Wednesday, August 13, 2008

In Search of Moral High Ground

So Russia's thumping of Georgia has been brazenly thuggish and starkly illegitimate—even granting that Georgia likely overplayed its own hand by a considerable margin. So what?

Now the United States ponders its options and finds them wanting. It seems the U.S., unable to mount a military, economic, or diplomatic response commensurate with unfolding events, can only resort to warning Russia that we'll be really really upset if it doesn't stop.

Indeed, in all the ways that presently matter (oil and gas resources, leverage with Iran, etc.) we, and the West, need Russia more than Russia needs us. What an interesting reversal of fortunes.

In trying to salvage something useful from this mess, we may as well regard it as what is sometimes called a "teachable moment," and take the opportunity to reflect on where we've been and where we now are.

Several years ago writer Ron Suskind famously reported an encounter with a Bush administration official, who dismissively sneered at what he termed the "reality-based community."

Said the official: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

If such neocon hubris feels absurdly arrogant while huddled around the cooling ashes of Bush's short-lived empire, we can only wonder that anybody bought it in the first place. It seems that Russia is now creating some reality of its own, whether we like it or not.

On what basis shall we object to Russian aggression? Dare we protest that Russia has illegally invaded a sovereign state, after having done so ourselves just five years ago? Shall we complain that Russia has fabricated or at least exaggerated the evidence that justifies its action? That a powerful nation bullying a weaker one is unseemly? Having vacated the moral high ground leaves us ill-positioned to say much at all. (Although it's worth mentioning that John McCain in fact had this to say: "In the 21st century nations don't invade other nations." And that leaves me speechless.)

The lessons seem clear enough. Might doesn't make right. The rule of law applies to everybody or to nobody. Unity in action beats going it alone. Consensus and cooperation are no less necessary for being difficult. What goes around comes around. Moral standing is precious.

Copyright (C) 2008 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved