John McCain offers an editorial expanding on his insistence that “we are all Georgians now” after the Russian invasion of the democratic nation last week. With the Russians now apparently on their way out, the essay reminds us that naked international aggression remains with us, despite the blindness some have about an “end to history” following the collapse of the Soviet Union. We face a future that requires leadership prepared to face these challenges, and that starts with recognizing that some world leaders can’t be trusted:
In the wake of this crisis, there are the stirrings of a new trans-Atlantic consensus about the way we should approach Russia and its neighbors. The leaders of Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Latvia flew to Tbilisi to demonstrate their support for Georgia, and to condemn Russian aggression. The French president traveled to Moscow in an attempt to end the fighting. The British foreign minister hinted of a G-8 without Russia, and the British opposition leader explicitly called for Russia to be suspended from the grouping.
The world has learned at great cost the price of allowing aggression against free nations to go unchecked. A cease-fire that holds is a vital first step, but only one. With our allies, we now must stand in united purpose to persuade the Russian government to end violence permanently and withdraw its troops from Georgia. International monitors must gain immediate access to war-torn areas in order to avert an even greater humanitarian disaster, and we should ensure that emergency aid lifted by air and sea is delivered.
We should work toward the establishment of an independent, international peacekeeping force in the separatist regions, and stand ready to help our Georgian partners put their country back together. This will entail reviewing anew our relations with both Georgia and Russia. As the NATO secretary general has said, Georgia remains in line for alliance membership, and I hope NATO will move ahead with a membership track for both Georgia and Ukraine.
At the same time, we must make clear to Russia’s leaders that the benefits they enjoy from being part of the civilized world require their respect for the values, stability and peace of that world. The U.S. has cancelled a planned joint military exercise with Russia, an important step in this direction.
McCain gallantly refrains from saying or even hinting, “I told you so,” but he has justification for saying it. He has spoken for years about the gathering danger of an autocratic, corrupt Russia becoming belligerent and strong based on Western financial support. Not even the assassination of an outspoken Putin critic in London woke many up to the nature of the regime in Moscow, nor the oppression of political opposition from Garry Kasparov. Only the tanks rolling toward Tbilisi made McCain’s case clear.
The world remains a dangerous place, and Russia isn’t the worst of the problems we face now. Countries like Iran offer similar regional dangers which could destabilize the entire global systems of trade and diplomacy. Bribing them with financial support without verifying serious political reform only puts us in the position of subsidizing corruption or oppression, and usually both at the same time. Instead of holding photo-op summits as empty substitutes for progress — as we did with Vladimir Putin for years — we need to get a lot tougher in dealing with autocrats, mullahcracies, and the like.
Georgia paid the price for our naïveté in dealing with Russia. Who will pay the price if we offer similar fecklessness with Iran in the next four years?