Commentary Magazine


Beat Georgia Down

If you’re an enemy, we’re sorry. If you’re a friend, you’re sorry. Two days after Hillary Clinton told India to take it easy on all that industry and economic dynamism stuff, Joe Biden tells Georgia, still occupied by Russian troops, to quit whining and accept impotence like a good U.S. ally. 

Vice President Biden told this nation’s leaders Thursday that they would never be able to use military means to recover territories lost in last year’s war with Russia, and urged them to do more to deepen democratic reforms, a senior administration official said.

That’s not mere meddling. That’s what Michelle Obama might call “downright mean.” If you take Biden’s words as policy, that is. There are two other possibilities. First, Biden is being Biden, letting the muse guide him off the reservation into the land of incoherence. Second, Obama is being Obama, counterbalancing the pro-Georgian line he took with Putin last week against its opposite so that when things go kablooey he can test the political winds, refer back to one of his two faces, choose a direction, and cite his consistency.

The smart money is on that second option. Barack Obama likes to buy time, label real choices “false choices,” and remain unfettered for as long as possible by things like policy. The administration is, in short, commitment-phobic. Which is a problem if you’re in Russia’s “traditional sphere of influence,” given Vladimir Putin’s indefatigable commitment to restoring the Russian superpower. Similarly, it’s a problem if you’re Israel and your neighbors are committed to your eradication. Obama is buying time that isn’t exclusively his.

To be sure, Georgia has a way to go on the democracy front, and pushing for reforms is a good thing. But even on that issue, the administration is all over the map — literally. In Georgia and Ghana, the U.S. will tell you what you need to do (and withhold assistance in the process). In Cairo or China? Eh, who are we to say? I’ll say this for Smart Power: It’s impressively malleable.