Hillary Clinton's best anti-Obama ad came to be known as the "3 a.m. phone call." It stoked voter worries that in the event of an international crisis, the first-term junior senator from Illinois might be out of his depth. On Aug. 8, the White House phone did ring, alerting President Bush that the Soviet Union, um, that is, Russia, had just sent columns of tanks and armored personnel carriers across the internationally recognized border of Georgia (formerly the Soviet Socialist Republic of Georgia), a tiny, democratic, America-friendly, Western-leaning country in the Caucasus mountains.
It was a near perfect laboratory test -- the sort that real life rarely provides until it's too late -- for how the two nominees for president would respond to an international emergency. (It also tested the current president -- more on that in a moment.) Sen. Obama flunked. His first response was to urge restraint upon "both sides" -- that is upon the rapist and the rape victim.
A couple of days later, Obama strengthened his condemnation of the Russians (and withdrew his admonition to the Georgians), but then betrayed the soft, weak reflexes that characterize the leftist wing of the Democratic Party to which he belongs. The answer to this blatant and brutal violation of Georgian sovereignty was to -- anyone? -- alert the United Nations. "The United States, Europe and all other concerned countries must stand united in condemning this aggression, and seeking a peaceful resolution to this crisis," Obama said in a statement. "We should continue to push for a United Nations Security Council Resolution calling for an immediate end to the violence. This is a clear violation of the sovereignty and internationally recognized borders of Georgia -- the U.N. must stand up for the sovereignty of its members, and peace in the world." Well, yes, and lions should lie down with lambs, but back in the real world, the United Nations has never been able to stop a conflict the parties did not wish to suspend. And since Russia holds a veto, no resolution from the Security Council would be possible. As Claudia Rosett of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies put it: "U.N. mediators can't even protect the dissident monks of Burma or the opposition in Zimbabwe, let alone a small country trying to fight off single-handed an invasion by the Russian army."