Thursday, August 14, 2008

Russia, Georgia (Not that one), and the US....

Repost from The Athens News and Editor Terry Smith:

ONE OF THE MOST persuasive arguments against reckless aggression in foreign policy, and mistreating enemy combatants, is that you risk squandering your own moral authority.

In the past week, we’ve seen the results of this twice in our country’s international affairs. First, we had the spectacle of President George W. Bush, the immoral authority behind Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and military kangaroo courts, scolding the Chinese on human rights.

Then, we had trigger-happy VP Dick Cheney lecturing the Russians about aggression in their own backyard. More than anyone else in the current administration, Cheney provided much of the energy behind our unilateral, poorly planned, bogusly justified invasion of Iraq.

Neither China nor Russia deserves a pass on human rights or aggression. I just wish our country could stand tall on these issues, and actually exert some credible influence. But without moral authority, that’s pretty hard to do.

ONCE AGAIN, WHERE foreign policy is concerned, the U.S. broadcast media aren’t covering themselves with distinction. In the days after the Russia-South Ossetia-Georgia conflict erupted, much of our TV news set aside the actual fact situation on the ground, and replaced it with a tidy plot that fits their preconceived notions of right and wrong in the world. As many of us know from watching the Iraq drama, the Bush administration works better when it can read from such a script.

Ask a dozen people on the street who shelled South Ossetia’s capital late last week, producing civilian casualties, and who sent its troops into the disputed republic. Eleven out of the 12 will probably quickly answer, “Russia.”

Then ask your dozen whether the people of South Ossetia want to be a part of Georgia, or prefer to be autonomous, with strong ties to Russia. Once again, most will probably get it wrong and assume that the South Ossetians are being subjugated by the Russian Bear. In reality, most South Ossetians fiercely prize their independence from Georgia, and rejoiced when Russia unceremoniously threw the Georgian military out of their territory.

But if you’ve been listening to Fox News, MSNBC or CNN over the past several days, you probably wouldn’t know any of this stuff. They might have mentioned it in passing, but for the most part their focus has been on the aggressive Russian response to the original Georgian attack.

So when Cheney, Bush and McCain get all hot and bothered about the Russians, they’re assuming that most Americans are unaware of the actual background and chronology of events. (Or maybe they really don’t know themselves.)

I’m not saying that the Russians are without guilt in this crisis — by their brutally disproportionate response to Georgia, they’re telling the world that they will no longer stand for anyone else asserting authority on their borders. But if we’re to respond credibly and productively to world crises, it would be nice if we address what actually happens, rather than whatever trumped-up television drama that our news media and leaders come up with.

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