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We Are Not All Georgians Now

We Are Not All Georgians Now

By Rod Dreher - August 26, 2008

"We are all Georgians now," John McCain said in response to Russia's invasion of the former Soviet republic.

We are? Spare me. You couldn't find one American in a thousand who could locate Georgia on a map, but the Republican hothead who would be president is ready to bind America's sacred honor to the place.And more than our sacred honor, our military might, too. Mr. McCain, a tempestuous Russophobe to the marrow, demanded that the U.S. accelerate efforts to bring Georgia into NATO, thus extending a trip wire for war with Russia to Moscow's southern border. Because, you know, having conquered Iraq and Afghanistan while barely breaking a sweat, we're rested and ready to let an adventurous Caucasus nation led by a nut shown on TV chewing on his cravat drag us into World War III.

You don't have to find Vladimir Putin a sympathetic figure to appreciate what the world looks like from a Russian point of view. Imagine that America had lost the Cold War and gone through a decade of economic and social collapse. During this time, a victorious Soviet Union had brought several Central American nations into the Warsaw Pact and was trying to fast-track Mexico's entry. Would we feel threatened?

One would have hoped Barack Obama would meet Russia's aggression with a more balanced, realistic response. Mr. McCain's reckless anti-Russian huffing and puffing sent a strong signal that a vote for Mr. McCain is, at least on foreign policy, a vote for a third Bush term. If there's one thing that makes Mr. Obama's knee-jerk liberalism on social issues tolerable, it's the thought that a President McCain would lead the country into more and worse wars.

Instead, Mr. Obama me-too'd his way into Mr. McCain's shadow, joining the call for Georgia's NATO membership to go forward. Thus did Mr. Obama prove himself to be about as useful as the congressional Democrats who, having come to power in 2006 promising to bring the unpopular Iraq war to a close, went on to give President Bush all the money he asked for to fight it.

What is it with the Democrats? Are they so afraid of being baited by the Republicans as cowards that they sign on to any foolish policy proposed by GOP jingoes?

Or is something deeper going on here? Andrew Bacevich, the Boston University professor of international relations, argues in his critically important forthcoming book, The Limits of Power, that on national security matters, there's no fundamental difference between the parties.

Dr. Bacevich, a military veteran and father of a soldier killed in Iraq, has distinguished himself as a conservative critic of the Iraq war and, more generally, what he calls the "national security ideology" governing U.S. foreign policy on a bipartisan basis. In his book, he argues that presidents and presidential candidates of both parties, in the post-World War II era, have won and maintained power marketing the belief that America is a providential instrument for the spread of righteousness throughout the world.

This ideology, broadly shared by the American people, "serves as a device for sharply narrowing the range of policy debate," he writes. Argue for the proposition that not every fight across the globe is properly America's, and you set yourself up for being called soft on tyranny. Who wants to vote for a squish? A poll out last week found that, 2-to-1, Americans believe Mr. McCain is better able to deal with a resurgent Russia than Mr. Obama.

Are Americans thinking through the implications of all this? In a must-see television interview with Bill Moyers (available at www.pbs.org/moyers/journal), Dr. Bacevich said, "What neither of these candidates will be able to, I think, accomplish is to persuade us to look ourselves in the mirror, to see the direction in which we are headed." That direction, he went on, is deeper into the hole of debt and foreign entanglements involving an overstretched U.S. military. We prefer to believe the romantic image of ourselves and our country and to deal with the world as we wish it were rather than as it is.

We are all Georgians now, said John McCain, whose approach to the crisis with Russia differs from his opponent's chiefly in vehemence. Most Americans endorse that confrontational stance. Note that less than 1 percent of Americans serve in the military, which would have to do the fighting and dying should the tie-eating Thomas Jefferson of Tbilisi decide to keep poking the nuclear-armed Russian bear. That's not a coincidence.

Rod Dreher is a Dallas Morning News editorial columnist. His e-mail address is rdreher@dallasnews.com.

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