“Or what?”

“The power of moral suasion is minimal.  Talk is cheap, and everyone knows it.”
Saturday, August 16, 2008

President Bush is fond of telling other countries – Russia, for example, in the context of its invasion of Georgia sovereign territory – that they should or shouldn’t do this or that, often intimating that he is personally offended by their behavior.

In deference to President Bush who is a particularly poor speaker, his counterparts through history and contemporaries in other countries may be more eloquent, but no more effective.  The simple rule, if you’ll pardon the dangling preposition, is that countries will do what they can away with.  The power of moral suasion is minimal.  Talk is cheap, and everyone knows it.

Who cares what President Bush, or we or world opinion thinks?  Does anyone believe for a second that Prime Minister Putin gives a you-know-what about how we react, that he can’t anticipate our rhetoric, and doesn’t discount the effect of our shock and alarm to zero?

Consider the following excerpts from President Bush’s comments on the subject which he delivered Wednesday, August 13, 2008…

The United States of America stands with the democratically elected government of Georgia. We insist that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected.

We are concerned…

We are concerned…

We are concerned… [So he began 3 consecutive paragraphs.]

We expect Russia to meet its commitment to cease all military activities in Georgia, and we expect all Russian forces that entered Georgia in recent days to withdraw from that country.

To which Prime Minister Putin responded, “Or what?” and returned, without missing a beat, to the business of invading and occupying somebody else’s country.  Why?  Because he can get away with it.  Because he, and others at other times and places including Washington now and then, believe that the benefits from what they are doing significantly outweigh any negative consequences.  It’s just that simple.  It’s not about civility, humanity, not simple kindness or even some more practical construct such as the The Golden Rule.  These leaders are driven by the audacity, the confidence that comes from knowing that there are no meaningful penalties to hold them in check.  Nor am I suggesting that there should be.  This blog is about words, not bullets.

“Oooooo.”  Tell the truth now, are there any of you reading President Bush’s rebuke who feels intimidated or ashamed, who as the leader of your nation would be inclined to change course, to say, “Oh, my gosh, President Bush.  I had no idea,” and withdraw your troops before accomplishing your objective?

Some day, when capitalism in Russia is in the position to demand a real democracy, maybe then the Russian people won’t go about invading other countries in the absence of a clear and present danger.  Until then, are we going to war with Russia over this incident?  Of course not.  Are we going to risk a single American life in defense of the people or nation of Georgia?  You’ve got to be kidding.  Are we going to stop being nice to Russia?  Not really, and they wouldn’t care if we did.  Maybe put an embargo on the sale of Nike products and Doritos?  I doubt it.

Do the government and people of Georgia seriously expect us to come to their rescue?  Well, if they did before, they certainly don’t now.

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