Sunday, July 26, 2009

Biden "tough" on Ukraine, Georgia & Russia?

The above BBC article was written by Jonathan Beale and entitled, “Joe Biden, Tough Love Diplomacy.” I’ll quote a few passages and comment below them:

“. . . Teddy Roosevelt famously defined American diplomacy as "speak softly and carry a big stick". Mr Biden has his own doctrine: smile broadly and give them a prod.

“In Ukraine and Georgia he was among friends not enemies. So there was no need to prod too hard.

“Ukraine's President, Viktor Yushchenko, helped bring about the Orange Revolution. Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili was instrumental in his country's "Rose Revolution".

“Both men were at the vanguard of breaking from the bonds of communism and old-style Soviet corruption.

“The US vice-president smiled as he reminisced about the strides his friends had made. He was full of admiration for the way they had inspired the world (they love their technicolour revolutions in America).

“And after he had heaped on the praise, old Joe stuck one in the ribs. He made clear that both countries were in danger of losing their way.

“Ukraine's Viktor Yushchenko is now a deeply unpopular president. His enthusiasm to join Nato is not shared by his people. The country's economy has taken a dive.

“Mr Yushchenko may have once been poisoned by his enemies - his face still bears the scars - but now he is part of the poison that is damaging his own political system.

“In a speech in Kiev, Mr Biden accused his friends of posturing. He told them in no uncertain terms that they were behaving like children. . . “

“Tblisi, Georgia, would provide an even greater challenge. . .”

“In a speech to the Georgian parliament, Mr Biden listed Georgia's remarkable achievements - but . . . The government must be transparent, he urged, before stressing the importance of a free press and issuing a warning that no military option will re-unite Georgia with its separated territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

“But the toughest message of all was for America's old adversary Russia. . .”

“Vice President Biden rejected outright Russia's claim to a "sphere of influence" over its neighbours.

“Better ties with Moscow would not come at Georgia or Ukraine's expense, the vice president repeated time and again.

“And the US would support both countries' bids for Nato membership, if that was what they wanted.

“This trip was an attempt to prod some allies in the right direction. But more importantly it set out a few red lines for Russia.”


If Biden does indeed represent the views of the Obama administration; then this would represent maybe semi-tough diplomacy. There is a saying in America, but perhaps it originally came from Europe: “My family right or wrong.” At the family level, this meant that you were going to stick up for members of your family regardless of what they had done. This has been extended to the nation as well: “my country right or wrong.”

While Biden is saying the U.S. will stick up for Georgia and Ukraine, he isn’t quite saying “Georgia and Ukraine, right or wrong.” He is leaving some “wiggle room.” He is critical of both governments and both leaders; so while he says the U.S. will stick up for Georgia and Ukraine in joining NATO for example, he notes, if I read the Beale article correctly words to the effect that “Ukraine's Viktor Yushchenko is now a deeply unpopular president. His enthusiasm to join Nato is not shared by his people.” It is hard to tell where Biden leaves off and the Beale begins, but if Biden did say something to that effect, it has to soften Biden’s other statement that the U.S. will stick up for these two nations. Just who are they? Are they the people or the leaders and government whom Biden criticized?

What Biden said would not prevent Obama from moving in either direction later on. That is, if Russia were to invade either of these nations militarily, Obama could say to Russia, “we warned you not to,” and supply military aid to Ukraine or Georgia. On the other hand, Obama could say that Biden was speaking without Obama’s approval (Obama has disavowed other things Biden has said), or say that the leadership in the nation Russia is invading is not representative of the people. Obama could then express verbal rather than military disapproval.

This could be another case of Biden “speaking out of school.” But it could be clever diplomacy. In either case I didn’t find it as “tough” as Jonathan Beale does.

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