Obama's Carter-esque reflexes

Why the Georgia crisis imperils Obama's pro-Israel support [blog].

us special 2 224 (photo credit: )
us special 2 224
(photo credit: )
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Earlier this month, in a curious instance of life imitating art, the "3 a.m. phone call" that Hillary Clinton made famous in her campaign advertisement (suggesting that Barack Obama was not ready to handle international emergencies) became all too real. On August 8, 2008, at around 3 a.m. in Washington, the story broke that Russia was bombing several sites in neighboring Georgia. Minutes later, Georgian president and American ally Mikhail Saakashvili announced that Russia was conducting a large-scale military invasion of his country.
How the candidates handled that call and reacted to the crisis may have a major impact on the upcoming US presidential election. Their reactions to the Russian invasion continue to be dissected for clues as to their respective instincts in international crises and understanding aggression, and the polls have since moved in McCain's direction. But perhaps overlooked is this effect: the ricochet from Obama's limp reaction may guarantee him a very poor showing specifically among Jews and pro-Israel voters.
Obama's pro-Israel support is already precarious. Between his years of embracing radical friends and institutions, his perceived softness toward anti-Semitic despots Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmidenijad, his internationalist deference to the foreign policies of the UN and Arabist European governments, and his refusal to condemn the Palestinian Authority's terror incitement and participation while simultaneously advocating Israeli concessions, pro-Israel voters are already wary of the prospect of an Obama administration. His statements in response to the Russia/Georgia crisis may serve as nails in the coffin containing his hopes for a strong pro-Israel vote.
Here was Obama's entire prepared statement, made eight hours after the reports of the Russian invasion hit the newswires:
"I strongly condemn the outbreak of violence in Georgia, and urge an immediate end to armed conflict. Now is the time for Georgia and Russia to show restraint, and to avoid an escalation to full scale war. Georgia's territorial integrity must be respected. All sides should enter into direct talks on behalf of stability in Georgia, and the United States, the United Nations Security Council, and the international community should fully support a peaceful resolution to this crisis."
Not a word about Russian aggression--violence was apparently a spontaneous "outbreak." Both sides are urged equally to show "restraint"-both aggressor and victim alike. Talk about "evenhanded" - only missing was a reference to the "cycle of violence" to make this statement indistinguishable from something Kofi Annan would say about Arab attacks on Israel.
Sensitive to the immediate criticism of the moral relativism of his statement, Obama later issued a statement more critical of the Russians. But his comments on the situation delivered three days later (interestingly, still condemning only Russia's escalation of attacks rather than the incursion itself) again betrayed his Kumbaya attitude toward foreign policy:
We should continue to push for a United Nations Security Council Resolution calling for an immediate end to the violence. This is a clear violation of the sovereignty and internationally recognized borders of Georgia-the UN must stand up for the sovereignty of its members, and peace in the world….Russia has acted while the world has come together in peace and athletic competition in Beijing. This action is wholly inconsistent with the Olympic ideal.
The Russians must be quaking in their boots. Obama has threatened them with a UN resolution (which Russia can stop with its veto), and-even worse--pointed out how impolite it was to invade another country now, in violation of the Olympic spirit. Instead, shouldn't Obama make statements of our values and interests in support of our democratic, pro-American ally-one with 2,000 troops fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with Americans in Iraq?
Voters who pay attention to the security of Israel are not amused. Framing the issue strictly in terms of "violation of sovereignty" and maintaining "peace in the world" is an approach with dangerous implications. Under this standard, how does Obama justify US interference in Afghanistan or Darfur?
How could Obama defend an Israeli action against Hizbullah, Hamas, or Syrian rockets-or an Iranian Holocaust-bomb? Anyway, how often has the UN lifted a finger to protect the sovereignty of its members-especially Israel? The UN won't even condemn the 8,000 cross-border rocket attacks on Israeli territory from Gaza, or enforce disarmament of an increasingly lethal Hizbullah, as required by the UN's own Resolution 1701.
Obama's staff was even worse. Instead of chastising Russia for invading and bombing civilians, his team criticized... McCain. Susan Rice, Obama's top foreign policy advisor (in line to become his National Security Advisor), went on Hardball to suggest McCain himself was responsible for some of the escalation of violence, accusing McCain of "shooting from the hip" and claiming McCain's "very aggressive, very belligerent statement" may have "complicated the situation."
Ignoring Obama's political baiting, McCain advocated a muscular response, proposing specific diplomatic and economic consequences for Russia. Interestingly, though Obama claims to model himself after JFK and even invoked his memory in his recent Berlin speech, it was McCain who made an "Ich bin ein Berliner" statement:
... [T]he thoughts and prayers and support of the American people are with that brave little nation as they struggle today for their freedom and independence. I know I speak for every American when I say to [Saakashvili], "Today, we are all Georgians."
Saakashvili quoted McCain (but, notably, not Obama) in his August 12 CNN interview, practically begging for American-not UN-help in the form of American peacekeepers and an American lifeline to the capital. "Who else," he asked, "can stand up for liberty in the world"?That's a good question. And the answer may depend on who becomes President. America's role in the world is not to be "evenhanded," but to take stands based on our interests, morals and values. Our democratic allies look to us in time of crisis, and know that few other allies can be counted on.
Supporters of Israel and other embattled American allies worry about what a watery Obama foreign policy might mean for the world. His lack of moral clarity, discomfort with America's role as leader and defender of the free world, and weak grasp of right and wrong in foreign hotspots is disturbing. It is Carter-esque, which invites aggression from troublemaking countries who act against our allies when they do not fear American repercussions. Obama's support in the pro-Israel community was already in enough trouble. In these past weeks, he may have squandered what was left of it.
Abe Katsman is counsel to Republicans Abroad Israel and Kory Bardash is co-chair Republicans Abroad Israel