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The crisis in Georgia, 9/11, and the lessons of gratitude

August 10th, 2008 - 7:52 am

Ponder, if you will, the crisis in the far-off country of Georgia, where as I write Russian troops have occupied and taken control of the break-away province of South Ossetia and Russian planes have reportedly bombed civilian as well as military targets in several other locations throughout the country.

Now take a moment to think back to September 21 or thereabouts in 2001. The dust from the Twin Towers, destroyed a week earlier by al Qaeda, had most certainly not settled. Still, the initial shock of the attacks was evolving. I do not know that there have been any polls on the subject, but I would be willing to wager that most Americans, even many Democrats, were glad that George W. Bush, not Al Gore, was the Commander in Chief in the weeks and months that followed the 9/11 attacks. The war in Iraq had not yet provided a new rallying point for anti-Bush sentiment; the virulence of the attacks showed what we were up against; and although Al Gore, poor thing, had not yet entered the tertiary stage of Green Mania, his association with an administration that had stood by for 8 years and done nothing while al Qaeda mounted ever more deadly attacks against American interests had not been lost on most adults. In the autumn of 2001, your common or garden variety liberal might not advertise the fact–he might, indeed, have been ashamed of his feelings–but in his heart of hearts he thanked his lucky stars that the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was George W. Bush, not Al Gore. (Perhaps I should add that I am not talking about special-needs liberals: you know, college professors, reporters for The New York Times, Reuters news chiefs who could not distinguish between terrorists and freedom fighters, et al. Such people, early sufferers from Bush Derangement Syndrome, believed, in the words of the classicist Mary Beard, that “the United States had it coming,” and they would have preferred Humpty Dumpty to George W. Bush.)

There is a contemporary lesson in that widely shared feeling of gratitude, a lesson about leadership. Observers differ widely on the international significance of Russia’s latest imperialist adventure. I regard it as a dangerous–well, “precedent” isn’t quite right, since we have been down this road before with the Soviet Union and Georgia. I find the fact that the chief Russian spokesman (not to say master choreographer) has been former President Vladimir Putin, not his hand-picked successor Dimtry Medvedev, almost as disturbing as the brutal military incursion that has left (so far) hundreds of civilians dead. Other observers seem to believe that the crisis is overstated. Time will tell. But think back to the reaction to 9/11 and then contemplate how the two major candidates for the U.S. Presidency have so far reacted to the situation in Georgia. According to a Reuters report, John McCain said that “Tensions and hostilities between Georgians and Ossetians are in no way justification for Russian troops crossing an internationally recognized border.” McCain also called on “Russia to immediately and unconditionally withdraw its forces from the territory of Georgia.” A sober statement about the crisis (“The consequences for Euro-Atlantic stability and security are grave”) occupies a prominent spot on the McCain campaign’s home page.

For his part, Barack Obama called for “talks among all sides and said the United States, the U.N. Security Council and other parties should try to help bring about a peaceful resolution.” Obama looked forward to “an international peacekeeping force” under “an appropriate UN mandate.” As of this writing, there is nothing about the Georgian crisis on the Obma campaign’s home page.

To recap: John McCain forthrightly condemns Russia’s behavior and demands that Russia withdraw unconditionally. Obama wants to turn the mess over to the UN.

Meanwhile, the presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have issued a joint statement condemning the Russian incursion in Georgia.

McCain endorsed the statement:

I strongly support the declaration issued by the Presidents of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and their commitment that ‘aggression against a small country in Europe will not be passed over in silence or with meaningless statements equating the victims with the victimizers.’

I am not sure that Obama has responded directly to the joint declaration, but John Hinderaker at Powerline notes the difference between McCain and Obama, quoting this statement about the crisis from the Obama campaign: “It’s both sides’ fault–both have been somewhat provocative with each other.”

On 9/11 we were grateful to have a leader who could distinguish between friends and enemies and who was not so crippled by moral relativism that he believed that victims should be equated with their victimizers. In 2008, we have a choice between 1) a man who knows evil and repudiates it and 2) a man who believes that there is “fault on both sides” and that discredited “progressive” institutions like the United Nations are better equipped to deal with disputes among sovereign nations than the nations themselves.

Which would you choose?

Update: Powerline reports on a “pathetic” new statement from the Obama campaign. “Obama,” Powerline’s Scott Johnson notes, “has made a big decision. Obama has decided that it’s better to sound like John McCain.” [Thanks to "Zero" below for pointing out the broken link.]

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