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?
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.