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:
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.