Jonah Goldberg

During Obama's make-believe presidency, we've heard about bold action, about the courage to talk to dictators. When faced with a real "3 a.m. moment," Obama - who boasts roughly 200 foreign policy advisors - proclaims, "I'm going to get some shave ice."

Of course, this is a bit unfair. Obama had planned his well-deserved vacation for a long time. But presidential vacations are always well planned - and often interrupted.

Indeed, President Bush's jaunt to the Beijing as a "sports fan" should also have been cut short the moment tanks started crushing a country he'd proclaimed a "beacon of liberty."

By Monday, Bush and Obama were playing catch-up to Sen. John McCain, who grasped the gravity from the start. McCain, whose support for Georgia is long-standing, immediately denounced Russian aggression and demanded an emergency meeting of NATO and Western aid to the fledgling democracy.

The geopolitical significance of the Georgia crisis at this stage is hard to gauge. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may not wish to revive the Soviet Union, but he clearly seeks to restore Russia's imperial stature. And Item One on that agenda is to crush Georgia's independence and smother hopes for NATO's expansion to Russia's "near abroad."

The significance for Obama is easier to calculate. He has been playacting at being presidential in order to convince voters that we live in a "new moment" with "new challenges" - and that he is the new man to deal with them.

Yet this moment calls for more than playacting, and Obama looks lost without a presidential script. Events in the Caucasus - and in Beijing - suggest that the times aren't so new after all. Two powerful antidemocratic foes are once again flexing their muscles when America seems weak and distracted.

That is no new challenge but a very old one. Perhaps this isn't a time for a novice spouting grand rhetoric about a new page in history, but for someone who's actually read the pages of some old but still relevant books. Perhaps this is not the time for playacting.

Perhaps it is not the time for body surfing.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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