Monday, August 11, 2008

Is It Like Munich Or Hungary?

So the Russians have invaded Georgia. It seems this war in the Caucusus has brought out the rough beast in the hearts of our ultra-hawks. God knows they just want more and more war, always with other people doing the fighting and dying. Listening to Bill Kristol is a sure way to fail. Yet, the situation is a complex one, and the Administration is doing the exactly wrong thing in its rhetorical approach to the war.

I do not think most Americans are as "concerned" with this situation as others, and certainly not as concerned as members of the Administration or various foreign policy experts. I believe they see it as a far-away war in a land with a strange name (Abkhazia?). The involvement of the Russians is certainly of note, yet the stakes for the United States are minimal. Our diplomats, in concert with those from the European Union and the UN are doing what they can, which is about all that can be expected right now.

Yet, members of the Administration are doing their best to undermine our credibility and to create a bellicose atmosphere vis-a-vis Russia. For the life of me I can't imagine what they are thinking. Like Woodrow Wilson after the sinking of the Lusitania, who said that while the US remained neutral, encouraged anti-German feeling by saying that the American people might not be able to remain neutral in their hearts, Cheney, for example, is insisting that the Russians should "pay" for their military aggression against Georgia.
"The vice president expressed the United States' solidarity with the Georgian people and their democratically elected government in the face of this threat to Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Cheney's office said in a statement.

It said Cheney, in a phone call on Sunday, told Saakashvili that "Russian aggression must not go unanswered, and that its continuation would have serious consequences for its relations with the United States, as well as the broader international community.

Andrew Sullivan notes that comparisons to the Czech crisis of 1938 are being dragged in (of course; these people are one-hit wonders). My own sense is that official rhetoric of this kind is reminiscent less of the fake Sudenten crisis than of another historical parallel - the 1956 Hungarian uprising against the Soviet Union.

When the Hungarians rose up, Voice of America encouraged them. President Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (of whom Winston Churchill said, "He is the only bull who carries his own china shop with him.") hinted that military support from the United States might be forthcoming if the Soviets attempted to end the coup by force. The Soviets, of course, invaded, and their mighty tanks rolled in to Budapest. The United States response? Apparently the Hungarians misunderstood our words. We were offering moral encouragement only. I think it goes without saying the Hungarians felt betrayed, and members of the Eisenhower Administration couldn't, for the life of them, figure out why.

I think sympathy for the Georgians is fine. Official neutrality, however, rather than talk of reprisals - obviously, at this point, merely diplomatic - is far more realistic. Any talk of military support (shoot, even flying home the Georgian troops in Iraq was a really stupid thing to do) is meaningless.

If this sounds like I have changed my mind since Saturday, I do not believe this to be so. I do not believe Russian adventurism in Georgia, or anywhere else, is a good thing. Yet, I am not sure what if anything we can do except register our disappointment.

Virtual Tin Cup

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