Words worthless to halt aggression

(London, Oct. 6) The mistaken belief that clever diplomacy was a substitute for force of arms led to Athens’ defeat by Sparta, according to the ancient Greek historian Thucydides. Two thousand years later the French statesman Cardinal Richelieu- himself a master diplomatist- observed that diplomacy was useful only when it was the “velvet glove adorning the mailed fist.” Finally we recall the 19th century German Chancellor Bismark who famously stated that “ the great questions of the day are decided not by speeches in the Diet but on the battlefield by Blood and Iron.”

These ideas may sound harsh to some contemporary ears but they remain highly applicable in our very imperfect modern world, as the Russian invasion of Georgia reminds us yet again.

Russia’s aggression has rudely shattered illusions and highlighted unpleasant truths worldwide.

Prominently revealed in the wreckage is the terminal disunity of the European Union. While French President Nicholas Sarkozy flew to Moscow to appease Vladimir Putin- reminding many of Neville Chamberlain’s infamous flight to Munich to appease Adolf Hitler- the Presidents of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Ukraine flew to Tbilsi to support the embattled President of Georgia.

Besides revealing the stark divide between “Old” and “New” Europe this sad scenario puts a final end to EU dreams of being a coherent diplomatic and military power on a par with Russia, China, and the United States.

Thoughtful commentary across Europe is now realizing the EU is trapped between its ongoing hostility to its nominal American ally and its newly revived fear of Russia’s imperial ambitions. Equally clear is the fact that answers to these challenges are different in virtually every member state and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

The major lesson here is that diplomacy and the attendant speeches in the U.N., European Parliament and U.S. Congress are utterly useless absent a credible determination to impose serious consequences on aggressors.

Just as Hitler correctly perceived the flabbiness of the Western democracies at the time of Munich, so too did Putin calculate that he would face no serious consequences for his invasion of Georgia. Also like Hitler, no one should believe that he sees Georgia as Russia’s final territorial acquisition.

The hard lessons that Europe is relearning have considerable implications elsewhere in the world and are highly relevant to the choice Americans will make in the upcoming Presidential election.

Within the coming year the United States will face important decisions regarding the next chapter in Iraq and Afghanistan. Similarly the nuclear confrontation with Iran may reach critical mass.

As their first debate illustrated, Senators McCain and Obama have starkly differing worldviews and approaches to the projection of American power around the globe.

While Obama ritually insists that “all options are on the table” and casually repeats a willingness to send U.S. troops across the Pakistan border, absolutely everything we know about him and the Democratic Party he now leads strongly suggests that the preferred options favor talk over action. These include deference to the U.N., the World Court, the E.U., and “world opinion” generally. He worries that the U.S, is not “liked” and believes this should be corrected by a multilateral approach to just about everything.

When asked how he would handle Russia, Iran or other tyrannies Obama’s usual response is “tough, direct diplomacy." As Hillary Clinton pointed out he has a “naïve belief in the efficacy of sitting down face to face with dictators."

What exactly would he say to them? Does he really believe that his breathtaking eloquence would persuade Putin to leave Georgia, Ahmadinejad not to exterminate Israel, or Kim Il-Jong to cease his nuclear program? Would he be willing to actually threaten them with consequences, even if he lacked the full backing of the U.N., E.U. etc.?

McCain is much more like Truman or Reagan: Utilize diplomacy when helpful, but always be willing to take forceful action when needed. Seek allies whenever possible, but be prepared to go it alone when vital American interests are at stake. McCain’s motto as he noted in the debate is that of his hero Theodore Roosevelt who said “Speak softly and carry a big stick."

The worldview, policy inclinations, and attitude toward their country of these two men is as divergent as their life experiences. Not within living memory has a Presidential election presented Americans with a clearer choice. ---------------- William Moloney’s columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, and Rocky Mountain News.