Georgia/Russia: On the West’s rhetoric


” I have staked my country’s fate on the West’s rhetoric about democracy and liberty.”

— Mikheil Saakashvili, in this morning’s Washington Post

But that’s precisely the problem, isn’t it? What’s killing Georgia today — besides hordes of Russian soldiers and irregulars — is Western rhetoric about democracy and liberty, and the reluctance or inability of assorted peddlers of that rhetoric to check it, now and then, against reality.

I’d like to start there, as I continue my discussion with Andrew Coyne about the tragic events in Georgia over the past week. (My column is here. Andrew’s response is here. (It’s written as a rebuttal, but Andrew didn’t need to read me to know how he felt about this war. We just agreed earlier in the week to roll out our conversation this way.) Valuable background and reporting by our colleague Michael Petrou is here.)

I essentially think Georgia should be left, with great regret, to its fate. Expressions of outrage are entirely appropriate. Little else is. Andrew disagrees. He writes:

The notion that we should treat this as a one-off — that we should, as my Maclean’s colleague Paul Wells blithely suggests, cut Georgia adrift, or at any rate those parts of Georgia now occupied by Russia and its secessionist clients — is not one shared by, for example, the leaders of Ukraine, Poland, or the Baltic countries, all of whom hurried to Tbilisi to demonstrate their solidarity.

Really? Is that all it takes? Then I’ll be happy to hurry to Tbilisi to stand on a platform too, just as soon as I renew the passport I’ve stupidly let lapse since I was there in December. Because — and here we get into this business of checking rhetoric against reality — standing on a platform is all Saakashvili’s colleagues did. And yet in theory they could do so much more.

Cursory online research suggests Poland, Ukraine and the Baltics count 340,000 armed-forces personnel among them. All those countries participated in the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq, so they have a demonstrated belief in “coalitions of the willing” in those cases where longstanding multilateral organizations can’t get the lead out. So if my blithe suggestion that Georgia be cut adrift is really “not one shared by” those leaders, then one presumes they’ll send their soldiers, and not just their own sternly photogenic faces, to Tbilisi post-haste.

I mean, surely that’s what they’ll do — if words have any meaning.

Why don’t the countries that, in Andrew’s eyes, get this menace do what countries normally do in the face of an existential threat? Two reasons. The first, at the risk of being a dreary realist when principle is at stake, is that their armies are already stretched pretty thin. And not only theirs. I met three general officers from the U.S. in Afghanistan last autumn. Dan K. McNeill, then commander of ISAF, was one of them. All three cheerfully admitted that one reason they can’t do everything they want in Afghanistan is because their colleagues in Iraq have first call on the Pentagon’s resources. If the Americans are substantially tied down combating buddy from Kirkuk and Qalat with his homemade bombs, how are they likely to do against the remnants of the Red Army? If Canada is straining to carry its load in Afghanistan, if the former Warsaw Pact countries have been shocked at the burden they carry in Iraq and Aghanistan, isn’t it a bit glib to envisage taking a vacation from the long twilight battle against Islamism for a side trip to the Caucasus?

Of course, at some point armies do fight, whether they have the bodies and resources or not. That is the point of desperation: the point when a threat becomes existential, rather than being amenable to vague comparisons to existential threats of the late 1930s. This isn’t that, which explains why Saakashvili’s five colleagues left Tbilisi after they hurried there, departing with variations, in five different languages, on “Let us know how it works out.”

That’s my second point. An existential threat to a country is, generally, an invasion by a superior army. An existential threat to an alliance is an attack on one of its members that calls into question its logic and its members’ commitment. The latter test is way, way easier to meet than the former, which is why countries are — or should be — wary of recklessly forming alliances. That would be your lesson of 1914. Andrew asks: “Isn’t the point of collective defence to make it clear to any potential aggressor that force will be met with force — so clear as to prevent the initial use of force from ever arising?” That’s one point, sure. I’d suggest that another point is that collective-defence alliances shouldn’t wander around freelancing. Here’s a handy chart.


Georgia………….. No

Andrew wants to fix this chart by admitting Georgia and Ukraine into NATO forthwith. This is novel. I’m not sure what to make of it. It would help if somebody could produce the list of all the countries in the world that NATO is supposed to annex if somebody does something bad to them.

But let’s say we did extend NATO’s membership list into a live-fire war zone, an innovation which never occurred to the alliance’s founders. The Russians might well retreat. And if they didn’t? Stay and fight? Escalate all the way up to a nuclear exchange, if the Russians don’t stand down? That’s the kind of language Putin has used and so far he doesn’t often bluff. That’s why there is nothing blithe in my suggestion that NATO fight Putin if Russian tanks roll into Warsaw or Riga. It’s a terrifying prospect, and by the way it extends to Warsaw and Riga favours that NATO’s founders rightly calculated they couldn’t hazard.

But NATO will be no use to anyone, if that horrifying day ever comes, if by then it has already squandered its credibility by promising soldiers it can’t spare to countries that aren’t members.

Peter MacKay today cancelled joint naval exercises with Russia, and there is talk of booting Russia out of the G8. Sure. Fine. Expressions of outrage are entirely appropriate. They may even help, if Putin is less interested in pursuing this campaign than he seems to be. But Saakashvili cannot expect better than that. And it is desperately past time for somebody to tell him that, loud and clear.

That’s because Mikheil Saakashvili is the kind of guy who takes ‘maybe,’ and even ‘probably not,’ for ‘yes, absolutely.’ We know he was told by some (not all; sigh) in the Bush administration “not to engage Russia militarily,” but he did. We know that when John McCain said “We are all Georgians now,” Saakashvili promptly started urging McCain to move “from words to deeds.” We know he took U.S. humanitarian assistance as a decision to defend ports and bridges, which suggests a dangerous propensity to take wishes for reality.

This is the man who has staked his country’s fate on the West’s rhetoric about democracy and liberty — as he hears that rhetoric.


Georgia/Russia: On the West’s rhetoric

  1. Mr. Wells, your whole stance is that, if we do anything significant, the Russians will escalate, and they have more nerve than we do, so we might as well throw in the towel right now. This position is circular as well as weak.

    Now, I agree that the US (and note that the only country which might possibly do anything useful about this is the US – so much for soft power) has missed the boat on preventing this attack. However, there are many things which can and should be done which would annoy or upset Russia:

    Base missile interceptors in Poland and Czech Republic

    Move the main US military infrastructure in Europe from Germany to Poland

    Put US forces in other Russia-bordering states

    Ship weapons to Georgia

    US military provide humanitarian aid to Georgia

    Base US naval units in the Black Sea and the Baltic.

    And of course all the diplomatic stuff.

    The Russians have shocked people with this attack on Georgia (the degree of premeditation and provocation puts the lie to fools who say the Russians were just reacting). The border states are scared, and many many people are worried. (I’ll bet that even you are worried: doesn’t a French prime minister negotiating away the sovereign territory of a small ally, under threat of brutal force, strike just one too many historical echos?) This changes the diplomatic and strategic situation in many ways, and the Americans can take advantage of it.

    The Russians know full well that firing on US troops would lead to war, and they are much much weaker than the West. Once again, like in the 1980s, the world needs an American leader who is (maybe, just maybe) unstable enough to make the Russians fear him. A nice, rational, let’s all be practical about this, attitude will go nowhere.

  2. The public in the West simply does not care about protecting Moldova, Georgia, the Baltic States, Armenia, et al. They are not psyched for it. Russia has no official plan for world domination like they had in the 20th century. They’re just being mean to little people a long way away. For that, Spain is supposed to send tanks to defend Kiev?

    Mr. Wells is quite right: let’s do what we can to help Georgia and not promise more.

  3. Paul, two questions.

    1) You indicate indifferent support for kicking Russia out of the G-8. What’s your position on the other diplomatic responses suggested by the likes of Krauthammer – i.e., barring Russian entry to the WTO, suspending the NATO-Russia council, boycott the 2014 Olympics, and/or publicly declaring that the Saakashvili government will be maintained as a government in exile if Georgia is overrun?

    You continue to make a strong argument against direct military involvement, but surely that’s not the only option. Would you be amenable to these diplomatic responses, or do you oppose them as well?

    2) You say, basically, that we should avoid entangling alliances. (How very American ;) ) I wonder how far that principle applies. Do you think Canada should feel compelled to come to the armed defense of, say, Latvia or Estonia if either is attacked? Both are members of NATO – but only have been since 2004. Is that a check we oughtn’t to have written? If so, what about Poland or Hungary – members only since 1999? What about Turkey? What about Belgium?

    What, in other words, is your redline? As I say, you make a persuasive argument against military support of Georgia. I think you’re right. But if not Georgia, whom? Or are you advocating a total end to mutual defense guarantees?

  4. How does the NATO line item in the federal budget compare to something like, say, PromArt?

    Just asking.

  5. David, I won’t give a detailed answer to question (1) because details matter and I don’t know the details of all those arrangements. I’d be willing to consider a harsh diplomatic response. I don’t like Olympic boycotts — I think this Olympics is going rather well, with all athletes getting to play and the host country getting embarrassed several times a day. I don’t like doubling down on Saakashvili with this “government in exile” stuff. Frankly Ukraine’s democracy has been more publicly stressed since 2003 — and, not incidentally, has come out healthier than Georgia’s, where Saakashvili took an online subscription to the Wall Street Journal as his license to brutalize democratic political opponents. But the NATO-Russia Council thing is worth considering, as is the WTO thing. On the face of them. I have no problem with making it clear to the Russians that we’re really angry.

    On (2), I take all member states of NATO to be equal. In terms of redlines, to use your word, Tallinn is as red as, say, Cleveland or Lille. That’s a tall commitment, one I don’t want to squander. So I’m not about ending mutual-defense guarantees, I’m about taking them seriously, an argument I tried to make here and the Hilzoy perhaps makes more clearly:


  6. …and THAT Hilzoy perhaps makes…

  7. Of course we must agree in principle that an alliance, as such, must guarantee equal protection. And I’m all for honouring our treaty commitments. But, realistically, are the western Europeans likewise committed? Perhaps we need a serious high-level renewal of NATO’s aims from all member states. This Georgian conundrum comes right on the heels of Afghanistan, in which our NATO comrades have not been eager to participate equally. What does that mean in terms of eastern Europe – protecting current members and potentially extending the alliance to include Ukraine? We should act quickly, either to reaffirm NATO or to create a new alliance.

  8. David, Paul, blocking Russia from joining the WTO would accomplish exactly nothing. They’ve had an application in the works since the late 1993 and if they were really concerned about being part of the organization, would have dropped their demands to keep old Soviet-era subsidies in place years ago. Take a look at the WTO’s Russia accession page to see the lack of progress documented.

    And, of course, in the meantime, Russia’s experienced extraordinary growth outside the WTO.

  9. Emma makes a good point. Economic considerations has been absent from this debate (or I haven’t noticed them). Russia’s change in attitude seems to coincide with its change in economic fortunes, which are mainly based on oil and gas revenues. We don’t seem to have anything to bargain with right now, so we had better to be prepared to pick our fights very carefully.

  10. Jack mentions, “Russia has no official plan for world domination like they had in the 20th century. They’re just being mean to little people a long way away.”

    And I get that Russia’s really only messing with their “near abroad” right now. But as chuckercanuck says over at Coyne’s piece, what happens when they look to their “near abroad” in the North, and see us? Perhaps Russian nuclear subs in our arctic waters are a slightly bigger deal now?

    I know one thing. We ought to be looking out for Russians handing out passports like candy to the Inuit in Nunavut. :-)

  11. Of course Emma, pretty much EVERYTHING that we’re talking about doing here would accomplish exactly nothing.

    I think that’s kinda Coyne’s point too.

  12. LKO

    I think it would be suicidal for the Russians to start messing around in Northern Canada. I believe the U.S. would take that as an attack on their ‘near abroad’ and wouldn’t tolerate it for a moment.

    I think Jack M raises an interesting question: how committed are Western European countries to Eastern European ones. Look how fast Sarkozy went to kowtow to Putin and basically surrendered while calling it a peace treaty. After just a couple of days, Sarkozy’s on the plane to Moscow willing to deal away another country’s territory in order to keep Russian sweet with the EU.

    If I am an Eastern European leader, I join the EU and get billions in subsidies but I would be courting the Americans for military support.

  13. I basically agree with Paul, but I find Andrew’s idealism and ideological purity very well-argued. It’s nice to see, too bad it can’t be applied retroactively.

    I would also point out that we are missing the true cause of this conflict: the need for Russia’s elite to regain primo beachfront real estate in the OTHER breakaway province, Abkhazia.

  14. “It would help if somebody could produce the list of all the countries in the world that NATO is supposed to annex if somebody does something bad to them”? The preferred neoconservative list seems to be “Pretty much every neighbour of Russia from Baikal to Arkhangelsk”: but remember, we’re not “encircling” them!

  15. We could invite Tibet into NATO as well. That would help!

  16. Of course, to Mr. Cosh’s point, that’s not JUST the “neoconservative” list, it’s also the preferred list of all those countries themselves.

    One could say that we’re “encircling” the Russians of we offer protection to “pretty much every neighbour of Russia from Baikal to Arkhangelsk” but one could argue that the list of countries that feel threatened by possible Russian annexation includes “pretty much every neighbour of Russia from Baikal to Arkhangelsk”. I’m not convinced we rushed to add countries in Russia’s backyard to NATO. I think countries in Russia’s backyard rushed to join NATO.

    It’s a bit of a chicken and egg argument. What’s the more important point, that we might consider offering protection to all of Russia’s neighbours, or that all of Russia’s neighbours feel that they need protection?

  17. Lots of countries want into the EU that can’t get in. Why does NATO have to be the girl that can’t say no?

  18. “Lots of countries want into the EU that can’t get in. Why does NATO have to be the girl that can’t say no?”

    I’m not saying we can’t or shouldn’t ever say no to an application to be a part of NATO, but I do think there’s a bit of a difference between wanting to get into the EU and wanting to get into NATO. And there are different implications to refusing to let someone in too.

    In one case (the EU) the country outside wants to come in because it’s warmer inside than outside, and besides it looks like it’s going to rain. In the other case, the country outside wants to come in because they’ve spent years running around outside being chased by a wolf, and while they think they might have lost him, they’d still rather be inside rather than out in the forest where they used to have to run for their lives.

    Again, not that we should open the door to everyone who thinks they saw a wolf (even if we KNOW there was a wolf, but we’re not convinced it’s still around), but surely deciding whether to offer to help keep someone out of potentially inclement weather is not remotely the same as offering to help keep someone from potentially getting eaten?

  19. I should add that I’m not entirely sure there’s a wolf (well, to be more accurate, I KNOW there’s a wolf, but I’m not sure it’s hungry enough to attack someone… well ANOTHER someone…) but I do definitely hear howling:

    As the West pressed for peace, Russian General Anatoly Nogovitsyn was quoted by Interfax News Agency on Friday as saying that by accepting a U.S. missile battery Poland “is exposing itself to a strike.”

    He pointed out that Russian military doctrine permits the use of nuclear weapons “against the allies of countries having nuclear weapons if they in some way help them,” Interfax reported.

    Is it just me, of did a Russian General just warn a MEMBER OF NATO that they’re “exposing themselves to a strike” by cooperating with another member of NATO?

    As for Georgia itself, I’ll relax a bit IF the Russians actually do what they promised and start pulling their troops out. So long as they effectively hold Gori, and have troops elsewhere throughout Georgia (beyond the disputed regions) you’ll forgive me if I remain both sceptical and nervous.

    Judging solely by the rhetoric, it seems the “if they attack Warsaw fight them then” doctrine might need to be kept close at hand.

  20. Allow me to apply the Thomas Friedman The World is Flat analysis to this hypothetical.

    We know NATO was formed in 1949 during the cold war – when many European countries were still rebuilding, and probably lacked adequate infrasructure, and had weak economies.

    But, you can’t underscore the significant dependence that Western European and former Warsaw pact countries now have on Russia’s energy supplies, a completely different world than 60 yrs ago.

    Oil is one thing – traded on the world market, and transported by pipeline or tanker, there are other options to the Europeans if, in retaliation for military intervention, the Russians reduce or cut-off its supply.

    But natural gas, delivered mainly by pipeline (although there is a burgeoning LNG industry to transport by tanker as well) is extremely difficult to replace in the short term if supply is disrupted. Why do we have the energy provisions in NAFTA that states in times of shortage and rationing, both Canada and the US have to be treated proportionally? It’s not the Maude Barlow/David Orchard/Elizabeth May quackery that the US is trying to take over Canada and/or deplete our resources asap- it’s because in the short term, there are no other sourcing options. Same with the Europeons right now if Putin started to tighten the spigots.

    Until this imbalance/dependence (Russia energy supplier/Europe consumer)is rectified, you won’t see any NATO military response, but rather appeasement, as perhaps Sarkozy may have undertaken.

    You can’t even get agreement in this country on a minor carbon tax without everyone going apocalyptic – and we own the resources. Will the EU/NATO countries be willing to risk losing a good portion of their natural gas supplies by responding militarily to Russia’s excursions? Very doubtful now and in the future.

    Hence why, when Coyne asks, “but why are the critics of the American invasion of Iraq so willing to give a free pass to the Russians in Georgia?” it is perhaps because many had no self interest involved through energy security, a different issue today with Russia.

  21. Paul,
    Your amoral realism is really depressing.
    And like most ‘realism’ it’s unrealistic.
    Propitiating Russia will get us nothing but more aggression.
    On the other hand, maybe if NATO had admitted Georgia earlier Russia would have stayed out.

    Really enjoyed the comments – full of acute comments pro and con.

  22. Gotta love the big tough guys who think it’s great to send other people’s kids off to fight for their big tough guy principles. Send troops?
    What troops? The US has been re-upping their reserves for multiple tours to cling to the territory their tribal bribes have gained for them in Iraq. NATO is getting their collective asses handed to them in Afghanistan.
    Well,lets encircle and “contain” Russia. Spent a whole Cold War doing that. Worked really well.
    Last time I looked poor naive and gullible Gorbachev was doing Larry King. Poor guy believed everything the West told him. Different guy there now.
    Pains me to say it,but Wells is right.
    A group fret is in order.

  23. The news analysis you need from Spike:

    The US blundered into the Iraq war on the basis of dumb PR, wrong intelligence and total cluelessness about historic ethnic animosity, with every tribe taking turns at leading us around by the nose. Here we go again in Georgia, tied in by Iraq of all places.

    Ossetians will fight to the death to avoid being governed by Georgians – that’s been their culture for hundreds of years and it kept them independent until Stalin gave Ossetia to Georgia. Stalin was a Georgian born in Gori, so he tossed plenty of perks, like the odd smaller country or two, Georgia’s way. Hometown boy makes good and all that.

    When Stalin’s Soviet Union fell apart in 1990 the Ossetians fought Georgia for two bitter years to regain their independence from Stalin’s gift of them to Georgia. They won and in 1992 Georgia agreed to their autonomy and promised not to try to take South Ossetia by force. Russia sent in peacekeepers (no other country wanted to get involved, a wise call in retrospect) and for sixteen years the South Ossetians have been free of Georgian rule. No one else would recognize them, but at least they were free.

    Good times only last so long. Georgia needed money so they sucked up to the US by sending 2000 troops as cannon fodder for Iraq. With an embattled Bush Administration trying to color the Iraq war as a “multinational” effort, those 2000 guys were plenty enough to get the Bushies on their knees in gratitude. Next thing you know, megabucks and military aid flowed Georgia’s way, with thousands of US advisors rotating in and out of the country and arms and weapons aplenty for George Bush’s new best friends.

    Oh, and despite the Georgia’s loving maintenance in Gori of a huge statue of Josef Stalin, one of the worst Communist dictators and mass murderers in history, the Bushies started testifying again and again how wonderfully democratic the Georgians had become. 2000 body bags ready to go in Iraq will do that for you.

    So what happened? Turns out Georgia’s East Coast college educated President Saakashvilli knows how to work PR magic with the Bushies but he doesn’t know how to run a country. Never did it before, seems like. Georgians looking for jobs and a good life were getting tired of endemic corruption, broken promises, sinking economy… well, you know, kind of like the Bush Administration. So what’s a close friend of George Bush going to do to raise his popularity? What would George do? Hey! There’s the answer! Invade a smaller country!

    Losing to the Ossetians in 1992 took a bite out of Georgian pride, so Saakashvilli promised his party and his people he’d restore that pride by taking South Ossetia back. Problem was, after sixteen years of running their own show the Ossetians had gotten kind of used to being independent. Worse yet, after becoming pariahs as far as Georgia was concerned they had turned to their other neighbor, Russia, for food, fuel, passports, foreign aid and all that other good stuff. Russia was happy to oblige, made promises to Ossetia, lots of Russians settled there (cheaper than Moscow, you know, and a lot better weather), well, the usual drill when big countries pick up a new client. All that first date stuff.

    Saakashvilli also made the mistake of trying to buff up his image inside Georgia and with the Bushies by poking Russia in the eye at every opportunity. Worked well in Georgia but you really have to ask yourself if that was smart given the total lack of any sense of humor in the Russian leadership about getting poked in the eye. Even the Bushies finally realized they had a loose cannon on their hands. Too late, comrades, too late!

    Last Thursday night as the Ossetians and all the rest of the world was sitting down to watch the Olympics on TV, Saakashvilli launched a really well executed, sneak attack tank and air assault on South Ossetia. Caught them totally by surprise and took the capital of South Ossetia almost before the Ossetians could put down their vodka and get up from the TV. Didn’t know the Georgians had that in them! But you know how those sneak attacks work great when they catch some bozo by surprise. Worked great at Pearl Harbor, too.

    Turns out Georgia had detailed intelligence gathered by flying drones over South Ossetia for months prior. Just two months ago three drones were shot down, so you know they had a lot more than just three. Russia and Ossetians should have been tipped off by that, but it looks like they never imagined Georgia would come storming across the border with tanks, killing anyone that got in their way. Dumb Russians!

    It gets worse. Those stupid Russians had a bunch of peacekeepers in South Ossetia who never got the memo about when the enemy comes in with tanks and all you’ve got is side arms you get the heck out of Dodge. Time to cut and run just like the West did in Rwanda. It’s not your fight, man, so just run back to the TV, keep watching the Olympics and let the Georgians do what they came to do.

    Stupid Russians didn’t get that memo. The Russian peacekeepers lined up against the Georgian tanks, pulled out their pistols and got cut to pieces, about a hundred of ’em killed outright. Stupid Russians. Don’t they know being a peacekeeper is about running away from a fight? Maybe they were just mad about having to miss TV coverage of the Olympic opening ceremony and were too liquored up to realize the Georgians were shooting to kill.

    Well, you know how unreasonable the Russians get when you kill a few hundred of their people. You hear people say thousands got killed, but despite the odor of corpses in the streets of South Ossetia it’s hard to add up more than a few hundred, counting the handful of peacekeepers and a bunch of Ossetian and Russian civilians. Those Russians should drink less vodka and get a better sense of proportion when they complain about genocide.

    But, heck no, that’s not the Russian way. They just have no sense of proportion at all, acting real mad when you run them over with tanks. Hey, don’t they know that Georgia is a democracy and the Georgian president went to Columbia and is a good friend of Bush? Don’t they know that Georgia wouldn’t have pulled a sneak attack and killed all those people unless they were provoked real bad by those horrible Ossetians? Nope. All that impeccable Bush logic was a lost cause with the Russians.

    Well so those totally insensitive Russians started driving tanks across the border from Russia into Ossetia as fast as they could. Lucky for the Ossetians the Russians had plenty of tanks because the border to Ossetia is only about five miles from the Russian war zone with Chechnya and Ingushetia. The Russians have been fighting a war there for about twenty years against Islamic crazies so they had plenty of tanks on hand.

    In case anyone forgets, the Chechens are those wonderful people who think an effective military strategy is to seize 500 people in a hospital as hostages, killing as many of them as they can to get the Russians riled up. Works great! The Chechens also introduced the innovation of chainsawing the limbs off hostages on video to show they mean business. That sure gets your attention as well. So, anyway, given the Chechens are about the only group on the planet who scare the innards out of RUssians that meant Russia had plenty of tanks and Chechen war battle-hardened troops available just a few miles away that could rush into South Ossetia. And so they did.

    Saakashvilli planned on taking South Ossetia overnight and he almost made it. Darned peacekeepers wouldn’t run, though, and that slowed him up just enough for the routes into Russia to stay open and allow the aforementioned Chechen war battle-hardened troops to come streaming into Ossetia. There weren’t many of them (too few roads) but man, were they honkin’ mad at how the Georgians had interrupted their much-anticipated viewing of Olympic beach volleyball. Don’t get much nookie in those Chechen war zones you know, so they weren’t happy about being deprived their bikini athletic experience.

    There was also that small matter of how Russians go postal when you kill a few hundred of their people in a sneak attack, and the usual indignation when the Russian military gets caught by surprise and made to look like fools. Yep, those Chechen war battle-hardened troops were in a mean mood.

    In fact they blew the Georgians out of South Ossetia in about 24 hours even though the Georgians outnumbered the inital Russian troops about ten to one. Heavy casualties on all sides, not that the Russans cared. No suprise the Russians kept coming and blasted their way into Georgia itself, streaming more and more armor across the border until, surprise! Russia held about a ten to one advantage over Georgia. With characteristic Russian understatement, a tank commander was heard to comment to a journalist, “Anyone who attacks Russia we will destroy.”

    As you might expect the Bushies were totally surprised their unhinged client pulled a stunt like invading South Ossetia. What to do? Job one is to make it clear It Was Not George Bush’s Fault. Blame the Russians, which the Russians eagerly helped the Bushies do by making sure they sent spokespeople who couldn’t speak a word of English and when they did acted like their own worst enemies. Good job, Russians! Bush rolled out the script that a peaceful, democratic ally got attacked by a revived Soviet bear and now we have got to… what?

    Well, you know the Bush doctrine. First part, build a missile system in an unrelated country like Poland. Second part, make sure no Mexican immigrants can get a job. Well, OK, no Mexicans there but we do have Ossetians. Let’s put the screws on them as the fall guys. They made the Georgians invade them. There, that makes sense! Final part, let’s get the US military involved so we can start another war. Perfect!

    And, just like with Iraq an imbecile media is going to follow the above script when the Bushies feed it to them at the briefings. You know those reporters: deep down inside they all are uncertain about the length of their equipment so as soon as any president starts a shooting war they all like it when manpower and weaponry go on display. After a while (like a lot of bad dates) the hangover sets in and the media starts to regret what they agreed to the night before. Not too many media guys will admit to how happy they were for Bush when he dragged us into Iraq, will they?

    We now have the spectacle of American arms and American prestige committed to defending Stalin’s partition of a tiny country, Ossetia. It’s a screwball world when it is the Russians that are trying to overturn Stalin’s diktat and to restore independence to that small country. Way to go George Bush! You put us on the side of Stalin! That’s a real cool historical legacy every American should want.

    But wait, there’s more! We now have the Bush administration committing American arms and prestige to defending a, get this, sneak attack timed to take advantage of the opening of the Olympics. Hey, that’s wonderful. That’ll show the world our commitment to peace and freedom. Makes the Russians look bad, too, the way our client (go Georgia!) caught them napping.

    So, backing a sneak attack and supporting Stalin’s world view is the American way, and getting Americans involved in yet another war where we are being played for fools by unstable clients will be the parting gift of the Bush administration. Is that what everyone wants?

    Then again the Russians are being “disproporionate,” as if they didn’t get the memo about rolling over and playing dead. Dumb Russians. No sophistication at all. And, they got less medals than us. If that wasn’t a good reason to build more missile systems in unrelated countries and start more wars we can fly drones and get killed in, I don’t know what is.

    I can hear some readers muttering, “OK, wise guy, what would you have us do?” Hey, that’s easy.

    First off, we can’t blame the Georgians for anything because that would make us look bad. Repeat after me: the Georgians were provoked. The Russians made them defend themselves. We told them to resist being baited but gosh darn it, those Russians went too far. They did something terrible. Not sure what it was yet but we’ll come up with something in a couple of days.

    Second, it wasn’t a sneak attack. No. You got that completely wrong and as soon as I get done PhotoShopping this you’ll see it was the Russians that attacked first. They invaded a smaller country. The Georgians were relaxing in their tanks, peacefully resting after cleaning up the South Ossetian neighborhood from some unsightly bodies, drinking whatever it is that Georgians drink when the Russians attacked them.

    Third, the Russians have a totally disproportionate response going. Get out of Georgia, out of Ossetia and go back to Siberia or someplace. We’ll bury their dead and the Georgian dead as well. No, wait, there won’t be any Russian dead after I get done PhotoShopping this. Oh, and all those Georgian and Ossetian guys rampaging and holding up SUVs in the war zone, that’s a job for the Georgian police. They’ll do a much cleaner job of holding up those SUVs, just like they did before the war.

    Fourth, let’s get Georgia into NATO. It’s a great idea to involve unstable countries in NATO so in case John McCain gets elected he’ll have lots of reasons to go to war. Republicans like that, you know, so you have to plan for the future.

    Fifth, let’s build a missile system in Poland. This is completely, totally necessary to defend the Germans and the French against Iranian missiles and spending trillions of dollars on that is a great way to make sure the French never run out of reasons to ridicule the falling dollar. It also gives the Russians something to aim their nukes at besides us.

    Finally, let’s ask Russia to throw the G7 out of the G8 and to pull out of the WTO. It is too embarrassing that we’re the only country that needs the WTO anymore since our economy depends upon manufacturing in China. This will fix that by removing any need for the WTO. And, once Russia throws the G7 out of the G8, since they are the only country that is energy-independent in the G8 we’ll be spared the humiliation of having the G7 fall apart when the aforementioned Germans and French and all the rest get down on their knees to Russia’s control of the energy they need.

    Oh, and let’s make sure to impose Stalin’s plan for Ossetia. Last thing we want is to guarantee free elections to let the Ossetians choose if they want to be free of war, to be their own country or to join whatever country they want.

    Spike, over and out!

  24. I would like to say this was the best article I have seen todate on this subject. What follows is not intended as a dissection of a responder’s post so much as points themselves. I have seen many articles, blogs and reports asking why things of following nature haven’t been undertaken by NATO, the US and the EU.

    MarkCh wrote of steps beyond rhetoric and diplomacy:

    Base missile interceptors in Poland and Czech Republic

    Move the main US military infrastructure in Europe from Germany to Poland

    Put US forces in other Russia-bordering states

    Ship weapons to Georgia

    US military provide humanitarian aid to Georgia

    Base US naval units in the Black Sea and the Baltic.

    There is a fair amount of reasoning while none of these would work.

    1)Base missile interceptors in Poland and Czech Republic

    Well so what? Poland and Czech republic are already members of NATO. Any attack on those countries will be the opening performance of the largest military engagement since WWII. In fact the US announced today that an agreement had been reached with Poland to do just that. Again so what? This doesn’t change the reality that if Russia invades Poland, it will be at war with NATO. In the same vein, Russia did not attack NATO and the near abroad that Russia has its eye on is not yet part of NATO. Those missle interceptor bases in Poland would no doubt help protect Poland from a Russian attack(possibly), but if Russia does attack them… we will all have a bigger issue. Side note on this, Russia potentialy could respond with putting interceptors ( or missles ) in Cuba. In terms of actual practicallity, the only missles folks are really afraid of in terms of Russia (ICBM’s ) would travel over the Pole and and an interceptor base in Poland would not have the range or kill factor required to neutralize them.

    Actual effectiveness: minimal
    Russian reaction: increased hostility

    2)Move the main US military infrastructure in Europe from Germany to Poland

    Two things. Firstly Germany would likely take huge issue with this. Those bases are long term leased. They create a lot of jobs and economic production. While it seems heartless to talk about money in the face of the suffering of Georgia, money does indeed make the world turn. The massive infrastructure required for these bases to operate is again, something that is not easily moved.

    Second, Moving your central command for all of Europe into first strike range of the very enemy you are likely to face is just unsound from a tactical and strategic level. Also, from the Russian point of view, this would be seen as a direct escalation against them militarily. So far Russia has not escalated militarily against NATO, against Georgia absolutely, against Western interests yes, but as pointed out by Mr Wells, Georgia is NOT part of NATO. Direct military escalation between NATO and Russia benefits no one.

    Actual effectiveness: Undermines command security.

    Russian reaction: Military Escalation

    3) Put US forces in other Russia-bordering states

    Where would these troops come from? How long would they have to stay there? Would this be another Korean DMZ? As discussed again by Mr Wells, there aren’t enough troops to do whats required in all aspects of America’s current engagements. Public support for going to another potential war zone would be a tough sell in the extreme. Further US military ( not NATO observers, peace keepers, or even Western democracy ) presence on Russia’s borders would just confirm what Russia has been saying all along, and would represent Russia being surrounded. This kind of saber rattling led to having massive mobilizations on borders in 1914. If Russia built up troops bordering Alaska, wouldn’t the US respond with troops in the area? US forces on Russian borders would just lead to more Russian forces in the area. Furthermore border countries like Ukraine have a large Russian population. American boots on the ground could likely cause internal dissent, something these fledgeling governments can ill afford.

    Actual effectiveness: Frozen conflict or military escalation,

    Russian reaction: Mobilization of troops, confirmation of encriclement theory.

    4) Ship weapons to Georgia

    The Georgian troops abandoned Gori without much resistance. Would better weapons have increased Russian losses, there is little doubt of that. Would it have changed the outcome, no it would not have. In addition, if American weapons started showing up in Gerogia, Russia would take the airport and blockade the ports quickly. The political fall out would be headlines reading ” US arms Georgia to proxy war against Russia”. A war that Georgia simply can’t win.

    Actual effectiveness: Limited due to state of Georgian forces

    Russian reaction: Increased Rhetoric on the world stage concerning Western expansionism.

    5) US military provide humanitarian aid to Georgia

    This has already started happening, but I don’t see how it will create change in the region.

    Actual effectiveness: Alleviating suffering in the region.

    Russian reaction : most likely none

    6)Base US naval units in the Black Sea and the Baltic.

    Base them where? The Russian fleet controls the Black Sea. This would be akin to the Russians setting up an fleet HQ in Cuba. Also Turkey controls what ships (military) enter and leave the Black Sea. While Turkey is in NATO, they do 24 billion dollars in trade a year with Russia and get much of their energy from Russia. Turkey is unlikely to allow a permanent naval base.

    NATO and the US should not do nothing. They should realign and redeploy in NATO countries and refrain from adding or even discussing membership of countries that have ongoing disputes. Those kinds of alliances lead to chain reaction consequences that start larger conflicts.

  25. I really wish Spike and David would stop making sense. Really ruining the attitude around here.

  26. Maybe they have the updated version of Risk, not the one Kramer and Newman (and NATO) were using

    New scene.
    Kramer and Newman are on a subway car, the Risk board sits on their laps.

    Newman: Are you sure you know where the impound yard is?

    Kramer: Oh, stop stalling. Come on.

    Newman: I can’t think, there’s all this noise.

    Kramer: Or is it because I’ve built a stronghold around Greenland? I’ve driven
    you out of Western Europe and I’ve left you teetering on the brink of complete

    Newman: I’m not beaten yet. I still have armies in the Ukraine.

    This comment perks up the ears of what appears to be a Russian immigrant.

    Kramer: Ha ha, the Ukraine. Do you know what the Ukraine is? It’s a sitting
    duck. A road apple, Newman. The Ukraine is weak. It’s feeble. I think it’s
    time to put the hurt on the Ukraine.

    Ukrainian: I come from Ukraine. You not say Ukraine weak.

    Kramer: Yeah, well we’re playing a game here, pal.

    Ukrainian: Ukraine is game to you?! Howbout I take your little board and smash

    The Ukrainian pounds the game board, destroying it and sending army pieces

  27. Nice piece, Spike.

  28. I like Spike.

  29. Sure, nice piece except for the clownishly wrong part about Stalin “giving Ossetia to Georgia.” The Ossetes were judged to have performed much better than their neighbours during the Civil War and always enjoyed favour and protection from Moscow, particular during the war when other Central Asian minorites were subjected to genocide in all but name. Stalin (whose mother is thought to have been Ossetian ethnically) expanded North and South Ossetian borders at the expense of neighbouring countries and never Russified the place culturally or linguistically.

    Of course Ossetia was subject to occasional purges led by a Georgian-Mingrelian mafia, but then, that was the deal for the inhabitants of one-sixth of the Earth’s land area.

  30. Whatever, the point being that the Ossetians have a better case for independence than the Albanians in Kosovo, having lived there (as the Alans) more or less since the dawn of time; there’s no particular reason why the Georgians should get to control South Ossetia. According to wikipedia, the Red Army set up the “South Ossetian Autonomous Province in 1921.” And it seems that everyone was happy with this autonomy until Saakashvili started beating the big drum.

    All this talk about Russia “invading” Georgia is a bit of a misnomer, IMHO. What they did is pursue the Georgian army as it retreated from Abkhazia and South Ossetia. They didn’t push on to Tblisi or occupy Georgia proper. They’ve announced (AFAIK) no plans to annex Georgia. The Coyne position is predicated on international boundaries being uniquely sacred; and while they’re of course extremely important, de fact independent autonomous regions are not therefore fair game.

  31. Jack,

    A few points.

    First off your notion that it is a misnomer to say that Russia is “invading” sort of ignores that just about every state recognizes Georgia’s sovereignty over Ossetia.

    As to the broader moral/legal argument, I think the Quebec reference case is actually a fantastic place to start when one deals with the tensions between the right of “national self-determination”, and the preservation of minority rights – both of which have to be cornerstones of any moral argument in a democratic world.

    Yes, the vast majority of South Ossetians wish they were Russians, as do a good proportion of Ukrainians, as Sudetenlanders wished they were German and as les Quebecois yearn for their own state, or nation, or some sort of muddle in-between.

    29% of South Ossetians are Georgians, who don’t exactly want to be a part of Russia, which is why Georgia didn’t stick around in the Soviet Union. Where the Quebec reference case comes in, is that it made the interesting point that BECAUSE Canada was a good liberal democracy Quebec had no inherent right to secede, unless that secession fit with the three pillars of Canada (the charter, democracy and federalism).

    But here’s the rub – South Ossetians want to join (and force their 29% Georgian population to join) undemocratic Russia instead of somewhat (and improving) democratic Georgia. Georgia does a far better job of protecting INDIVIDUAL rights than does Russia. The core of what makes liberal democracies not tyrannical isn’t that they have regular elections, it is that they have constitutions that place no government above the law. Georgia isn’t perfect, but if your choice is between sort of screwing the 66% Ossetian populace, or really really screwing the 29% Georgian populace, I would err to the other side.

    Nations are arbitrary constructs that offer no real claim to anything, except the fallacy that blood is history. Morally the best situation is that which best safeguards individual rights – it is clear that Georgia wins in that case – regardless of irrelevant historical debates. Those debates, incidentally, only lead to more debates – if Russia is legitimized by the national self-determination arguments brought up here, then isn’t Ossetia itself also divisible? Isn’t Russia?

    On the other hand, I don’t care much about the moral argumentation, and offer strong support for Paul Wells’ suggestion of “do nothing. Some people have argued that NATO’s credibility is on the line – rubbish. The real problem with NATO is similar to that faced by the US in Korea and Vietnam: NATO has not made clear what its core sphere of influence is.

    No real interests are at stake in Georgia – which could end this conflict today by surrendering Abkhazia and South Ossetia (combined population of 250,000 – so basically Windsor – and what Canadian wouldn’t want to give up Windsor to save our hides? God Windsor sucks).

    There might be some “prestige” loss, but prestige doesn’t get one very far. Based on prestige, the US was essentially licked in the Cold War during the Nixon and Carter presidencies – even as it significantly outperformed the Soviet economy. Moreover, it is hard to say that something damages NATO credibility if NATO never made a credible commitment to defend Georgia. NATO can still make a strong commitment to Poland, the Ukraine and so on.

    Probably my only novel argument to throw on the fire is that history is on our side. Putin’s resurgent Russia remains substantially weaker than the US, and even more weak considering that Putin’s biggest ally is Belarus. Russia’s population is shrinking, and, its economic recovery has been largely financed by rising oil revenues. Oil revenues that it is hard to see existing 50 years from now (both as alternative energy becomes more prevalent – and that can be with ethanol – and as rising oil prices drive more oil exploration).

    Russia itself is kind of a craphole. Male life expectancy is 59, and Russia is not a major player in any high tech industry – in spite of major soviet era investments in education and certain industries (eg. aerospace – where Canada beats Russia handily).

    So if history is not on Russia’s side, containment (and energy security) is a far better strategy for defeating the bear than is confrontation. Indeed, the one country that could pose an existential threat to North America in the near future is China – and the west may need Russia on our side to contain that impending threat.

  32. >>>>>one could argue that the list of countries that feel threatened by possible Russian annexation includes “pretty much every neighbour of Russia from Baikal to Arkhangelsk”.<<<<<

    well, let me point out one only thing:

    if it is fair to say what you said, then it would be fair to say what MANY countries in the world (especially Asia) feel: that many countries feel threatened by possible American/ Nato annexation ! as virtually happened with Iraq.
    year, right – strictly technically speaking it is not an annexation – because annexation implies sharing common borders with the territory to be annexed. but it doesn’t matter for the ONLY superpower in the world, which has established system to jump int o practically ANY part of the world and intervene in the business of sovereign countries. the whole history of USA since WWII provides plenty examples of that.

    so, yeah – may be Russia’s neighbors might feel threatened of possible annexation.
    but more so MANY countries in the world feel increasing American intervention into their countries’ business ! and the difference is: if in case of Russia such threat is contained only within limits of neighbors – then in case of America it can be ANY place on the globe ! so, much more to worry about !

    America has become what Russia was called during “Spring of Nations” in 19th century, the “Jandarm of Europe” (ironically for quite opposite thing: for crushing liberal and pro-commie revolutions) – but only on much bigger scale ! nowadays America is “World’s Jandarm”, despite its self-proclaimed being a champion of the democracy and war on terror.

    and sooner or later will be the movement to contain American expansionist foreign policies, rather than Russia’s attempt to avoid encircling! I am surprised how Chavez, India, China, Iran, Russia didn’t create their own alliance till now ! o^0

  33. using excuse entirely based on anything to “democracy” is very lame one, most of people don’t buy it anymore !
    I’ve spoken to a friend few days back, he told me: “do you know what it comes to? it increasingly becoming a fascist country”. well, you can guess which country he was talking about – I can help you: he wasn’t talking about Russia. ;)

    WHAT IS DEMOCRACY ? it is very common cliche and useful panacea for justification of whatever ambitions in ruthless foreign policies ! educate yourself, read more about DEMOCRACY !
    there is NON any real democracy in the world so far – surely not in US ! it has NEVER been conceived as a Democracy in the first place ! neither its Constitution or any of its Amendments mention this word even once !

    and quite understandable, explained and thoroughly thought out since the beginning, by Founder Fathers, who has especially warned against country becoming a “Democracy”.

    so, the ONLY thing US, UK and Co can call themselves and promote – is THEIR OWN version / interpretation of TRUE DEMOCRACY

    therefore, it is shame that people continue to use and in fact abuse this word whenever they like ! as in case of Georgia ! Saakashvili’s wife has said to Western media (some Dutch newspaper) that her husband aspires to follow the “strong” leaders of the past as Stalin and Beria – both Georgians – before has marched with roses to depose former dictator Shevardnadze he has made a rally in front of Stalin’s statue in Gori (BTW where this statue still IS) ! and his aspirations he has expressed very well in ordering full scale slaughter of ethnic minority, under that very same excuse of protecting “Democracy” and Western values in supposedly “Democratic” Georgia…

  34. G&M ROB article:

    Moscow transforms real-world game of RISK

    With the Georgian invasion, the Kremlin has sent notice that it now controls the Risk board in “great game” of energy geopolitics…


  35. Eric Reguly weighs in on the geopolitics of EU energy security:

    Russia crushes Europe’s energy strategy

    With the North Sea oil and natural gas fields running out of puff, Europe, in particular the European Union, is more dependent than ever on imported energy. The biggest single supplier is Russia, whose pipelines snake across Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova before poking into central and western Europe.

    Russia’s energy supplies are cherished. Germany, France and Italy have almost no oil and gas of their own. Russia’s Gazprom, the world’s biggest gas company, supplies 40 per cent or more of Europe’s gas imports. The company, controlled by the Russian state and led by Dmitry Medvedev before he became Russia’s President, is the equivalent of a one-country gas OPEC.

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