The National Catholic Review
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Who Lost Russia?

Did the Russian invasion of Georgia succeed because the American president was preoccupied with the Beijing Olympics? So suggested a Wall Street Journal editorial that elicited a sharp response from the White House, which in turn was the subject of a Washington Post story about divisions among neoconservatives.

But the Bush administration, like its predecessors, has long been tone deaf to Russian trends. The Russian attack was as predictable as the Georgian move against the Ossetian separatists was injudicious. In the face of Russian opposition, the administration recognized the independence of Kosovo—a bad precedent for unilateral recognition of breakaway states; and within days of Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia and Russia’s intervention, the administration signed a controversial antimissile treaty with Poland.

The Bush I, Clinton and Bush II administrations all failed to deal wisely with the emergence of a post-communist Russia. They failed to heed Churchill’s maxim: “In war, resolution; In defeat, defiance; In victory, magnanimity; In peace, good will.” Each administration confused Russia’s interests with American dominance. Russian feelings of loss and shame following the failure of communism, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the ensuing economic crises were never seriously assuaged. If effective policies had been found to ease Russia’s liberalization and more discretion demonstrated to alleviate the fears of Russia’s neighbors, the lure of autocratic imperialism might not have been so great for Russia and American leverage so weak in the ongoing Georgian crisis. The question is not who lost Georgia to a newly assertive Russia, but rather who, in the critical post-Soviet years, failed to win the hearts and minds of the Russian people and so facilitate the transformation of their institutions.

One Last Question

Voters who have closely followed the presidential race had a bit of déjà vu during the recent candidates’ forum hosted by Pastor Rick Warren at his Saddleback Church in Southern California. Though Pastor Warren asked both Senator McCain and Senator Obama to give original answers rather than tidbits from their stump speeches, most of the candidates’ responses were typical and reflected their very different but by now familiar styles. In response to Pastor Warren’s questions, Mr. McCain told stories; Mr. Obama responded like a professor. Many in the audience seemed to like Mr. McCain’s simple yes or no decisiveness. Others, perhaps believing that the world is colored in shades of gray, liked Mr. Obama’s appreciation for nuance and complexity.

For the most part, Pastor Warren did a better job than most television interviewers, asking clear and direct questions about a range of policy issues. He also asked both men a number of questions about their theological views and personal faith. Such questions are not new in the 2008 campaign. Both Democrats and Republicans have been asked similar questions on everything from the inerrancy of Scripture to the power of prayer. Yet it is not obvious that such questions are relevant or even appropriate. The public clearly has a right to know the views of the presidential candidates on all matters of public policy, many of which also involve profoundly moral questions. But do we need to know, as Pastor Warren asked, what their greatest personal moral failings are or how they view the salvific character of Jesus Christ?

Harbinger Penguins

Some of God’s creatures are so endowed that they easily capture the human imagination. Dogs, cats and horses come immediately to mind. So too do bears. Smokey Bear, the fire-prevention icon, is a revered national symbol. Knut, an abandoned polar bear cub, made for a successful season at the Berlin Zoo.

Among the birds, surely the penguin, with its preposterous gait and formal attire, elicits human affection as easily as it slides through cold Antarctic waters. It now may be serving as yet another harbinger of the environmental chaos we could be facing.

The Magellanic penguins of Antarctica breed in colonies in the extreme south of Argentina and Chile and then head out to sea, northward, to find fish. Overfishing has depleted their food supply. This year’s changes in ocean currents and increased cyclonic activity due to global warming have driven them off course, and even further north. Many of them were victims of petroleum pollution off Uruguay and in the offshore Campos oil field of Brazil. In a weakened condition due to exhaustion, hypothermia and immunity depleted by exposure to pollution, they were washed ashore in northern Brazil. While some penguins have always gotten lost, and been found as far north as San Salvador de Bahia. Only 20 did so in 2001. This year the number is 25 times higher, and 10 percent of those were washed ashore dead.

Brazil will airlift the survivors back to Antarctica and Patagonia, as it does every year. This year, though, it is as if the penguins came with a warning to the whole world that we, as stewards of God’s creation, must do more to head off an impending environmental catastrophe.

Comments

John McShane | 8/26/2008 - 8:46pm
Pertaining to the thought: "Who Lost Russia?", I wonder when was Russia won? The Politik-Russia has been consistent since the success of Stalin. He demonstrated that efficient elimination of "problems" achieved desired ends. Paper conventions never were a limit upon dark powers. The West's acquiesence to the "polite" face of Politik-Russia only has allowed the "organization" to solidify within the 'new world order'. Thinking back to Yalta when FDR was compliant thru subsequent American and European political operatives, with the exception of Reagan, the Russian ethos has always exercised its heavy hand to consolidate and solidify power, knowing that in all probability the most significant reaction of the West will be to talk and write about it.
Edward J. Hahnenberg | 8/26/2008 - 4:19pm
This administration has been roundly criticized for its go-it-alone policy which led to the Iraq war. Yet the main players in Europe have now embraced the common sense policy of prevention of terrorism with the U.S. That this Bush administration has been tone-deaf to Russia is nonsense. Russia was one country that Bush tried to engage in personal diplomacy with Putin. The Georgian move into its Russian-leaning provinces was indeed a provocation of the Russian bear; however Russia's response was that of a bully. It is correct to say that Putin is the dictator of a weak democratic state, and, in that sense, Bush misjudged the former KGB leader. Poland has suffered so much under Soviet domination that it is no wonder they want their freedom defended by the U.S. Iran is a threat to all of Europe, the eastern European countries included, and a defensive non-nuclear missile defense system in Poland is a common sense move. As for Kosovo, its right of self-determination is a fundamental principle of global self-governance. To suggest that Bush was distracted by attending the Olympics suggests that your editorial staff is as biased as any secular liberal media's.
joseph kiernan | 8/25/2008 - 3:25pm
Barack Obama's ums and ehs may sound professorial to our editors. To me they sound like ums and ehs. The content just isn't there for Sen Obama; and being (or mimicing) the speech of a university don just isn't going to change that. Sometimes there is a whiff of fresh air (or rather an emergence from vapidity) as when he said essentially that knowing when life begins is beyond his paygrade. The comment is stupid, arrogant, and really not on target--our presidents (and we Catholics know) need to have an answer to this question. My question for Sen Obama would be: have you ever talked and really listened to a smart person who didn't agree with you and your left-wing friends. Because if you did your comments on life, on economics etc would be much more balanced and actually maybe, just maybe nuanced!
Patrick Eicker | 8/22/2008 - 5:23pm
You say about Russia "Russian feelings of loss and shame following the failure of communism, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the ensuing economic crises were never seriously assuaged." In what warrens is such psycho-babble actually believed?
MARIAN GRAY | 8/22/2008 - 5:00pm
This is so obviously slanted as is most oif the drivel. The money i spent for this mag was wasted as it is merley a rag.
LEONARD VILLA | 8/22/2008 - 10:40am
I don't recall Rev. Warren asking either candidate about "the salvific character of Jesus Christ." Both candidates mentioned Christ on their own. Nor were all the answers "typical." Obama made the remark concerning abortion that it was "above his paygrade." McCain came out decisive and clear instead of doing the "maverick Republican dance" pandering to the media and liberals. Also the anecdotes from his captivity by the communists were anything but "typical."

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