Mixed messages from Washington

In a recent post, I credited the US for challenging the election of the government-backed candidate for President of the Ukraine, despite that country’s participation in the American-led coalition in Iraq.

That post was based largely on the strong words of Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said:

We cannot accept this result as legitimate because it does not meet international standards and because there has not been an investigation of the numerous and credible reports of fraud and abuse.

If the Ukrainian government does not act immediately and responsibly, there will be consequences for our relationship, for Ukraine’s hopes for Euro-Atlantic integration, and for individuals responsible for perpetrating fraud.

But Friday, Bush himself sounded more equivocal:

“There’s just a lot of allegations of vote fraud that placed their election — the validity of their elections in doubt,” Bush said. “The international community is watching very carefully. People are paying very close attention to this, and hopefully it will be resolved in a way that brings credit and confidence to the Ukrainian government.”

According to The Washington Post:

Bush’s comments appeared to allow for the possibility that the Moscow-backed candidate’s victory will stand, despite charges of fraud, and that the administration will have to work with him instead of his Western-leaning opponent.

I hope this doesn’t signal a change in policy– I suspect not. But when Ukrainian officials are paying close attention to every word coming from the Bush administration about the election crisis, this is not the time to be sending mixed messages.