Thursday, August 14. 2008
The Georgia war keeps producing interesting posts. For starters, it gives the US right an excuse to nostalgically rehearse the Cold War and all those old arguments about how expansionism and the desire for world domination is encoded in Russian genes. (Actually, Zbigniew Brzezinski got into that act as well. He had developed into a reasonable critic of Bush's Middle East fiascos, he still reacts viscerally to Russia.) Evidently, such rhetoric still plays well in the echo chambers of the mainstream media, but it isn't as convincing as they think. Moreover, a gaping chasm has opened up between what that rhetoric implies and what any American with a lick of sense -- which remarkably includes Bush, Rice, and Gates -- is willing to do. But most entertaining of all is a wingnut who may (or may not) have helped to start the war, and who certainly thinks it's good news for his campaign: John McCain. Until this week, McCain's intimate ties and obsessive interest in a small country on the Asian side of the Caucusus Mountains was just plain weird, but now it reveals much about his worldview.
Media Blindly Accept the Notion That Russia-Georgia Conflict Is Good for John McCain. As Mark Halperin puts it, it "allows him to talk tough on foreign policy." Evidently that's always a winner with the "voting to kill" crowd.
Matthew Yglesias: Overhyping Georgia. Fair summary, pointing out how out of whack the rhetoric in the US has become. The worst case assumption, that Putin is reverting to Tsarist Russia's empire building, is especially unlikely:
More than a few people, including Putin himself, have pointed out that US rhetoric about the evils of invading other countries is hypocritical. They invariably fail to point out is how much of themselves US Cold Warriors project onto others. No other nation can even contemplate exercising hegemony. The two go hand in hand. What we fear in others is what we in fact are the ones doing, but cannot see because we're so effective at lying about it.
Juan Cole: Putin's War Enablers: Bush and Cheney. This is a shotgun blast of moral equivalences, but is oddly short of specifics. The most important insight is in pointing out how much Russia suffered during the 1990s when communism was replaced, to the bemusement of the west, by racketteering on a massive scale. Those hard times were tolerated by many as the price of liberation from communism, but they were also resented, which left Russia and many other ex-communist lands ripe for nationalist backlash -- the worst example to date being Serbia, which Russians seem to feel an emotional affinity to. Cole is an expert on Iraq, but not on Russia or its environs. Someone more knowledgeable could put a lot more detail into play here: Bush and Cheney enabled this war not just by setting a bad example; they've done many specific things to push Russia into opposition and to provoke Russia to action, and this is what they've got to show for it.
Robert D Kaplan: The Advantage of the First Move. I haven't read Kaplan's two recent books extolling the "imperial grunts" of the US armed forces, but it seems likely that there is something in them on US military support for Georgia since 9/11. Georgia is one of those places Kaplan wanders through in his travel books, and it's just the sort of far=flung imperial outpost that most excites Kaplan. So I dug around and came up with this new piece, where we find a glum Kaplan as much as conceding defeat (unappologetically, of course):
Even now, he's too optimistic: they're much more likely to play that weak hand badly.
Moon of Alabama: Pressing Russia? How?. Reviews a column Charles Krauthammer wrote up on "How to Stop Putin." It's the usual package of boycotts and rudeness, including the too subtle suggestion that Bush send Putin a copy of Charlie Wilson's War, to remind the Russians that if they try to occupy Georgia we can "make them bleed." First problem is that there is no actual evidence that Putin wants to occupy Georgia -- the goal there is to defend the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which currently includes busting up Georgia's military so badly they'll shy away from launching another attack. Second, Putin might get a bit too literal and consider arming the resistance against the current occupier of Afghanistan.
One problem I do see is that the more Russia is attacked (verbally) over Georgia, the more they're inclined to villify Saakashvili as a genocidal war criminal, which would ultimately put them into the same prison of rhetoric that the elder Bush got into in likening Saddam Hussein to Hitler. The latter remained a festering sore until another Bush traded it in for something much worse. I don't doubt that you can make a war criminal case against Saakashvili, but Russia would be best off to let the Georgian people and their vaunted democracy take care of him.
Helena Cobban: Sarkozy's Ceasefire Text, Georgia's Future. The latest of a series of good posts on Georgia, including a bit more on the Krauthammer piece. I'll just add that the "humiliating" treaty that Finland signed with the Soviet Union in 1947 worked out very well for Finland. At the time Finland was one of the poorest countries in Europe; now they are one of the richest. They converted a position of being on Russia's border into a credible position of neutrality, which allowed them to avoid the costs of being on either end of the Cold War. Significantly, with Finland posing no threat, the Soviet Union made no further efforts to encroach on its affairs, including trade policy. Such an outcome for Georgia (minus Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which should no longer be considered part of Georgia) would strike me as a good deal.
One more note: There's been a lot of talk about how oil fits into this equation, especially the pipeline through Georgia from Azerbaijan to Turkey, which was built as a way to bypass Russia (and for that matter Iran and Iraq) in shipping Caspian Sea oil to the west. As far as I know, the Russians haven't shown any interest in that pipeline, nor do I expect them to. This strikes me as another case of Americans projecting our own hopes/fears onto others.
I've also seen people blame the whole war on the oil bottleneck, which has certainly done much for Russia's current accounts. Such arguments are neither here nor there. Although it is true that it will be awkward to actually punish the world's largest oil producer, especially given how sensitive our free markets are to changes in oil production levels, or to Russia possibly jiggering their $500 billion in foreign currency reserves (like selling off US treasury debt).