Georgia/Russia: This just gets better and better


I know I am beginning to try the patience of some readers who wonder why a little warlet in a tiny distant country matters. Hush, dissenters, or I’ll start writing about my iPod again.

In the meantime, events are turning out to have consequences. Even words! Turns out words have consequences! Who knew?

Not John McCain, who got up on his hind legs yesterday and announced, “We are all Georgians.” That was yesterday. Like, a day ago. And now, a day later, here’s the president of Georgia, who has paid McCain’s top foreign-policy advisor $800,000 in lobby fees since 2004, saying, in effect, Time to put your money where your mouth is, big boy.

“Yesterday, I heard Sen. McCain say, ‘We are all Georgians now,’” Saakashvili said on CNN’s American Morning. “Well, very nice, you know, very cheering for us to hear that, but OK, it’s time to pass from this. From words to deeds.”

What kind of deeds does Mikheil Saakashvili have in mind? He’s coy for the moment, but in case you’re looking for a f’rinstance, here’s Max Boot suggesting “the Pentagon should rush delivery” of Stinger anti-aircraft and Javelin anti-tank missiles to Georgia.

Now, this probably won’t happen. But Saakashvili wants something like it to happen. And he believes that if a President McCain failed to do it, he’d be betraying his word. So at best, the McCain policy is to provide empty promises that will surely lead to crushed hopes.

All the more reason to hope Barack Obama becomes president, right? I don’t know. Both candidates have the same position. That’s not me talking, incidentally: it’s Richard Holbrooke, a Democrat who might get a Cabinet spot in an Obama administration.


Georgia/Russia: This just gets better and better

  1. More than the product of the presidential candidates in a two-party system rushing to the middle, this is Obama fighting to sound tough on matters of foreign policy. His Iran and Pakistan comments, and now this, are easily his biggest campaign errors to date…

    (And obviously, that’s not to say John McCain’s rhetoric is doing any good either).

  2. I have, in the last several days, become officially haunted by those pictures of Obama and Gordon Brown in London a few weeks ago. Two men who could not be more different, except that in each face, I see somebody who Showed Promise because how could he not show promise?, and who now, it seems clear at least on the worst days, does not have a fargin’ clue.

    The Obama camp is actually trying to make hay out of the McCain advisor who took Georgia lobby money — even as they rush pell-mell toward a position the Georgia-lobbying McCain advisor might as well have written. Obama’s ads are uniformly awful — the most leadenly conventional, unsurprising, counterproductive ad campaign since the No side posters in the 1995 Quebec referendum. The man who barely beat Hillary is now running on a Hillary policy of inevitability, triangulation and consensus-before-conviction. I’m far from sure about this, I don’t trust my instincts when it comes to politics outside Ottawa, but this guy Obama is starting to look like a big washout.

    Hey, that turned into a rant, didn’t it.

  3. Now we have a new analogy, Berlin airlift (’48- ’49).

    Bush said this morning that pentagon would fly humanitarian aid to Georgia, starting today, and that he expects the Russians to allow air and sea access. Americans claim its only medicine but who knows what the pentagon will have in those planes. I am sure they won’t let the Russians have a look before they unload their cargoes, though.

  4. Well i was just about to write “this thread reminds me of 1938”, but after JWL’s post it’s passed.

  5. I like John McCain but if this guy Obama turns out to be a washout in the same way Bill Clinton failed to live up to his potential then I’ll take it.

  6. So would I, Clarence, if it was that good.

  7. No complaints here – you’ve done us all a huge service.

  8. What would be an appropriate Western response?

    Not seeing a lot in the way of suggested solutions here.

    In your last four posts on this subject you’ve ruled out supporting a democratic ally militarily, identified the uselessness of Western diplomatic efforts, sighed about the sameness of both Presidential candidate’s positions and yet also highlighted the very real problem this aggression poses by pointing out that Freidman is naive to sit around hopefully wishing that countries serving Golden Arched fries won’t hurt each other.

    What to do?

  9. I really wonder, after all the flak that Obama got for being “uppity” by giving a speech in Berlin, how the Republicans would react if it were Obama saying that we are all Georgians or that he speaks for all Americans . . .

  10. Fret. I’ve come out foursquare for fretting.

    I haven’t criticized Harper’s statement, although probably I should have more pro-actively said I thought it was pretty a good statement. Especially one sentence in it: “Military force will not solve this dispute.” That kind of expectation-puncturing language would have been good for Georgia’s government to hear earlier, but it is still worth hearing now.

  11. Michael

    The pentagon is in charge of delivering humanitarian aid and I would be kinda surprised if they are not playing fast and loose with ‘the rules’ here. Its not like they are Médecins Sans Frontières or somesuch. Who’s going to stop the pentagon from doing whatever it feels like?


    Paul’s in favour of fretting and hand wringing or finger pointing.

  12. Greg,

    That link wasted a precious three minutes of my life. Short version: USA has upper hand, and by 2009 the Iranians, Russia, Palestinians, Hezbollah, you name it…will be taken out. You can almost smell the bone-headed, Neo Con testosterone oozing from the computer screen.

  13. Both McCain and Obama may even manage to make us nostalgic for Bush the rate they are going.

  14. This comment posted on the BBC site shows the gap in the quality of judgment being applied on each side.

    “At some time it will be necessary to choose between supporting this virtual project and [a] real partnership on questions which actually require collective action,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

  15. I fully expected Gordon Brown to be a washout, but maybe I just got, umm, lucky on that one.

    Anyway. I find myself wondering what an Obama ad should look like? Any ideas?

  16. Obama walks into a morgue. He pulls out some cadavres. Lays his hands on them and concentrates real, real hard. Cadavres wake up, get dressed and go back to life.

    Caption: “See. I really am The One we’ve been waiting for.”

    I’d vote for him.

  17. So I see the yanks just upped the ante next raise will go to the ruskies? Planes and Ships on the way as they say …. stay tuned!

  18. I’m not fretting. Or not too much, anyway, because Russian influence is much weaker than EU influence on most of the measures that count. Remember when Serbia was so angry about Kosovo that they were going to turn towards Russia? Then the EU dangles a stabilization agreement in front of their noses, and they promptly elect a pro-EU government. So sure, there’s plenty to worry about, but it’s geographically contained and in a geographic region with a huge economic counter-pole that is friendly to the west.

    The West’s immediate response should be to accelerate Ukraine’s admission to NATO and keep expanding the EU.

  19. I don’t see how getting another neighbor of Russia to join NATO will help. These countries may want our protection but if we cannot meaningfully provide any, there is not much point in offering it. If we don’t go to war for Georgia, would we go to war for Ukraine?

  20. Your coverage on the Georgia/Russia situation has been great, PW, don’t stop now.

    I keep hoping the Obama camp will start to come out with some sort of genuinely original/intelligent things to say about how this is all playing out, but it doesn’t seem to be getting me any results. This new development with US aid (troops, says Saakashvili, but… “We are not looking to, nor do we need to, take control of any air or seaports to conduct this mission,” said Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary. [tpm]) … kind of a little close for comfort, to me…

  21. Bill, would we go to war for Estonia? They’re already in NATO, and they border Russia.

  22. Andrew E – good question! And even if wanted to go to war, how would we? NATO was built around a huge concentrated defense effort based in then West Germany to defend against a Russian attack. I would assume that Russia could overrun Estonia 100% before any response (even verbal) could be mounted.

    I don’t see what the point of putting them in NATO was or would be in the case of Georgia or Ukraine, aside from tweaking Russia’s nose, which seems less and less appealing with every passing day.

  23. Bill, if it’s clear to Russia that we wouldn’t go to war for Estonia, or any NATO member, then NATO is worthless — so you can disregard what I said, because who cares who’s in or out. However, even if it would be hard for NATO to defend Ukraine (say), their membership in the alliance would provide enough ambiguity to give the Russian leadership some pause before embarking on military adventures.

    The influence of the west in Europe is based on inclusion: everyone can join the party. So we should let them.

  24. For me, the lesson of the Georgian war is that countries can make a legitimate case for war if their own army is attacked. If we put a couple of divisions of Western troops into the Baltic states and a couple more into Ukraine, would the Russians really be willing to invade those countries? If NATO troops were fired on/surrounded/bombed there, it would no longer be a question of protecting a remote nation that few people have heard of (sorry, Georgia), but rather a question of defending “our brave boys.” Deterrence would only require moving some of the Germany bases east a few hundred miles. Of course it would piss Russia off no end, but Russia has even more to lose from a war than NATO does.

  25. Jack – what you say may make a difference, but moving the trip-wire to the borders of Russia is a pretty provocative act in itself!

    I think the problem is that NATO was not meant to be a general protective umbrella for all and sundry to gather under. Putin can nibble away at these countries without a real fear of retaliation. Certainly, I cannot see the Americans going to war for Estonia and I cannot think of any other countries who would either. The other former Warsaw pact countries have a real motivation to band together on this, and it is for them to collectively create a new mechanism to deal with Russia.

  26. May be McCain should run for the presidency of Georgia.

  27. Paul, thank you for writing about Georgia and consistently being ahead of the pack in following issues that matter.

  28. Made me blush, Chad. I can’t help myself: I’m just an insightful man of the future, is all. Except when I’m not.

  29. One the delivery of “humanitarian aid” by the Pentagon (I love the airlift comparison btw… CLASSIC!) would we really expect the Russians to check, let alone stop the shipments (even if they suspected it wasn’t all medicine and food?). COULD they even if they wanted to? I know they pushed pretty far into Central Georgia, but surely there are airports in the total control of the Georgians. It’s not like the Russians are going to force down an American Air Force jet, no matter WHAT they thought it was carrying into Georgia.

    Besides, did the American planes carrying Georgian forces back from Iraq make it through (is it too soon for that to have happened? has that not occurred yet?). If the Russians DID want to stop something from getting in to Georgia, surely planes full of Georgian troops would make the list!

  30. It’s a fair statement by Saakashvili — if you say you’re showing solidarity, why, show some solidarity.

    We’ll see how heavy the “American aid mission” is.

  31. Geez Paul. You do know John MCain is not the president right? I hope you don’t take Obama as seriously.

  32. If the Americans really want to hurt the Russians, some Stingers and Javelins falling into the hands of Chechen rebels would be the trick.

    The Russians don’t want to directly confront the West and the West doesn’t want to directly confront the Russians.

    Welcome to the latest proxy war. When the Americans let the CIA play by the real rules of the world (there are none) they usually win these things.

    Of course, the whiplash always sucks. We got the Iron Curtain after supplying the Russians in WWII and Bin Laden after Afghanistan, such is the way of the world. The backlash here may come from extremists helping the Chechens, but nobody said fighting proxy wars is a clean business.

  33. Ben, I agree entirely with your point. I don’t think Saakashvili has been entirely wise, but to some extent his biggest mistake was simply to believe what the Cheney-Bolton-Kristol claque was putting out: that adherence to a minimal set of values was a get-out-of-tight-squeezes-with-Russia card that would last forever. That was always false advertising.

    Here’s a question that may be germane: what’s most important about the Cold War, the fact that it ended or the fact that it lasted a half century? How odd that Poles, Czechs, Ukrainians, Georgians would view the U.S. as a country that will fly to their side at the first sign of trouble when (a) no country could and (b) the US *didn’t,* for decades, because of reason (a) above.

    Funny that McCain would have Vietnam and the Cold War as his formative experiences and come away with an idea of the U.S. military as an effective tool for settling regional conflicts.

    And to the guy who’s amazed I take U.S. presidential candidates seriously, I have no polite answer.

  34. Speaking of U.S. Presidential candidates, I think McCain outdid himself this time,

    “In the 21st century, nations don’t invade other nations.”

  35. Re “no country could” — I’m a little skeptical about sweeping statements like that.

    Conventional wisdom keeps on taking a battering. “The Soviet Union will be around for the foreseeable future.” “We’ve reached the end of history.” “9/11 changed everything.” “Iraq will be a cakewalk.” “Iraq is unwinnable, and no change of tactics will work.” And so on, from both sides.

    The lesson McCain came away from Vietnam with — not so much from his captivity there, but from his studies at the War College afterwards — was that political leadership does matter. (That it makes all the difference.)

    One comparison to the situation in Georgia that I’ve heard about recently is Hungary in ’56. The Americans (Ike) decided not to intervene or threaten intervention because, well, it was within the Soviet sphere and it was thought to be an unwinnable fight. (And of all our leaders of the past half-century, Eisenhower would have to be the best-informed on that sort of calculation.)

    We now know (from Politburo minutes) that Moscow was on a knife’s edge about whether to go in and topple the Hungarian government, and they only decided to go all in once they were sure that the Americans would do nothing — they could have been maneuvered fairly easily into backing down, with a credible threat of American assistance to the Hungarian government and army.

    Can we do nothing to help distant allies? I’m not so sure about that.

  36. (But yes, Saakashvili has been extraordinarily reckless.)

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