August 20, 2008

Some Addt'l Thoughts Re: Georgia

Just a few quick thoughts having scrolled through comments from the last post on Georgia.

--I did not mean to necessarily make the case that all NATO expansion was an awful idea coming out of the Cold War. We won it, after all, and there were arguably some legitimate reasons to extend the security umbrella of the "West" to central European nations formerly coerced into the Warsaw Pact by the Soviets. But there is a huge difference between countries like Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia on the one hand, say, and then Ukraine, Georgia and Latvia on the other. For instance, the latter grouping either have very significant Russian minorities (eastern Ukraine, including Crimea, and Latvia, of course, not to mention Estonia) or else at least disputed regions where Russians have significant interests (Georgia, as recent events painfully showcase). This is not the case with the Czech Republic and Hungary, of course. The point is not too dissimilar to the one's I quoted Kennan and Kissinger as making, to wit, the latter again: "the movement of the Western security system from the Elbe River to the approaches to Moscow brings home Russia's decline in a way bound to generate a Russian emotion that will inhibit the solution of all other issues." Which is to say, it's one thing for the Russians to accept the Czech Republic entering NATO, quite another Georgia, and some of the other countries I mention above (Poland is a harder case, of which perhaps more another day, though let me at least say for now the timing of the announcement of the missile defense arrangements is terrible). Or viewed differently still, what matters more to us, the "freedom" of South Ossetia (whatever that means given the tangled ethnic make-up and allegiances in the province, where most local inhabitants really are hankering for unification with North Ossetia--even as an 'autonomous' Russian republic perhaps--rather than integration into Tbilisi's orbit), or say, strategic cooperation with Russian on nuclear proliferation issues, whether loose Russian nukes, Iran, North Korea or myriad other issues? The answer is pretty clear, no?

--Most fundamentally, an alliance is about defending countries that come under attack, at the end of the day. If Putin moved to invade Prague, would we as a NATO alliance move to counter this aggression? I think we might well, though I don't think Putin would in a thousand years (despite some of the alarmist cover art making the rounds of late!). But let's say Putin made a significant military move in a part of Crimea, or a heavily Russian populated part of Latvia? Would we really go to war over it? Cheap, empty bluster from our pitiable national security team apart, who here seriously thinks we would send American men to die for Georgian (or Crimean) 'freedom'? Let's cut the charade, no? Some will tut-tut I am setting up a straw-man with this image of a massive land war with us on the front-lines beating back the Russian neo-imperial Bear across the Ossetian frontier. Instead, we have analysts (even ones formally affiliated with the Council on Foreign Relations, which I find quite shocking) salivating about sending Stingers and Javelins to Georgia, apparently with nary a thought (save a hasty, and quite underwhelming, blog "update") regarding the massive implications that would ensue. Arming the Georgians in this fashion would be interpreted by the Russians as an act of war, and we can forget about any strategic relationship with them full stop, and then begin to see them inexorably move to deepen their relations with the Iranians, Syrians, North Koreans, anti-American factions in Iraq, and more, with nary a concern at all for our concerns. Of course the chorus will scream, they already are cozying up to all those bad guys, so screw the Ruskies and send in the Stingers! But this is not serious, but rather barely concealed hysteria, or perhaps more accurate, post-adolescent preening passing as policy-making. Indeed, the truth is we've already over-reached in Georgia, as this C.J. Chivers piece makes clear:

In his wooing of Washington as he came to power, Mr. Saakashvili firmly embraced the missions of the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq. At first he had almost nothing practical to offer. Georgia’s military was small, poorly led, ill-equipped and weak.

But Mr. Saakashvili’s rise coincided neatly with a swelling American need for political support and foreign soldiers in Iraq. His offer of troops was matched with a Pentagon effort to overhaul Georgia’s forces from bottom to top.

At senior levels, the United States helped rewrite Georgian military doctrine and train its commanders and staff officers. At the squad level, American marines and soldiers trained Georgian soldiers in the fundamentals of battle.

Georgia, meanwhile, began re-equipping its forces with Israeli and American firearms, reconnaissance drones, communications and battlefield-management equipment, new convoys of vehicles and stockpiles of ammunition.

The public goal was to nudge Georgia toward NATO military standards. Privately, Georgian officials welcomed the martial coaching and buildup, and they made clear that they considered participation in Iraq as a sure way to prepare the Georgian military for “national reunification” — the local euphemism of choice for restoring Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgian control.

All of these policies collided late last week. One American official who covers Georgian affairs, speaking on the condition of anonymity while the United States formulates its next public response, said that everything had gone wrong.

Mr. Saakashvili had acted rashly, he said, and had given Russia the grounds to invade. The invasion, he said, was chilling, disproportionate and brutal, and it was grounds for a strong censure. But the immediate question was how far Russia would go in putting Georgia back into what it sees as Georgia’s place.

In short, we giddily trained and equipped the Georgians, and they in turn got carried away that national unification was in the offing (under cover of fancy American and Israeli materiel). But it wasn't to be, the bluff got called, and here we are looking the naive chumps, with blood spilled and innocents dead. There are many words for making representations and promises that you can't and won't fulfill--say bandying to all comers the prospect of rosy NATO membership--and then not following through on the implications of those false representations. One of them is B.S., and there is indeed plenty of that making the rounds in DC, day in, day out.

--Next in comments some thought I was overly symphathetic to the Serbs re: the Kosovo situation. Let me be clear. As anyone familiar with my background knows, I served over two years with the International Rescue Committee in the former Yugoslavia, working on deliveries of humanitarian aid and refugee resettlement. I am well acquainted with the brutishness of the Serbian and Bosnian Serb militaries and militias, was deeply repulsed by same, which was why I spent time between university and law school doing this humanitarian work in the early 90s. So I hold no brief for the Serbs, but I have spent enough time in the region to realize none of the parties were (or are) unadulterated angels. Bosnian Croats (especially in and around Mostar) could be every bit as nasty as Bosnian Serbs, and I know that some Bosnian Muslims were radicalized (say in the Zenica area) and committed their own atrocities. Ditto too in Kosovo--while the Kosovars have been subjected to the major lion's share of oppression there historically--the KLA has also oppressed the increasingly beleaguered Kosovar Serb minority there of late. So given this complex picture, a relatively headlong rush towards independence (Serbs, not to mention Kosovars, look at the history of Kosovo back over many centuries, so a decade or so is just a blip in time), rather than thinking through 'deep autonomy' arrangements with longer transition periods, not only was an affront to Belgrade, but also of course to its historical patron Moscow. My point is only that we cannot be too surprised that Moscow would deviously wield this supposed nefarious precedent to retalitate in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, like it or not.

--I also saw in comments some rather excited folks thinking Putin over-reached and would have his comeuppance shortly. I couldn't disagree more. His move was quite expert, and, despite the horrific military excesses (the Russians typically conduct such campaigns in brutal fashion, as Chechnya showcased in spades), nonetheless well calibrated in terms of not crossing major red-lines that would have united the world in massive anti-Russian ire. Contrast this precise action with the continuing blunders of our hyper-ventilating stewards of state spouting inanities about how 'everything has changed now' (vis-a-vis the U.S.-Russian relationship), that the 'seige' of Georgia will be lifted, that NATO membership is still in the offing, and so on. To this hokum and bunk and empty cacaphony Mr. Putin has been reasonably silent, but meantime delivered some cold, hard facts. This is rather more effective. I couldn't put it better than long-time Times correspondent Michael Binyon:

Vladimir Putin lost several pawns on the chessboard - Kosovo, Iraq, Nato membership for the Baltic states, US renunciation of the ABM treaty, US missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic. But he waited.

The trap was set in Georgia. When President Saakashvili blundered into South Ossetia, sending in an army to shell, kill and maim on a vicious scale (against US advice and his promised word), Russia was waiting.

It was not only Mr Saakashvili who thought that he had the distraction of the Olympics to cover him; the Kremlin also knew that Mr Bush was watching basketball, and, in the longer term, that the US army was fully engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. From the day that the Russian tank brigade raced through the tunnel into South Ossetia, Russia has not made one wrong move. Mr Bush's remarks yesterday notwithstanding, In five days it turned an overreaching blunder by a Western-backed opponent into a devastating exposure of Western impotence, dithering and double standards on respecting national sovereignty (viz Iraq).

The attack was short, sharp and deadly - enough to send the Georgians fleeing in humiliating panic, their rout captured by global television. The destruction was enough to hurt, but not so much that the world would be roused in fury. The timing of the ceasefire was precise: just hours before President Sarkozy could voice Western anger. Moscow made clear that it retained the initiative. And despite sporadic breaches - on both sides - Russia has blunted Georgian charges that this is a war of annihilation.

Moscow can also counter Georgian PR, the last weapon left to Tbilisi. Human rights? Look at what Georgia has done in South Ossetia (and also in Abkhazia). National sovereignty? Look at the detachment of Kosovo from Serbia. False pretexts? Look at Ronald Reagan's invasion of Grenada to “rescue” US medical students. Western outrage? Look at the confused cacophony.

There are lessons everywhere. To the former Soviet republics - remember your geography. To Nato - do you still want to incorporate Caucasian vendettas into your alliance? To Tbilisi - do you want to keep a President who brought this on you? To Washington - does Russia's voice still count for nothing? Like it or not, it counts for a lot. [my emphasis throughout]

So we know the winners here, but who are the losers in this sad affair? First and foremost, U.S. credibility (already eroded by the dismal Bush record on foreign policy), followed closely by Mr. Saakhasvili. Regarding the latter, even money the Georgians toss him out within 6-9 months, once the sense of unity borne of national emergency fades, as it likely will in coming months (barring new Russian forays into the south of the country). Saakhasvili badly blundered, betting that the cavalry was there for him. It wasn't, and won't be. Georgians will want more capable, realistic leaders. And so should we.

P.S. There is one other little item I meant to add here, as my initial post was quite anti-McCain, and some thought I gave Obama a pass. So, here's my unvarnished take on Obama...

For one, and it might sound silly, I would have liked Mr. Obama to don a coat and tie, get to an official-looking location in Honolulu (where I think he was vacationing), one that didn't seem right off the beach (or even get on a plane back to the continental U.S.), the better to give one serious, full-blown press brief/reaction to the events. Instead, we had a casually attired Obama give a somewhat halting-looking statement (or was it two? three?), with each time the goal-posts moving some.

I guess this happens after exhausting campaigns and when you have 300 foreign policy advisors. But it was not a particularly inspiring show, truth be told. This said, commenters who claim that the McCain and Obama positions were indistinguishable are simply blind. On the one hand we have one candidate declaring "We are all Georgians now", seemingly getting ready for another Cold War (“Russian aggression against Georgia is both a matter of urgent moral and strategic importance to the United States of America"), stressing again the NATO role ("In this country -- it's that little country, a country whose territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty NATO countries reaffirmed at their summit in April -- terrible violence has occurred."), and then this additional bit regarding NATO and the NATO Membership Action Plan: "NATO's North Atlantic Council should convene in emergency session to demand a ceasefire and begin discussions on both the deployment of an international peacekeeping force to South Ossetia and the implications for NATO's future relationship with Russia, a Partnership for Peace nation. 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." So McCain would have an emergency session convened and suggests the decision to withold a Membership Action Plan was viewed as a "green light" to Russia to attack Georgia, quite a dubious contention indeed, and with it of course the attendant naked cheer-leading to put Georgia right back at the head of the NATO membership line.

Meantime, contrast this with Obama's most forceful statement: "I have consistently called for deepening relations between Georgia and transatlantic institutions, including a Membership Action Plan for NATO, and we must continue to press for that deeper relationship". Forgive me if I cannot take commenters equating these statements as somehow identical seriously, even if I would have preferred Obama not mention the Membership Action Plan at all. And all these substantive differences apart, we should also mention the important differences in tone, which Jake Tapper spells out a bit here. Tone matters too, in all this. Indeed, very much so. Look, frankly I was somewhat surprised to see the quite heated views of people like Richard Holbrooke and Ronald Asmus on the Georgia issue, and so it is clear that a not insignificant number of Democrats were feeling rather hawkish on the issue, thus the tug and pull with Obama's statements. But make no mistake, even given this back-drop among some of his advisors (or more generally influential Democratic foreign policy voices like Holbrooke's), Obama's comments were significantly more sober than McCain's, and so I am more than happy to stand by my contention that Obama took McCain in the "3 AM test" (which, again, I consider laughable gimmickry, but nonetheless felt compelled to comment on), by the proverbial "mile."

Posted by Gregory at 05:44 PM | Comments (47)

August 11, 2008

McCain: Let's Compound the Blunder!

We live in a season of risible "3 AM moments", where the breathless commentariat in this country overhear a strange overseas country's name--perhaps with tales of some military action underway--and rush off towards dim-witted debates about what candidate would better handle that resultant red-phone ringing in the middle of the night (this phenomenon I guess most immediately derivative of Mark Penn's desperately lame "positive ad"). This infantile fare passes for serious debate on generally well-regarded sites like, or among the beard-stroking class chiming in from a Situation Room near you. There is really nothing we can do about it, this is the sad echo-chamber we dwell in, and it's not going to change anytime soon--so I won't belabor the point here.

This being said, if the horrors inflicted on varied Abkhazians, Ossetians and Georgians this past week (by both sides) must be seen from these provincial, grossly self-interested shores merely through the lens of the U.S. Presidential election, let me chime in very briefly within these contours. Regarding the 3 AM sweepstakes, Obama has taken it by a mile (if his Pavlovian movements to 'sound tougher' after his initial statement were a bit underwhelming, and sadly predictable). Witness this incredibly poor reasoning by McCain, jaw-dropping even by the standards of the mammoth policy ineptitude we've become accustomed to during the reign of Bush 43 and his motley crew of national security miscreants. Here is McCain:

Mr. McCain urged NATO to begin discussions on “the deployment of an international peacekeeping force to South Ossetia,’’ called on the United Nations to condemn “Russian aggression,’’ and said that the secretary of state should travel to Europe “to establish a common Euro-Atlantic position aimed at ending the war and supporting the independence of Georgia.’’

And he said the NATO should reconsider its previous decision and set Georgia – which he called “one of the world’s first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion’’ — on the path to becoming a member. “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,’’ he said. [my emphasis]

First, what does it matter in this context that Georgia was "one of the world's first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion"? If it had been the first to adopt Islam, or Judaism, or Buddhism, would the situation be different? Perhaps this might get assorted Christianists in an excited tizzy or such, which come to think of it, might be why some clueless aide to McCain, fresh from a Google sortie, decided to plug this little factoid into his statement. But what is really mind-boggling here is that McCain would have us double-down, and cheer-lead having NATO "revisit" the decision not to extend membership to Georgia! It is precisely this type of profoundly flawed thinking (think too the League of Democracies crapola bandied about from centrist advisors to Obama to the fanciful Kaganites around McCain who want to pick and choose who the supposed good and bad guys are meriting membership in the splendid "League") that has gotten Georgia into this bloody mess.

As George Kennan had put it (would that we had a single diplomat in the entire foreign service of his stature and caliber today):

"(E)xpanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold war era. Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.

Or, related, as Henry Kissinger had recently written:

"Confrontational rhetoric notwithstanding, Russia's leaders are conscious of their strategic limitations. Indeed, I would characterize Russian policy under Putin as driven in a quest for a reliable strategic partner, with America being the preferred choice...But the movement of the Western security system from the Elbe River to the approaches to Moscow brings home Russia's decline in a way bound to generate a Russian emotion that will inhibit the solution of all other issues. It should be kept on the table without forcing the issue to determine the possibilities of making progress on other issues."

These are the systemic historic forces at play here, and McCain would just idiotically throw fuel on the fire. Meantime, my post here sketched out the specific bill of goods leading to this crisis, whether the ill-advised, rushed handling of Kosovo, or how Saakhasvili's over-reaching was a major factor in contributing to this Russian reaction, among other factors. On this last, C. J. Chivers recaps it well in this NYT piece:

Some diplomats considered Mr. Saakashvili a politician of unusual promise, someone who could reorder Georgia along the lines of a Western democracy and become a symbol of change in the politically moribund post-Soviet states. Mr. Saakashvili encouraged this view, framing himself as a visionary who was leading a column of regional democracy movements.

Other diplomats worried that both Mr. Saakashvili’s persona and his platforms presented an implicit challenge to the Kremlin, and that Mr. Saakashvili made himself a symbol of something else: Russia’s suspicion about American intentions in the Kremlin’s old empire. They worried that he would draw the United States and Russia into arguments that the United States did not want.

This feeling was especially true among Russian specialists, who said that, whatever the merits of Mr. Saakashvili’s positions, his impulsiveness and nationalism sometimes outstripped his common sense.

The risks were intensified by the fact that the United States did not merely encourage Georgia’s young democracy, it helped militarize the weak Georgian state. [my emphasis]

We know from Kennan that NATO encirclement of Russia is ultimately a poor idea (incidentally, what is the purpose of the NATO alliance anyway with the Soviet Union defeated--nation-building in eastern Afghanistan, or some such?). And Kissinger is right that Moscow has been in the hunt for a "reliable strategic partner, with America being the preferred choice" (remember the Spirit of Ljubljana!), so why push them away allowing a country on Russia's southern under-belly (one far less important to us strategically), to have become such a nettlesome U.S. proxy badgering the Kremlin?

Look, all of this would have been stupid and deeply flawed policy, but at least morally defensible, if we meant to actually defend the Georgians. But we don't, and never will, as this would mean a war with Russia. We've had a tough go of it fighting small militias and tribes in Iraq and Afghanistan, so even McCain would pull back from such unbridled folly (though doubtless some imbecile will pen an op-ed in coming days about the need for NATO airstrikes on Russian forces should they attack Tbilisi UPDATE: Sorry, I was a little off here--and putting aside the imbecile moniker, so as not to get too personal--but we're speaking of Stingers and Javelins, not airstrikes. Impressive 'contentions'!).

So here is where matters stand. Rather than talk and obsess about what we should do, it is the Russians, sad to say, who will determine the fate of Georgia in the coming days and weeks, and so we might take a moment or two and stop and think about what their next moves are likely to be. Will they stop at Gori (just south of Ossetia) as well as a bit to the east of Abkhazia (a similar 'exclusion zone'), or have they now decided to march into Tbilisi and unseat this Government whole stop (I think it's a closer call which way Russia will go than many of us realize at this hour, but won't hazard to make a call just yet. UPDATE: The latest Russian moves would appear to indicate the former). As a Georgian civilian put it more pithily: "The border is where the Russians say it is. It could be here, or it could be Gori". Or, indeed, it could be Tbilisi, as I say.

Meantime, a Georgian soldier tells a U.S. reporter in the same piece: "Write exactly what I say. Over the past few years, I lived in a democratic society. I was happy. And now America and the European Union are spitting on us." They are, aren't they? They had no business making the cheap promises and representations that were made. No business on practical policy grounds. No business on strategic grounds (though I guess it got Rummy another flag, near the Salvadorans, say, for the Mesopotamian "coalition of the willing"). And now our promises are unraveling and nakedly revealed for the sorry lies and crap policy they are, with the emperor revealed to have no clothes, yet again. This is what our foreign policy mandarins masquerade about as they play policy-making, in their Washington work-stations. It's, yes, worse than a crime, rather a sad, pitiable blunder.

And one McCain would have us compound, I stress, again! An honorable man who served his country well, it is clear his time has past and his grasp on the most basic foreign policy calls we'll need to make in the coming years is very tentative indeed. He'll be surrounded by second-tier 'yes-man' realists and residual neo-con swill, few with any ideas worth pursuing if we mean to take the national interest seriously with sobriety and freshness of perspective. So let us help him exit off-stage gracefully, as he served his country with dignity when called upon, but let us not sacrifice our children's future to ignorants with deludely romantic notions of empire. Been there, done that. Indeed, we have a President who has announced a pre-emptive doctrine which allows us to, willy-nilly, instigate regime change when and where we deem appropriate. Who are we to lecture Putin now? What standing do we have to do so? And what parochial and self-satisfied myopia has us indignantly thinking we are some unimpeachable arbitrer of right and wrong in the international system after the disastrous missteps of the past eight sordid years?

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.

Posted by Gregory at 04:06 PM | Comments (176)

August 09, 2008

Georgia On My Mind

The commentary being churned out in the Western press regarding Georgia is rather pitiable in the main (most notably this dreary WaPo piffle, stinking of knee-jerk group-think as it does from beginning to end). A few quick points, in no particular order. First, let us disabuse ourselves from the notion that Mr. Saakashvili is some glorious democrat (the election he barely won in January included irregularities, and there continues to be endemic corruption in Tblisi). Second, let us recall that many south Ossetians and Abkhazians are not particularly keen to live under Tbilisi's yoke, indeed some prefer Russian influence to predominate there for the time being. Third, if there is any truth to Russian allegations that there are some 1,500 fatalities in the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali--and they were caused by a major initial over-reach by the Georgian military (we will need to wait for more details to emerge)--expect many more brutish bombardments like the Russians apparently have conducted in the Georgian town of Gori, alas. Fourth, some context: ever since the overly hasty recognition of Kosovo went live, Putin has been very keen to intimate what's good for the goose is good for the gander, having personally threatened Saakashvili that Russia would formally recognize as independent states Ossetia and Abkhazia. Unfair and inconvenient, at least to Georgian 'sovereignists' (or, to others, irrendentists)? Yes, to a fashion, as the perils of too breezy analogizing among these different situations is quite clear. Still, the Kosovo precedent was going to be used to Putin's purposes, of course, humiliating as the events in Pristina were to Moscow, and with the barely concealed breezy cheerleading from Brussels and DC adding insult to injury.

Which brings me to a fifth point, and perhaps a more proximate causal factor contributing to this explosion of misfortune in Georgia, namely, that of stupidity, or at least, severe miscalculation. Saakashvili, an apparently quite idealistic 40 year-old former NY lawyer, seems to have erred too much in thinking that giddy summitry with Western big-wigs might pay dividends (or too his far too excited involvement in the Iraq adventure which, incidentally, looks to be coming to a quite precipitous end) but unfortunately, insufficiently appreciated the disastrous waning in U.S. power these past years, despite his constant hankering for NATO membership (which a resurgent Russia will never accept regardless of Kosovo or whatever else, best I can tell), and thus has fallen short with regard to better appreciating a variable which would have been more apropos, namely, a harsh dose of realpolitik. And this despite Putin having warned Saakashvili rather pointedly: "On April 21, Mr. Saakashvili called the Russian leader to demand that he reverse the decision [possible Russian recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia]. He reminded Mr. Putin that the West had taken Georgia’s side in the dispute. And Mr. Putin, according to several of Mr. Saakashvili’s associates, shot back with a suggestion about where they could put their statements. Mr. Saakashvili, prudent for once, shied from uttering the exact wording, but said that Mr. Putin had used “extremely offensive language,” and had repeated the expression several times." Permit me to be less prudent than Mr. Saakashvili, who appears perhaps to be a poor prioritizer of where to be prudent and where not. Mr. Putin told him that he could (and excuse the crudity) stick American and Western European assurances regarding the territorial disputes in question up his rear end, I suspect, and I'm afraid that's not a too inaccurate assessment, if a bit biting and brusque (save if McCain trumps Obama and decides to ride the NATO cavalry up from Kabul to Tbilisi a few months hence--perhaps on the back of some more WaPo interventionist rhapsodizing--devoid of the merest smidgen of appreciation for historical context and subtlety, leading to another toweringly idiotic 'Washington consensus' of some sort).

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.

Last, and somewhat tangential, interesting to note in passing (though highly unsurprising) that when we are are not speaking of a hiccup in financial regulatory issues in Moscow or such (where Medvedev was taking to flexing some muscle), it is Putin who leaves Beijing for the staging ground of the operation, not Medvedev. All the more reason for Saakashvili to be concerned...

NB: Larison is on top of this as well, just keep scrolling over there--but this post might be a good starting point--as it's particularly cogent (especially his contention that "Kissinger and Cohen are right", with which I mostly concur, and helpfully saves me the trouble too of having to write about yet another Kagan).

UPDATE: WP: "U.N. Security Council met for the fourth time in four days, with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad accusing Moscow of seeking "regime change" in Georgia and resisting attempts to make peace." You can't make this stuff up. You'd think a capable diplomat like Zalmay K. would steer clear of such phraseology, not least given the gross attendant ironies given the Iraq imbroglio, no? Incidentally, I've espied commenters at other sites (where this post has been picked up) who appear to find me unsympathetic to the Georgian side. Not at all. It's precisely because I care about innocent Georgian lives being needlessly spilled that I'm so dismayed by Saakashvili's recklessness, including notably his naive belief in Western support should Putin get nasty (by the by, and to stress again, the notion that Georgia would become a full-fledged member of NATO was always absurd fare, and shame on Brussels and Washington for playing pretend). I should say too, any concerted military action by the Russians south of Gori begins to well cross red-lines (Putin will argue Gori is too close a staging ground towards Tskhinvali--not necessarily false, though civilian apartments don't pose a threat, but again, if you believe Russian reports, Saakashvili's excesses in Tskhinvali were even worse). Meantime, Saakashvili might take a peek at his reward for 2,000 men in Iraq: here is our charming POTUS (courtesy of Andrew Sullivan, for which thanks) cavorting about the sand volley-ball dunes of festive Beijing during Misha's time of troubles. Nero meets Crawford meets NASCAR, I guess. Send the pic to other possibly interested parties in Kiev, Central Asia and the Baltics too....

Posted by Gregory at 02:40 PM | Comments (18)

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