Today’s editorial about Georgia

With Mike gone, I’ve taken up the task of occasionally writing editorials on national and international issues (I say "occasionally" because our editorial emphasis remains as always on South Carolina). So it is that I offer for your discussion the one I wrote for today about Russian aggression in Georgia. Here’s the link, and here’s an excerpt…

… Aw, it was all so good that I couldn’t pick an excerpt. Here’s the whole thing:

Russian aggression
turns U.S. focus
to true global stakes

THERE IS A STRAIN of naive isolationism that has been woven tightly into the American character since the birth of the nation. Insulated by oceans from Europe and Asia, occupied with our own pursuits of happiness, we have through most of our history wished the rest of the world would just take care of itself.

This has been true on the political right as well as on the left. George W. Bush promised as a candidate not to engage in “nation-building” (and his frequent bungling of that task post-9/11 might be seen as a backhanded way of keeping that promise), while Democrats still repeat the post-Cold War mantra, “It’s the economy, stupid!” We prefer to view the rest of the world in simple terms, from the rare need to respond to naked aggression (think the 1991 Gulf War, World War II) to the occasional opportunity to show charity (think the Somalia relief effort, before that day in Mogadishu), or as spectacle (the Olympics).

But the world is more complicated than that, and demands our full attention, and our complete engagement on all fronts — economic, military, humanitarian, cultural and diplomatic. The world was more interconnected than George Washington wanted to face even in his day (as we quickly learned from the Quasi-War with France, and the War of 1812). And since 1945, the United States has been not only the world’s mightiest power, but its most interconnected — whether we want it to be or not.

Last week, a Russia still dominated by an ex-KGB man yanked us back to that mode. Russia’s swift and remorseless move to crush a U.S. ally that had tried to assert control over two disaffected provinces was a direct challenge to U.S. complacency, and a stark warning to other former Soviet republics and satellite states that they had better reconsider their steady drift toward the West, or else.

A resurgent, oil-rich Russia has for some time moved resentfully from emulation of the democratic West toward pursuit of its lost superpower status. Add to that China’s determination to go far beyond dominance in Olympic gold medals, toward an economic and military hegemony that is within the reach of its phenomenally dynamic economy and vast supply of human capital. Both countries have the potential, and apparently the will, to pose challenges to the United States and other liberal democracies that will make Iraq and Afghanistan seem like minor irritations.

America’s first response to the Georgia incursion was to realize just how little it was prepared to do about it. The second response was to send in U.S. troops to provide humanitarian aid, an assertion of soft power that nevertheless drew a line in the sand, evoking the Berlin Airlift.

But this is not the Cold War. This is not Czechoslovakia in 1968, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asserted. Nor was it either of the other U.S. presidential election years in which Russia used force against its neighbors, in Hungary in 1956 or Afghanistan in 1980. (Today, for instance, oil wealth and control of natural gas supplies are the new “nuclear deterrent.”)

But in this election year, what is at stake goes so far beyond our internal obsessions about celebrity or even such serious domestic concerns as health care. And yes, it goes far beyond Iraq. And it will go beyond Georgia. The selection of the next president of the United States should be about who will lead us more wisely through the global challenges we have not even yet foreseen.

Sen. McCain, Sen. Obama — we’re listening.

6 thoughts on “Today’s editorial about Georgia

  1. bud

    I find it fascinating how so many people get it so wrong. It is simply not true that threats from abroad, be they from the Russians, terrorists or anyone else in a foreign land is a greater threat than domestic concerns. NHTSA just released a report that showed over 41,000 people died in traffic crashes last year. Medical mistakes cost another 90+ thousand. Murders and suicides add another 30,000+ to the gravediggers burden. But pundits continue to state without hesitation that threats from abroad should be the leading concern to the voters. I say bunk. Medical care, traffic crashes, domestic violence and disease are far more of a concern than the events in Georgia. They are just not as spectacular.

  2. Brad Warthen

    It’s not about threats, bud. It’s about how we conduct affairs with the other six billion people on the planet. That’s the main concern of the federal government, the main thing it can do that the states can’t. When we elect a president, we are electing the person who conducts and/or oversees those affairs for us most directly and immediately. It is clearly the greatest part of the job description. Always has been, always will be.
    Of the other matters you mention, one is clearly the province of the states — highway safety. I’ve never seen a federal highway patrol trooper, and don’t ever expect to.
    So it is with murders and suicides as well.
    Health care SHOULD be a federal concern because of the demands of economic scale. Unfortunately, the federal government doesn’t do what it could most usefully do in that area, and neither presidential candidate is proposing that it do what it should. And even if they did, that would not overshadow the president’s role with regard to other nation.

  3. Mike Cakora

    Whether one is a fan of globalization or not, the reality is that more of our essential raw materials and products are coming from foreign sources. That’s not necessarily good or bad in economic terms, but it is a matter of concern when the international scene turns turbulent. Some folks — I’m pointing at bud — like to think that domestic matters are of primary importance, but it’s not wise to ignore the impact of foreign events on domestic issues.
    F’rinstance, some folks have noted that increased oil demand in China and India have driven US gasoline and diesel prices up a bit. US demand is down, folks are driving less, and that should make bud feel all warm and fuzzy because there will be fewer accidents. My point here is that international events have a noticeable impact on domestic economics.
    Paying more for fuel means that some folks have to put off needed healthcare. That too should make bud happy because fewer doctor visits means fewer medical mistakes. This is a win-win, not?
    I do think that candidates for the office of president of Vespucciland should be required to come out against murder and suicide. There’s something funny going on here because I can’t recall any candidate doing so. Bud’s got a great point on this and we should all thank him for bringing it up.

  4. bud

    Some folks — I’m pointing at bud — like to think that domestic matters are of primary importance, but it’s not wise to ignore the impact of foreign events on domestic issues.
    I don’t disagree with that. And I don’t mean to minimize the importance of foreign affairs. I’m just suggesting that when it comes to the threats to our health and even survival the really significant ones are likely to be home grown and pretty mundane.
    Mike, your flippant comment amount the reduced number of traffic deaths from higher fuel costs actually is spot on. Deaths in SC YTD are more than 100 fewer than for the same period in 2007. Isn’t it a good thing that 100 more people are alive today that otherwise would not?
    Brad, highway safety does, in deed, have a very important state component. Yet both local and national government entities play a very large roll in keeping our roads safe. The national government sets standards for vehicle safey (air bags, seat belts) as well as for the roads. Most of the funding for the interstate and primary system comes from federal taxes and the feds use that funding to coerce the states into adopting safety standards for things such as seat belt and DUI laws.
    I would suggest that our choice for POTUS should be based on weighting their credentials about 80% domestic issues/20% foreign policy.

  5. Lee Muller

    Since Obama has no credentials of accomplishment on domestic issues, we have to look at his nutty ideas and seditious friends.

  6. Brad Warthen

    I must confess that might favorite thing about this editorial was getting to mention the Quasi-War. I hadn’t had occasion to say anything about the Quasi-War since I was in Dr. Skeen’s class about the early American republic back in college, well over 30 years ago.

    Ah, halcyon days! Proust had his madeleine. I have the Quasi-War.

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