So there’s this sweet, joyful little war going on with puppies and candy and flowers between Russia and Georgia right now.
For all my interest in geopolitics, I’ve looked at the last few days feeling just numb and depressed on that front. There’s little to say or note or add. I don’t want to push it from my mind, but I just see all the overt power-playing that went into it all and my lack of surprise over the fact that it’s the ones on the ground who got the worst of it doesn’t make it any less horrifying to contemplate.
The Belgravia Dispatch came out of its intermittent retirement for a post the other day on it and has since added a follow up post on current statements from McCain. Both well worth reading, as is Cunning Realist’s shorter, quicker snarl. But to quote Belgravia’s first post:
What’s needed now, rather critically, is rather a large dose of humble pie by Mr. Saakashvili (let Solana visit him to hand-hold some, and perhaps then send our own Condi-the-Great too, as face-saver, if she’s not too busy showcasing our incompetence elsewhere), with an understanding that the main objective is an immediate cease-fire with the goal of returning to the status quo ante, which is to say, de facto Russian control of the provinces in question. We could do far worse (indeed Putin may be minded to just have them go ahead and declare their independence under Russian control, or simply annex them), and bloviating about the death of the Rose Revolution in far-flung Abkhazia and Ossetia, while doubtless fun cocktail chit-chat among the grandees of our favorite editorial pages, well, Putin might have an idea or two where to put such talk, and it won’t save any lives at this urgent juncture either. Put differently, let’s stop our fanciful reverie from points removed (and where the ramifications don’t include rampant lost of life, say) in favor of trying to dampen back a bloodbath that is looming today in the Caucasus, especially should Saakashvili delude himself some quasi-cavalry might be in the offing, and push back on the Russians even harder. For there is no cavalry coming, save if cavalry can be construed as ‘we must respect Georgian sovereignty’ soundbites that will blanket around clueless anchors striving mightily to pose intelligible questions on the cable news circuit that might be overheard at the Tbilisi Marriott.
And the conclusion of his second:
If we mean to help the Georgians escape an even worse fate, we must summon up the intelligence and humility to have a dialogue with Putin, Medvedev, Sergie Lavrov, Vitaly Churkin and the rest of them based on straight talk (not of the McCain variety, and if we can somehow find a messenger of the stature and talent to deliver the message in the right way, hard these days), to wit: we screwed up overly propping this guy up and he got too big for his britches, we understand, but for the sake of going forward strategic cooperation (and don’t mention Iran here, at least not as the first example)–as well as stopping further civilian loss of life–agree to work with us in good faith towards a status quo ante as much as possible, don’t enter Tbilisi, and throw show-boats Sarkozy/Kouchner a bone with some possible talk of a going forward EU peacekeeping role (if non-binding, for the time being). This is roughly what we should be saying/doing now, not having the President step up to the White House mike fresh back from the sand volleyball courts of Beijing to gravely declare Russia’s actions are “unacceptable in the 21st century.” Such talk will get us nowhere, instead, it might just fan the flames more (as will Cheney’s threats of “serious consequences”, apparently a favorite sound-bite of his, but this time mentioned only in the context of the U.S.-Russian relationship). Let us be clear: these men’s credibility is a sad joke, and Putin knows it only too well. So let’s get real. Before it’s too late, and more facts are created on the ground, mostly on the backs of innocent civilians throughout Georgia’s various regions.
I have little further to add to those sentiments. I’ve been sharp before about people quoting others and not thinking and writing for themselves, I realize, but I could only restate what’s been said here. And the difference between this kind of talk about what we can and/or should do and the kind of talk indulged in by heads of state about what we can and/or should do is that said heads of state, hopefully, have the ability to do something.
Would be nice to see, wouldn’t it?
[EDIT — over in NROworld, John Derbyshire proves once again that while I disagree with him on many things (and please definitely don’t take his discussion of conservative ideals as a sign I’m suddenly agreeing with him politically), on others we are perfectly aligned:
Either you believe the U.S.A. ought to commit — in writing — that we shall go to war on behalf of Georgia (Estonia, the Ukraine, etc.), or you believe we ought not.
If you do believe it, as our President does (or else what were all those efforts to get Georgia and Ukraine into NATO about?) then you ought honestly to admit the nonzero probability that Putin, or some future Putin, will call our bluff. Then we shall be at war with Russia. On behalf of Georgia. (“The U.S.A. should commit to go to war against Russia on behalf of Georgia” — anyone care to estimate how that would poll among the U.S. population?)
George Will’s line — “If we had succeeded in getting those countries into NATO, then Putin wouldn’t have dared, because no NATO country ever had its territory invaded … well, all right, only the one …” — is just wishful thinking. Conservatives are the people who believe in the meaning of words. If we are not willing to go to war with Russia over Georgia, let’s not commit ourselves to it. If we are, then of course we should commit … but I’d like to see those poll results first.
At this moment, Putin & his pals are rolling around the Kremlin floor laughing helplessly at our stupidity and gullibility. As a patriotic American, I don’t like to contemplate that. What could we do to wipe the smiles off their faces, though? Bomb Moscow? They know we’re not going to do that. That’s why they’re still laughing. Game, set, and match to Putin.]