Today in Oslo there was an empty chair for the imprisoned Liu Xiaobo, and equally empty seats in the audience for the 18 gutless countries that didn't show up because of Chinese arm-twisting.
We'd expect those jammed in China's pocket ideologically or economically to cave. But think about what it means when Iraq and Afghanistan join Iran, Cuba and Venezuela on the list of no-shows. It means that these sovereign nations who exist solely because America sent its troops to kick Taliban and Hussein butt - and who aren't beholden to the Chinese since they feed at the trough of American taxpayer dollars - made a giant, symbolic "screw you, America" gesture. Karzai and al-Maliki gave us the global finger, and by doing so they raised their guilty hands in favor of repression.
Whether you supported the invasions of Afghanistan or Iraq or not, it's impossible not to be enraged by this craven behavior. If anything, new democracies should be expected to the loudest voices in defense of free speech and a free press. But of course, these aren't new democracies at all, they are new regimes wrapped in gaudy State Department and Presidential praise - hollow and deceitful language wrapped around a rotten core of corruption.
It is notable as well that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, two American "allies" as the president repeatedly says, were also notably absent from Oslo, joining the proud company of Russian, Iraq and Kazakhstan
So now we know even more than we did. The combination of America's sacrifices in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the brutality of China's treatment of Liu Xiaobo, weren't enough to bring these two countries to Oslo. The stunning moral vacuum in Baghdad and Kabul requires only one response, and that should be the swift and accelerated removal of American support.
If the White House wants to argue that we can't pull out because we're worried about Chinese influence - Viet Nam redux - then the President should be honest enough to tell us that (and not wait for the next Wikileaks to reveal the actual geopolitical strategy behind the policy.)
To continue to argue that our military presence in Afghanistan, and our "support" presence in Iraq are there to support two fledgling democracies is an insult to our intelligence, and a dangerously misleading elevation of their post-invasion virtues.
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