Obama’s silence echoes in Tbilisi

Obama is silent on Russian aggression.

Russia has annexed the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Ossetia in all but name, and the international reaction is furious. All of the alphabet-soup IGOs, Georgia’s friends in Europe, the United States, George W. Bush, John McCain, and Hillary Clinton have condemned the actions.

Two weeks ago, in advance of the NATO Bucharest Summit, Georgia’s friends in Europe, the United States, George W. Bush, John McCain, and Hillary Clinton issued statements supporting Georgia’s bid for a Membership Action Plan.

Hmm, who is conspicuously absent from these lists? Barack Obama harbors no apparent animus to Georgia; in a display of his mastery of issues concerning Slovenia, Cyprus, and Bulgaria, Obama noted that NATO “failed to provide the young democracies of Georgia and Ukraine with membership action plans [MAP]” (NATO did, however, promise those countries that they would one day join NATO—an unprecedented action, and an under-recognized victory for U.S. diplomacy). Obama supported the Senate resolution calling for MAP for Georgia. None of his key foreign-policy advisers are noted Russophiles. Zbigniew Brzezinski told a Georgian newspaper that an Obama administration’s stance on Georgia wouldn’t change, and that the U.S. “will not recognize fraudulent independence” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. (Mark Brzezinski is an Obama national-security adviser, and more of a Russia expert than his father.)

Obama’s style is cautious, and he’s not given to empty, grand provocations. All well and good. But Georgia is a stalwart ally of the United States, and is in crisis. A go-slow approach does it no service, as Russia establishes facts on the ground. Democrats like to talk about restoring America’s standing in the world, and getting foreigners to like us. But foreign relations isn’t high school and Obama isn’t campaigning for “most congenial.” The tinfoil-hat brigades already think he’s itching to take over Russia, Inc. Winning the endorsement, however reluctant, of the Russian foreign-policy establishment won’t help in November.

Update: A couple of days later, this went up on the Obama campaign site. Statement of Senator Obama on Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. It’s entirely adequate and appropriate.

Statement of Senator Obama on Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty

Chicago, IL | April 21, 2008

Statement on Georgian territorial integrity and sovereignty and Russian President Putin’s decree establishing legal ties between Russia and the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia

Georgia is a sovereign country, a member of the United Nations, and a close friend of the United States. I welcome the desire by Georgia, as well as Ukraine, to seek closer ties with NATO.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decree establishing closer governmental and legal relations with the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, without the approval of the Georgian government, is deeply troubling and contrary to Russia’s obligations as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Putin’s declaration falls short of recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries, but these pledges of closer ties to these two regions threatens the Georgian government and emboldens the secessionist forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has offered to negotiate substantial autonomy for these regions. Negotiations between the Georgian government and regional leaders, fully supported by international organizations and responsible governments, are the right way to proceed. By contrast, Russia’s unilateral decree outside of legal United Nations procedures and principles is fundamentally counterproductive.

Since the end of the Cold War, Republican and Democratic administrations have supported the independence and sovereignty of all states of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. We must continue to do so. The advance of democracy and peace in the region is a remarkable achievement that cannot be undone by unilateral acts designed to undermine the territorial integrity of democratic countries like Georgia.