Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Senator McCain: Define "Free Nations"

“Georgia, Georgia, no peace – no peace I find
Just this old, sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind” — Georgia On My Mind, Ray Charles

"But the Americans have no extra money. They have their own problems. They can provide financial assistance for two, three, four, or six months at most.” — Eduard Shevardnadze, former President of Georgia

Today Sen. John McCain enjoyed his own small Berlin moment with his “Ich bin ein Georgian” press confab.

It wasn’t as glorious as the Brandenburg gate. It also wasn’t even uttered in Georgia – whether in Europe or (as McCain would normally do a la his Obama Euro-trip shadowing, e.g. going to Berlin NH) whether in the U.S. in, say, Atlanta, Georgia. During a press statement made on the campaign trail in York PA, McCain said, “I speak for every American when I say … ‘Today we are all Georgians.’”

“My friends, we learned a great cost of the price of allowing aggression against free nations to go unchecked,” McCain added.

The last statement got me to wondering, in this world of nuanced politic-speak, what does Sen. McCain mean by free nations? How is that defined?

Does this mean nations that hold free elections? Before we get too far along, realize that Iraq used to hold elections as well, pre-American invasion. Did that imply that America was an aggressor on a free nation? Should that have gone “unchecked?”

“I don't want to go down in history as a man who allowed blood to be shed. ... I couldn't stand the idea of bloodshed, casualties.” — Eduard Shevardnadze, former President of Georgia

Obviously, I don’t think that was a true, openly democratic society. Unsurprisingly, Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath Party won every election and won them by landslide. That kind of gives signs that perhaps it wasn’t free will, but a coerced “free election.” Perhaps that aggression was warranted. Perhaps the same might be said if such aggression happened in other coerced democracies like Zimbabwe (home to Robert Mugabe, leader for life – elections be damned).

Sure, we’re all aware of official dictatorships and their immediate exclusion from the “free nation” club. But what about others that have “free elections” (quotation marks intended, not quoted), but whose “elections” are mere predisposed farce? Some of the U.S. allies have democracies that aren’t, really. Strategic places like Egypt or Uzbekistan, for instance. Would we be similarly blithe in ignoring aggression in those strategic, but pathetically contrived democratic sovereignties the way we expected others to do with Iraq when we went in?

If not, why not? We’ve established the precedent to aggression with these pseudo-democracies. Will we stand by if the people succeeded in unelecting Pervez Musharraf, are unsuccessful in ousting him, and encourage – say India – to come in and assist in their “humanitarian effort” (as we once referred to the Iraq incursion)? Or will we call that aggression?

Israel holds democratic elections, and any attack on them would be rightly viewed as aggression and not go unchecked. Gaza held open democratic elections as well, and in fact, so did Iran. In both cases, the people spoke – and surprised a lot of the conventional wisdom here in the U.S. No predictable dictatorships there.

So what would our response be to aggression in Gaza? What would our response be to aggression in Iran?

What would we expect from the rest of the world if the U.S. (under Bush/Cheney or whomever succeeds them) decides without provocation beyond intelligence reports (which defy the National Intelligence Estimate date, I might add) that we should declare war against Iran? Will that not be viewed as “aggression against a free nation?” If not, what is the distinction a free nation and a “free nation”?

If it’s simply “friends of the United States” that are “free nations,” and any unfriendly country – regardless of electoral politics – are declared “not free nations,” then it is arbitrary policy.

And if the United States expects to be so arbitrary in our consideration, then Russia will expect the same. This is not a thoroughly considered precedent from someone hoping to be president of the United States, the storied arbiter of fairness and humanitarianism on the planet.

“You know, to address crowds and make promises does not require very much brains. … I believe politicians should always remain realistic.” — Eduard Shevardnadze, former President of Georgia

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