russia dismembering Georgia. Move in troops around Tblisi, start distributing aid and say that any shot at american troops will constitute war. Fearing to use power for the common good is acquiescing to the use of power for personal gain. Russia can't afford a war either, thats why they picked a weak opponent and kicked the shit of them. Soft power is no power, a man with a gun can kill a hundred pacifist, what can a hundred pacifist do?

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