Tuesday, August 12, 2008

After Taking A Deep Breath

I will make my position clear. I was swept up a bit in the whole Georgian/Russian war fever a bit, partly out of a sense of solidarity with the tiny nation stranded in the Caucusus Mountains, sandwiched between Mother Russia and Iran, attempting to keep its sovereignty and integrity intact in the face of internal dissension and the ever-present threat of military intervention from its much larger neighbor to the north. I never once thought the US should intervene, God forbid. I also realize that extending NATO membership, or even the promise of eventual NATO membership, to Georgia was foolish in the extreme. Risking a general European war with Russia over a Georgian border dispute is ridiculous in the extreme; the Russians, in all probability, understand that, even if hawks in the United States pushed the alliance in that direction, the alliance would crumble before the Europeans would agree to anything as stupid as war with Russia over something like that.

Gregory Djerijian has a wonderful piece at The Belgravia Dispatch that does two things quite neatly. First, it explains the strategic nonsense that has been our current policy toward Georgia (rhetorical support, including promises never meant to be kept, keeping alive my own belief this is more like Hungary 1956 than Czechoslovakia 1938).
Look, all of this would have been stupid and deeply flawed policy, but at least morally defensible, if we meant to actually defend the Georgians. But we don't, and never will, as this would mean a war with Russia. We've had a tough go of it fighting small militias and tribes in Iraq and Afghanistan, so even McCain would pull back from such unbridled folly (though doubtless some imbecile will pen an op-ed in coming days about the need for NATO airstrikes on Russian forces should they attack Tbilisi).


Meantime, a Georgian soldier tells a U.S. reporter in the same piece: "Write exactly what I say. Over the past few years, I lived in a democratic society. I was happy. And now America and the European Union are spitting on us." They are, aren't they? They had no business making the cheap promises and representations that were made. No business on practical policy grounds. No business on strategic grounds (though I guess it got Rummy another flag, near the Salvadorans, say, for the Mesopotamian "coalition of the willing"). And now our promises are unraveling and nakedly revealed for the sorry lies and crap policy they are, with the emperor revealed to have no clothes, yet again. This is what our foreign policy mandarins masquerade about as they play policy-making, in their Washington work-stations. It's, yes, worse than a crime, rather a sad, pitiable blunder.

A perfect synopsis of the reality, versus our innate desire to "do something".

Second, the article paints in grim detail the dangers of a McCain Presidency in the face of events such as have transpired over the past weekend.
An honorable man who served his country well, it is clear [McCain's] time has past and his grasp on the most basic foreign policy calls we'll need to make in the coming years is very tentative indeed. He'll be surrounded by second-tier 'yes-man' realists and residual neo-con swill, few with any ideas worth pursuing if we mean to take the national interest seriously with sobriety and freshness of perspective. So let us help him exit off-stage gracefully, as he served his country with dignity when called upon, but let us not sacrifice our children's future to ignorants with deludely romantic notions of empire. Been there, done that. Indeed, we have a President who has announced a pre-emptive doctrine which allows us to, willy-nilly, instigate regime change when and where we deem appropriate. Who are we to lecture Putin now? What standing do we have to do so? And what parochial and self-satisfied myopia has us indignantly thinking we are some unimpeachable arbitrer of right and wrong in the international system after the disastrous missteps of the past eight sordid years?

With the Russians having halted at the northern city of Gori, in what seems to be a message that is both reassuring and threatening, it seems the time is ripe for serious diplomatic work. This is a situation that is a classic international military/political situation (hardly a "crisis"; sometimes even wars aren't crises) calling for serious, credible diplomats.

Which removes most members of the Bush Administration from the equation. I think we will be sidelined in this by the Europeans (Pres. Sarkozy of France is currently in discussions with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin), which is all to the good. Historically, the Russians have always had contempt for any other country that does not abide by diplomatic niceties combined with a realistic understanding of the forces at work in any situation (which is at the root of Stalin's comment, made during a wartime summit with Roosevelt and Churchill, in which an offer of arbitration for peace by the Vatican was rejected by the Soviet leader, who said, "How many divisions does the Pope command?").

This entire situation leaves our credibility, not just in the south Caucusus, but in the world in general, in even greater tatters than before. McCain's stupidity and blustering do not help the situation. Recognizing the reality of Russian power in the region, and moving forward on other issues requires people who have a sense not just of history, but of the reality of the limits of power, most especially American power. John McCain disqualifies himself from consideration because he refuses to admit that we can't "do something".

Virtual Tin Cup

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