Monday, August 11, 2008

How bad a joke is this? And did you know that the Georgia/Russia conflict is Germany's fault (according to our greatest living saint)?

That bold Maverick McCain is shocked, shocked to see the Russians committing violent aggression against a sovereign country. Why, that's against international law, the Maverick says! Such a thing has no place in the 21st century! Actually, he said "21st century Europe", so he qualified it a bit.

Still, having been one of the main cheerleaders for the Iraq War, you would think he might be embarrassed to say such a thing. But, apparently, you would be wrong.

But doesn't he realize at some level what a sad joke that is to most of the world? And to most Americans who stop to think about it? Zbigniew Brzezinski at least has some credibility from having opposed the Iraq War when he outlines a hawkish policy on Russia and Georgia, although he sounds way too willing to restart the Cold War for me.

Brzezinski hauls out the Hitler-and-Czechoslovakia analogy, of which we will apparently never be free. He at least prefers the USSR-Finland analogy, which may be largely irrelevant but is least not completely hackneyed. And he says Putin is the new Stalin rather than the new Hitler.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia have been de facto independent and actively cooperating with Russia since 1992. Before that, in the days of the Soviet Union, their areas had been recognized as being the terrain their respective ethnic groups formally controlled. (Overridden by central Soviet authority, of course.) The latest fighting probably establishes an independent existence for South Ossetia as an effectively permanent status, allied to the Russians. Maybe for Abkhazia, too.

McCain and the neocons are so stuck in their fantasies of the US as the world-dominating superpower facing Cold War-type enemies is so strong they can't see straight. But the truth is that any US national interest in Georgia is marginal. And in any case, the US has no practical military solution to the conflict. nor many recourses of other types, either.

Of course, the neocons and their favorite Maverick can always find a vital US interest anywhere, even if they have to forge the evidence to back it up. McCain's statement today claims:

Russia is using violence against Georgia, in part, to intimidate other neighbors such as Ukraine for choosing to associate with the West and adhering to Western political and economic values. As such, the fate of Georgia should be of grave concern to Americans and all people who welcomed the end of a divided of Europe, and the independence of former Soviet republics. The international response to this crisis will determine how Russia manages its relationships with other neighbors. We have other important strategic interests at stake in Georgia, especially the continued flow of oil through the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which Russia attempted to bomb in recent days; the operation of a critical communication and trade route from Georgia through Azerbaijan and Central Asia; and the integrity and influence of NATO, whose members reaffirmed last April the territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty of Georgia.
Ah, more mavericky "straight talk". NATO has never made a commitment to defend Georgia militarily. Where NATO's credibility is really on the line, and the conflict that could wind up dissolving the alliance altogether, is in Afghanistan. "Integrity and influence" as McCain uses it here is a phrase similar to "credibility". If we assume that our influence should be decisive anywhere in the world, then anything that happens can be construed as a threat to our credibility/integrity/influence.

NATO expansion has gone far enough already. How could NATO admit a country like Georgia that doesn't control its own national territory, i.e., in South Ossetia and Abkhazia? But both McCain and Obama want to do it. Does that mean the day Georgia joins, NATO goes to war with the Russians over South Ossetia and Abkhazia? Will South Ossetia and Abkhazia be the Quemoy and Matsu and the next administration? (No, almost nobody remembers the Quemoy-and-Matsu issue which was a major theme in the 1960 Presidential election.)

While we're signing up for a new world war with Russia over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, we might keep in mind that, justified or not, it was Georgia that initiated the current round of military confrontation. Georgia has 37,000 troops, Russia 1.1 million. I'm just saying.

It's worth noting that at this year's NATO summit in Bucharest, the main opposition to putting Georgia on the formal track to admission to the alliance was Bush's back-rub buddy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Republicans expected Merkel's government to be far more supportive of their policies than the previous German government. Now, the bold Maverick says that this war is probably Germany's fault: "NATO's decision to withhold a Membership Action Plan for Georgia might have been viewed as a green light by Russia for its attacks on Georgia, and I urge the NATO allies to revisit the decision."

Oh, and he wants to commit US credibility/integrity/influence to some kind of support for Ukraine against Russia, too.

Unfortunately, Brzezinski's position seems almost as clueless when it comes to looking at the real limits of American power and the depths of the problems the Cheney-Bush foreign policy has created.

By the way, the initiation of conventional military hostilities by Georgia is very quickly morphing in the Establishment press and Republican rhetoric (what a coincidence!) into a sneaky invasion by Russia. Stalin attacks Finland! in Brzezinski's version. Now, there is a political and legal argument to be made that Georgia has every right to initiate military action on what is officially recognized by most of the world as their own territory. But with no apparent evidence, it's rapidly becoming in our media a carefully plotted Russian invasion.

Still, as a very practical matter of judging the good sense of potential allies, it's important for American leaders to recognize that the Georgian leadership initiated offensive military action in a situation in which they had no rational reason to believe they would prevail. Before the US and other NATO countries sign up for a mutual defense treaty with them, this is something that needs to be taken fully into account.

I don't want to be alarmist. But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should be showing us that we need to dial back our willingness to go to war and our inclinations to make risky alliances (e.g., Pakistan) without taking adequate account of the risks.

This op-ed in the war-friendly Washington Post, Black Sea Watershed by Ronald Asmus and Richard Holbrooke 08/11/08, uses a formula I'm going to start watching for now. It goes, "no one wants a new Cold War, but ..." Here are two examples of that usage in this one op-ed:

While no one wants a return to Cold War-style confrontation, Moscow's behavior poses a direct challenge to European and international order.
While Western military intervention in Georgia is out of the question - and no one wants a 21st-century version of the Cold War - Moscow's actions cannot be ignored.
Russia is claiming that the US has arranged for as many as 3,000 mercenaries, directed by US military experts, to fight in the Georgian army against the Russian Army. Before our obedient Establishment press dismisses those claims as propaganda, maybe they should look into it a bit more closely. The "War on Terror" became Cheney's and Bush's excuse to green-light all sorts of secret missions. And we know from the experience of Blackwater in Iraq that there are issues with using mercenaries. Not least of them is that it allows the Executive to more easily avoid Congressional and legal oversight.

Seriously, this credibility/integrity/influence approach to foreign policy with a President like McCain will lead to even bigger trouble than we're already dealing with in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that's a lot.

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"It is the logic of our times
No subject for immortal verse
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."

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