Secretary Clinton Talks Tough on Russia
4:15 PM, Jul 7, 2010 • By JOHN NOONAN
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is fresh off a goodwill tour to the Republic of Georgia, part of a larger effort to reassure a nervous eastern Europe that the administration's "reset" policy toward Russia won't come at the expense of Russia's democratic neighbors.
During a July 5 joint press availability with Georgian president Saakashvili in Tbilisi, Secretary Clinton hit all the right notes:
1) She confirmed that the Russian-occupied territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia were indeed occupied territories, saying that "President Obama and I and other American officials raise our concerns about the invasion and occupation with Russian counterparts on a consistent basis." Putin vociferously rejects the notion that thousands of foreign troops inside Georgia's borders are an occupation force. Clinton was right to acknowledge what's otherwise obvious to everyone outside of Moscow.
2) She clearly stated that America supports Georgian territorial integrity, and fully rejected the notion of Russian spheres of influence:
3) Further, Clinton openly condemned Russia's refusal to comply with the French-brokered 2008 ceasefire agreement (Moscow has actually increased troop levels in both territories since the August '08 conflict):
Though these were positive steps, Clinton's remarks were somewhat lacking, in that they were long on rhetoric and short on results.
For example, Clinton and Saakashvili were asked by a Washington Post reporter: "Georgian officials, on many occasions, have raised their concerns about what they say is great difficulty, or a de facto restriction on buying arms from the United States. So I just wondered if both of you could describe what is the situation now, in terms of selling arms to Georgia."
Saakashvili politely said there's an ongoing process to acquire weapons and minimized the problem. Clinton dodged the question, deferring to Saakashvili's remarks. But in reality Georgians are having a very difficult time acquiring the weapons they need--despite the fact that 1,000 Georgian troops are fighting alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
On another key issue, how to deal with the thousands of international displaced persons (IDPs) leftover from the '08 war, Clinton offered this rather tepid evaluation instead of a solution:
"Baited or provoked" into any actions that would encourage future aggression? That's a strange logic, odd to the point where it almost sounds as if Clinton is blaming the Georgians for being invaded.
It's wholly understandable that America's chief diplomat has to be diplomatic. Georgia is a sensitive issue and, as such, engaging Tbilisi does require a certain degree of caution. The problem here isn't necessarily what Clinton said publicly, but what she's failing to accomplish behind the lace curtain niceties of an official State Department visit. The fact is, Georgia is fighting shoulder to shoulder with the United States in Afghanistan, and--like any important ally--has a legitimate expectation that they'll receive some political and international top cover when Russia tightens the screws. To date, we've left them empty handed.
So while parts of Clinton's speech were praiseworthy, a few lofty statements about U.S.-Georgia friendship shouldn't be allowed to mask President Obama's serious--and potentially dangerous--foreign policy shortcomings.
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