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 August 20, 2008 05:44 PM

If you Russians don't get out of Georgia immeadiatly, We mean totally withdraw, President Bush will take the toughest action possible. No NOT nukes. He has threatened to throw himself down on the oval office floor and kick, and thrash till you get out. You have been warned. This after holding his breath till he turns blue. I know you, probably aren't smart enough to be scared, but he really means it. You leave him no choice. Your choices are clear , act now or he , Bush will get tough. LOL.

Posted by: Dave S. at August 20, 2008 08:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I give it 20 minutes before your resident neocon trolls come over here and have a cow.

Posted by: bleh at August 20, 2008 08:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Oddly enough, I was painfully realizing the extent of willful dishonesty in the conservative media, just in the few days before things got hot in FSR Georgia. Now there's no way I'm voting for McCain in November. He repeated that "first Christian country" meme yet again at today's campaign appearance and I've concluded that, at best, he's more nakedly contemptuous of American voters than I had previously thought and, at worst, if Randy Scheunemann's lobbying assignments influenced events more than a little, then we may have something far worse than the Lincoln Bedroom thing ever was. Yet there are so many people in the US media, including supposed centrist circles, that are giving in to what I call intellectual prejudice and refusing to acknowledge all of the facts that have proven out. I abruptly quit from RedState for this reason, and because I've finally had enough of some of the people who sell their books through Eagle Publishing, profiting from manufactured outrage and lies while I'm still waiting to be rewarded for my honesty.

Militarily, I think comments by US trainers in Tbilisi, as reported by Moscow Times, help to prove that Georgian forces really had no business rushing into this fight, and in any case, nobody should jump into a fight without close air support. It's just as true now as it was at Dien Bien Phu.

Posted by: Jon Lester at August 21, 2008 12:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The US needing political cover (i.e., some more allies) for its invasion/occupation of Iraq decided to arm/train and militarily ally itself with Georgia. Georgia, with its newest friend and newly trained troops (thanks Iraq war) decides to pick a fight with Russia. Getting a lot of people killed and if some people would have their way, getting a whole lot more people killed.

Isn’t that the sort of thing conservatives used to worry about? The whole unintended consequences business….

Posted by: hankest at August 21, 2008 08:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm not convinced that Obama's "most forceful" statement on the Caucasus' slugfest earns him the 3am moment by a "mile. " His statement is a liitle more than a reflection of his carrots and carrots foreign policy mantra thus far. It is consistent with his greater message of let's all get along.

On that basis, his statements will always be less of a geopolitical tocsin than anything that Mr. Grouchy says and often sound more superficially reassuring, but Obama's refined and gentle council at this point has the advantage of being made in a relative vacuum.

I suspect it shalln't be long before the shit hits the fan and Zbig as Realist sends him an email reminding that the Kremlin doesnt function on or adhere to the doctrine of handshakes, hugs and dreams. Your boy Kennan was the one who noted the Russian DNA of paranoia, xenophobia, Stalinist bloodlines and a reflex for the politics of smother and suffocation. Square that tendency with their loose-cannon satellites.

Thus, if the 3am moment rises to the level of actually having to retard the Russian aggression, and this moment was periliously close, it will take a bit more than a soothing voice to allow us all a good nite's sleep.

Posted by: resh at August 21, 2008 09:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

8:59 --

I give it 20 minutes before your resident neocon trolls come over here and have a cow.

9:46 --

I suspect it shalln't be long before the shit hits the fan and Zbig as Realist sends him an email reminding that the Kremlin doesnt function on or adhere to the doctrine of handshakes, hugs and dreams. Your boy Kennan was the one who noted the Russian DNA of paranoia, xenophobia, Stalinist bloodlines and a reflex for the politics of smother and suffocation. Square that tendency with their loose-cannon satellites.

They're a bit slow today.

Posted by: sglover at August 21, 2008 11:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


A few points in response --


The way I am reading you, you feel that expanding NATO membership to countries with a substantial Russian minority is likely a mistake, infuriating Russian (and, by extension, the Russian minorities.). I can see that as an issue for a country like Ukraine, which has a such a large Russian population that there is an argument for an adjustment of the borders. I wonder, though, whether that applies in the same way with the Baltics, who have as much of a reason to be wary of Russia as Eastern Europe countries (and have populations inclined to join NATO). It's something to think about.

Really, though, the test we should use for NATO membership is whether we have the willingness and ability to go to war to defend that nation. Because that is what NATO obiges us to do. With respect to Georgia, it should have been obvious that we do not have the ability, given Turkey's non-acquiesence in our Iraq adventure. With respect to the Baltics, it may be a different issue. I tend to think Europe and the US would react differently (and more negatively) to an attack on a nation in Europe.


I think people can agree to disagree on this issue, as it was a tough call. My own sense is that, given the awfulness of the Serbs to the Kosovarians, Kosovo would either have to be an unofficial UN protectorate or an independent state. I don't think the Kosovars could trust the government in Belgrade to look out for its best interests. A slow process -- as you suggest -- pobably would lead to situations such as those that greeted the British in Palestine in the mid-late 40s, or India over the same time frame. There would likely have been more violence, and the same result in the end.


I think we have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that Georgia's borders are and will remain very much diminished. The plight of the Georgians, though, seems so much their own doing, that I am just not terribly sympathetic.

Nevertheless, Russia does need to pay a price for this. Invading other countries (without any effort to go to the UN) for no particular reason than pique and a desire to threaten an oil pipeline should cost something. Since Russia has oil and other resources we all badly want, it seems unlikely that the "costs" imposed can be economic. Instead, that cost is going to be something like missiles to Poland, or NATO membership for the Ukraine, or some other action in the chess match that makes the invasion of Georgia seem less brilliant.


Oh, Hell, I have nothing to say here except that man has never met a diplomatic crisis he didn't overreact to.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at August 21, 2008 03:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Meanwhile, Russia is again one step ahead of NATO. According to Several hours ago Russia suspended all military cooperation
with NATO; whether this includes suspension of transport of materiel to Afghanistan isn't clear at the moment.

What is funny, thought, that not a single western outlet even mentioned this.

Posted by: Skeeve at August 21, 2008 03:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So Putin is Bismarck while Bush/McCain play Napolean III..........

Posted by: Vile Whig at August 21, 2008 04:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think I'd recommend for Ukraine to continue operating outside of NATO, negotiating its own cooperative agreements as a free agent, which it has recently shown it can do with much greater speed than the NATO bureaucracy ever does. That would help calm the resident Russian families in Ukraine and it might even prod Russia towards some kind of friendly detente with Ukraine.

Posted by: Jon Lester at August 21, 2008 08:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gregory mentioned Jake Tapper, Jake's site is highly censored, not for violations of the TOS, but for politically incorrect speech.

I tried to post a cogent comment that mentioned Israel's crucial role in the militarization of Georgia but the post was up for only a few minutes.

It appears that I am now banned on Jake's site. No biggie.

A litttle research reveals that Jake Tapper is an Israel-first Zionist.

Jake is a smart kid, but he is an arrogant apologist for the Jewish State in Palestine.

Take anything that Jake says with a very large grain of Kosher salt.

Posted by: new_york_loner at August 21, 2008 09:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Putin and Co are watching Western reaction to Georgia very closely. Including Obama's shifting positions at 3 am, 8 am and 3 pm.

Do they perceive that as strength confronting them? Perhaps not. My guess is that Russians don't have great respect for sobriety.

What are their long-term goals for the rest of their former empire?

They will respond more cooperatively to perceived strength now than when they are stronger militarily down the road.

As we have learned before about aggressors, but apparently have forgotten. Former soviet bloc satellites haven't, clearly.

Posted by: Neill at August 21, 2008 09:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

How will the Intern-In-Chief respond to Putin nuke-rattling?

I think we all know.

Posted by: Neill at August 21, 2008 09:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Extended, impossible to secure, supply lines, weather, endless ethic conflicts serving as hidden tripwires to those so inclined to write their names, and bind their nation, on pieces of paper they don't read........huge public debt, huge deficits, crumbling infrastructure, decimated housing market, unfunded govt mandates coming due, beyond serious energy crisis, climate crisis, grossly overextended manpower issues, equipment issues from overuse in combat, overwhelmed Veterans' medical service units, and onward....

I am impressed how these things mean nothing, or little, to neocons and neoliberals.......endless war is your chant. Endless appeals to fear. Endless appeals to 'stand up, don't be pushed around'. It like returning to my freshman year in high school.

Well, you guys run the go ahead, do what you will. Suck us into another defeat. Cause you guys loose wars. Iraq (which, you will no doubt call a victory...god spare us victories like that), Afghanistan, and your association spells doom as well, Gaza 2005, Israel 2006, Georgia, 2008. And still you are back for more, back with a new cause.

Posted by: jonst at August 22, 2008 09:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Defeatocrats "loose" wars voluntarily, if memory serves.

Let's see, they began our involvement in Vietnam, then ultimately de-funded the SVA, precipitating a genocidal bloodbath of historic proportions. Luckily for them, it was only llittle yellow people, and as Defeatocrats controlled the media, it was virtually ignored. Voila! Little or no political damage.

So, through Defeatocrat lenses, defeat was actually a huge victory.

Regarding Iraq, had the Defeatocrats been politically powerful enough, they would have engineered another massive defeat for America, precipitating another genocidal bloodbath (little brown people this time), this time in a region of critical strategic importance to the world.

And considered it another great victory for their party.

Defeatocrat response to a serious Bully on the playground?

Hide in the classroom til recess is over.

Posted by: Neill at August 22, 2008 10:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

So Neill, when are you enlisting in the US armed forces?

Or will you remain a partisan cheerleader, content to let others go after the "playground bullies"?

As for the Vietnam fiasco, it is fair to say that both major political parties were culpable.

It all started when Ike, a Republican, gave the French the green light for their revanchist efforts in what was then known as "French Indo-China".

Democrats JFK and LBJ acquiesced and escalated the American involvement.

Republican Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon desperately sought a military "victory" in that hell-hole, but Nixon was reluctantly forced to accept what he referred to as "peace, with honor".

There was no honor in our intentions, it was all about the War Lobby and it's control over the Executive and Legislative Braches of our federal government.

In that respect, not much has changed. We are dragged into these conflicts for highly publicized "good reasons"; the "real reasons" for our involvement are obscured by mass hysteria.

Obama and McCain are both beholden to the War Lobby, so I'm not optimistic.

You will get your pound of flesh, Neill, just sit back and relax, we ain't seen nuthin' yet!

Posted by: new_york_loner at August 22, 2008 12:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

While McCain's and Obama's positions were strikingly different to me at first, they both have to get sort of roped in once NATO issues its (impotent) line, Greg. Neither man can much afford to stray real far from that -- Obama the more so I suppose -- so he ends up getting pushed by Rice somewhat. Given that background I'm not clear a formal reaction presser would'
ve been such a hot idea: he's rather at the mercy of events.

Posted by: Sanjay at August 22, 2008 12:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To clarify, US military involvement in Vietnam was both initiated and massively expanded by Democrats.

Then they turned on Republicans who were actually succeeding at cleaning up the Democrats' Vietnam mess, destroyed Nixon with Watergate, de-funded our allies in Vietnam, precipitated the genocide and .......

successfully declared that the defeat was actually a Democratic victory.


Posted by: Neill at August 22, 2008 01:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Still got no answers for the supply line dilemma, do you Neill? Well, that's ok Neill, neither did Napoleon, or Hitler. On another note, I must admit, it touchs my heart, indeed, warms the cockles of it, to hear your touching concern for the "yellow" and "brown" people. This, selective, concern, is a notable attribute of the supporters of the War Without End.

Posted by: jonst at August 22, 2008 01:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


You did not "clarify" anything, you did attempt to "obfuscate" the facts.

Nowadays they call it "spin".

If you truly believe your assertion that, "Republicans were actually succeeding at cleaning up the Democrats' Vietnam mess", then I would submit that you are deluding yourself.

Nobody, not even the Democrats, have ever claimed that the American defeat in Vietnam was, as you put it, "actually a Democratic victory."

As for the Democrats destroying Nixon by way of the Watergate scandal, the ugly truth is that Tricky Dick destroyed himself, his paranoia and his Machiavellian values brought about his ultimate demise.

If there is anything "shameful" here, it's your intellectual dishonesty on these issues.

Posted by: new_york_loner at August 23, 2008 12:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Like most neocons and "national greatness conservatives" Neill clearly learned all he knows about international relations on the school playground -- an arena where I suspect he did not fare so well.

Posted by: SqueakyRat at August 23, 2008 05:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A few months ago Russia reacted to Georgian troop increases near Abchazia with troop increases in Abchazia - preventing a Georgian invasion. It also shot down an unmanned Georgian plane that had no right to fly there. But instead of praising Russia for its moderate and appropriate approach Western diplomacy fell over Russia like a ton of bricks. This taught Saakashvili that he could get away with any aggression and it taught Russia that its subtlety was misinterpreted in the West as weakness.

Saakashvili is very much a product of Western policies. The West brought him to power with the Rose revolution (supported by millions of foreign dollars) and his economic success story can be partly attributed to an increase of Western aid. But he is well aware that he has to stay in the news to keep up the Western generosity. Unfortunately this makes it unattractive for him to follow the sensible approach: developing good relations with Russia and trying to appease the secessionist minorities. It is more profitable to pick a fight with Russia and complain in Western media about Russian aggression. This time he got more than he expected but I don't expect him to give up this dysfunctional behavior.

Posted by: Wim at August 23, 2008 10:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It is interesting to me that Saakashvilli worked, briefly, at the same firm Mukasey, was at, Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler. As I said...interesting.

Posted by: jonst at August 23, 2008 10:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


With a new strategy, Nixon succeeded in building up ARVN to the point where American troops could be sent home.

Watergate was critical to the ultimate doom of South Vietnam. I never contended that Nixon didn't provide the sword to his Democratic adversaries, but it was the Democrats that ran him through, with relish. Any hope of survival for his war strategy died with his administration.

Wikipedia: Without the necessary funds and a collapse in South Vietnamese troop and civilian morale, South Vietnam found it impossible to defeat the North Vietnamese army. Moreover, the withdrawal of U.S. aid encouraged North Vietnam to begin an intense military offensive against South Vietnam. This was strengthened by the fact that while Nixon had promised Thieu a "severe retaliation" if the Communists broke the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, the new American administration did not think itself bound to this promise. (my add: at that point, it was politically impossible)

Your contention that Democrats don't consider the destruction of Nixon and his war policy an epochal political victory and didn't strut on its political grave is, well, just not true.

The Democratic policy of choosing de facto surrender and defeat in Vietnam (the war they started) as part of the spoils of their political victory in the wake of Watergate, while the communist Chinese and Soviets continued to support the North Vietnamese, was shameful and appalling.

It's not a coincidence that another US ally, the Shah of Iran, fell just four years later during the4 Jimmah administration -- with repercussions that continue to trouble us today.

Posted by: Neill at August 23, 2008 12:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Neill, U.S. foreign policy and what actually goes on in the world seem to you to matter only as a backdrop for domestic political grievances. You just use it to try to, albeit not succeeding, score political points against Democrats.
Not very interesting.

Posted by: michael w at August 24, 2008 08:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have to disagree with Gregory's view on Obama. I think that he makes a mistake by not distinguishing analysis and recommandations.

McCain is clear. His analysis is that we Georgia is a clear case of Russian aggression. And his recommendation is that Russia should be confronted with Cold War style resoluteness.

Obama is much less clear. He does not provide an analysis. Most of is recommnedations are neutral like asking both parties for restraint. And the only time when he makes a difference it is when he stresses Georgia's territorial integrity.

For well-informed people like Gregory this may sound like he supports their position. But most of the US media and the US government support McCain's position that Russia is the clear aggressor and by not explicitly oppposing that position Obama is seen by most Americans as embracing it too. And that makes it easy for McCain to say that Obama tries to confront Russian aggression with appeasement.

I believe that instead Obama should have come with his own analysis - attacking Saakashvili for his military adventurism and attacking Bush for letting the situation to get so out of hand. This is not an easy thing to do: he would have had to summarize his position in a few soundbites and any mistake would have been enlarged by his enemies. But it would have shown real leadership.

In a discussion it is disadvantegeous when you let other people frame the questions. Yet that is exactly what Obama has done.

Posted by: Wim at August 24, 2008 08:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

One question about the expansion of NATO: isn't it the case that not extending NATO membership to obvious countries (such as Latvia, Ukraine, Georgia) sends a message to the Russians that it is OK to invade those countries? If so, wouldn't it have been better not to expand NATO at all? Perhaps instead to have reached a post cold war security agreement which includes Nato ex-Soviet block countries nad Russia, the main point of which is an agreement on borders and stability?

Posted by: Never certain at August 24, 2008 04:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This is a good question with which to end a somewhat dispiriting thread.

The first Bush administration made a clear and deliberate decision that the collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire should not be marked by American triumphalism about our having won, and Russia having lost, the Cold War. There was to be no dancing at the funeral of Soviet Communism, nothing that might inhibit what was then thought (and quite correctly) to be the first priority of American policy, securing the reunification of Germany and the peaceable withdrawal of the Soviet Army from the occupied nations of eastern Europe. George H. W. Bush, indeed, was not entirely at ease with the idea of the Soviet Union breaking up; whatever else it was, the end of the Soviet Union was an enormous change in the international environment, and Bush had grown comfortable with the last Soviet leadership.

That the reunification of Germany and the restoration of freedom to the former Soviet satellites did in fact proceed in an orderly fashion and with a minimum of violence was the finest achievement of Bush's Presidency. A price was paid, however, in that no reckoning was ever demanded of Russia for the crimes of the Soviet period, crimes which -- as George Kennan suggested in a famous incident -- were fully comparable to those of the Nazis. The Soviet record was swept under the rug as far as the American government was concerned, and this made it easier for the tide to turn in Russia toward nostalgia for a time when Russian tanks could cross the borders of its neighbors with impunity. In terms of failing to come to grips with the lessons of history, the way the Putin government has dealt with the Soviet past is far worse than anything the American government has ever done under any adminstration, the current one included.

The driving force behind the expansion of NATO was the desire of former Soviet satellites to ensure that the Russians never came back. They associated Russians with the police state, with a deadening, malignant and inhuman ideology and with the arbitrary exercise of brute force -- an association merited right down to the last detail during Soviet times. At no time has Russia's government faced up either to the depth of this feeling or to the reasons for it. It has therefore found it easy to see NATO's expansion simply in terms of power: Russia lost control of its empire when it was weak, and will regain it once it becomes strong again. Weakness meant humiliation; strength will mean redemption.

The chief danger in the current environment lies in this disconnect. Never having acknowledged why all the nations they had ruled were so glad to see them go, Russia is tempted now to see every inability to dominate its neighbors as a national humiliation. In the event that the Russian government maintains great expertise and skill in calculating the power balances, the risk of a serious confrontation might be modest. But this is a very big condition, one that has not often been met in the course of Russian history.

It follows from this that a post-Cold War agreement on borders and stability that precluded NATO expansion would have solved no problems in Europe, and indeed might have created some new ones. The former Soviet states in Europe do not assume Russian goodwill or respect for their sovereignty, are right not to, and are correct to see membership in a military alliance as a useful means to ensure that their borders have protection more substantial than some Russian leader's word.

So far, the desires of the former Soviet states and the interests of the West coincide. But the fact of their having been abused by governments in Moscow for decades (in some cases, like Georgia's, for much longer than that) does not make the people of these states saints, or make all their causes ours. From the standpoint of American interests, it is even more imperative now than it has been in the recent past to avoid battles we cannot win; our resources are not unlimited, and we cannot sustain a foreign policy that stakes American credibility entirely to decisions made by other governments.

Not extending NATO membership to some nations on Russia's borders might well be an invitation for Russia to do what it did in Georgia. It is likely, in my view, that Georgia's close relationship with the United States was the only thing that kept Russian tanks out of Tblisi in this month's crisis. But our own calculus of American interests must reckon with the fact that a Russian move against, say, Ukraine over control of the Crimea is not something we could effectively oppose whether Ukraine were a member of NATO or not -- not without risking nuclear war, which we are not disposed to do over any conceivable issue in that part of the world. There are a number of such situations involving nations on Russia's borders; we will need to be selective in choosing which of these to involve ourselves in, and cautious about taking positions only because a friendly government asks us to.

Now, with respect to the Bush administration's policy: the mistakes it made in its relations with Georgia were made some time ago, consisting in not making clear to the Georgian president the limits of American interest in settling the disputes in the breakaway regions on Georgian terms and in allowing itself to be surprised when the Georgian president attempted to impose his own settlement anyway. The unpopularity of the Bush administration, richly deserved for its conduct in other areas, has been reflected here in the herd-like "Georgia had it coming" response by a number of foreign policy experts in this country who under other circumstances might have been alarmed at the invasion of a government openly friendly to the United States after it attempted to assert control over its own territory. One hopes without being entirely sure that any future crises in the region, after the Bush administration leaves office, will not provoke similar reflexive responses ("Latvia had it coming, "Ukraine had it coming") from our foreign policy cognoscenti the next time some state formerly under Soviet rule violates the Russian government's dignity. With that said, no alliance expands forever, and further NATO expansion should be driven by reason, not by reflex.

There remains that issue of the Soviet past and the "let bygones be bygones" approach taken to the end of the Cold War. Vladimir Putin, the former KGB officer, clearly has one view of that issue. It is a view that clearly informs Russian government policy; it is a view, to be short, that makes Russia a problem rather than a normal country, and will continue to do so for the forseeable future. Perhaps the ideal time to challenge that view was during the 1990s, perhaps not. But we have history from virtually every other inhabited area of the planet testifying that colonial rule much less intrusive and usually less bloody than that in Russia's past leaves a very substantial residue -- of resentments and bitter feelings at a minimum. How many, and worse, crises may we be laying the foundation for by refusing to see Russia's relations with its neighbors primarily in this context?

Posted by: Zathras at August 24, 2008 10:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I apologize for the digression.

Merely responding to attacks on my argument, though I realize it has drifted afield from Georgia. Please bear one additional statement, though you may not agree.

Had the US persisted toward a relative victory in Vietnam, the Iranian revolution would never have transpired, along with numerous lesser disruptions of a similar sort.

It transformed world history, not in a way favorable to America.

Posted by: neill at August 24, 2008 11:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I saw this and kinda choked:

"His offer of troops was matched with a Pentagon effort to overhaul Georgia’s forces from bottom to top."

Th information I get from is that the US recommendation to Georgia was for a army of three brigades and one motorized company. One of NATO's requirements for membership is that the military budget shouldn't exceed something like 2% GDP. At the time, Georgia's army was in a total shambles, and numbered something like 32,000 men. The Nato recommendation was an optimal force size of 13-15,000 men.

So, the Pentagon's recommendation to Georgia was to cut it's force in half. Doubtless, a calculation regarding giving Russia any kind of pretext went into that recommendation, as well as creating a feeling of overconfidence on the part of Georgia.

On her own, Georgia, in 2004, decided to add a fourth brigade, and to augment it's National Guard, bringing their personnel levels back up to 30,000. It may be that Georgia's economy was rebounding then, and the troubles with the two enclaves drove Georgia to believe the extra forces were needed. I don't see any way Georgia would jeopardize the earliest possible entry into NATO she could qualify for.

The two programs that the US aided Georgia with were an anti-terrorist program (Pankisi Gorge evidently harbors both Chechen rebels-Putin's claim-as well as Al Queda-claimed by Bush) and a program designed to integrate Georgian forces for their Iraq deployment. Georgian arms are, in fact, Russian. The only weapons systems the US sent to Georgia were a few of helicopters. We sent computers instead.

I'm trying to locate documentation to verify that recommendation now, but let's not overstate US aid to Georgia.

Posted by: papicek at August 25, 2008 12:31 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Zathras, good to hear from you again, old friend.

My apologies, if I had anything to do with your dispirited feelings. I confess, however, that your contribution to the thread has not left me feeling spirited, or even with a basic direction.

America' chief failing, then, in regard to the disintegration of the Soviet Union, is that we didn't properly exact an adequate "reckoning" for crimes committed during Soviet rule? And that lack of punishment is the primary variable for the situation we are faced with regarding Georgia now?

Forgive me, but isn't German resentment at the perceived onerous conditions laid down at the Treaty of Versailles identified as the prime instigator of resurgent German nationalism that led to the rise of Hitler and the montrous devastation of wwII?

And isn't the magnaminity of America to the vanquished nations of wwII, exemplified by the Marshall Plan, the prime reason there has been an unprededented global peacetime since?

"Now, with respect to the Bush administration's policy: the mistakes it made in its relations with Georgia were made some time ago, consisting in not making clear to the Georgian president the limits of American interest in settling the disputes in the breakaway regions on Georgian terms and in allowing itself to be surprised when the Georgian president attempted to impose his own settlement anyway."

I'm sure that you'll be happy to support your assertion with some actual facts.

So your basic contention is that 'it's hot, so we shouldn't touch it'.

That's a prudent approach.

Thing is, it doesn't square with the history, the collective story, of the United States of America.

Should we now forego who we are, and how we came to be what we are?

Which Presidential candidate agrees with that?


Posted by: neill at August 25, 2008 12:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


From U.S. Considers Train and Equip Program for Georgia Feb 27, 2002.

Make that:

"10 unarmed UH-1 Huey helicopters"

Wish I could find the actual documentation.

The state department gives a different figure for force levels:

GTEP supports
the training of four Georgian army battalions and
a mechanized company, plus training in tactics for
operations against terrorists for smaller numbers of
Interior Ministry troops and border guards.

The state department figures are cosiderably lower: 1,200 to 4,000, plus border and interior troops (for the sake of argument, let's say the same manpower levels as the regular army manpower figures), as opposed to globalsecurity's (probably more accurate) figure of 13-15,000.

Again, let's not overstate or misrepresent US military aid given to Georgia.

What did enrage Moscow was that after asking to help clean out the Pankisi Gorge of Chechen rebels, Georgia demurred, and asked the US & NATO for aid instead.

Posted by: papicek at August 25, 2008 01:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Neill wrote, “Had the US persisted toward a relative victory in Vietnam, the Iranian revolution would never have transpired, along with numerous lesser disruptions of a similar sort.”

Sounds like Neill is using the “post hoc, ergo propter hoc” argument to bolster his non-sequiturs and false analogies.

I love this guy.

Interesting analysis, Zathras.

The Russians are very sensitive to perceived threats from the West; they lost twenty million people in the 2nd world war.

Let us not forget, it was the Russians, not NATO, who liberated Eastern Europe from their Nazi overlords. The Russians liberated the most notorious Nazi death camps. They did the dirty work, with little post-war thanks.

It’s a long, long way from the North Atlantic to the Caucasus Mountains; NATO in the Caucasus is an incredible stretch. The Russians aren’t buying it.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization needs a new acronym. That and a few clever euphemisms might drive US public opinion to support an expansion of the War Lobby’s agenda for this remote region.

Posted by: new_york_loner at August 25, 2008 10:51 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Obviously, my speculation about Iran is nothing more than informed speculation, and can never be proven nor disproven.

I think it's a lot harder to make the case that Iran following on the heels of Vietnam is a just coincidence, than not.

Posted by: neill at August 25, 2008 04:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

For the record, I am firmly resolved that Americans should not forego who we are or how we came to be what we are. I haven't figured out quite what this has to do with our policy toward South Ossetia, but by God that's how I feel.

I'm not a fan of historical analogies, but were I to invoke one here it would involve not the Treaty of Versailles but rather the more recent treatment of the former Axis powers, both of which were -- shall we say -- strongly encouraged by the American government to confront and disavow the ideologies that had led their nations to be such a menace to the world, as well as the conduct flowing from those ideologies. Even this analogy is not exact, as Western preferences were imposed on nations under physical occupation in those cases. The fact remains that a Germany proud of its record of aggression in Europe and a Japan openly nostalgic for the prestige of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere would be regarded very differently by their neighbors than is now the case.

Credit where it is due: that Germany and Japan were strongly incentivized to repudiate the more egregious aspects of their respective histories does not detract from the fact that both peoples came to embrace that repudiation and embark on a more civilized existence. This is something Russia has never done, which is why the Russian government feels able to define Russian interests in the same terms earlier Russian governments did, as requiring submission by neighboring states on pain of invasion. Of all the things revealed by the Georgian crisis, it is this way of thinking that is by far the greatest threat to the peace of the region.

Posted by: Zathras at August 25, 2008 07:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think Zathras and I are in agreement as to the best long-term solution: Level and Occupy Russia.

It won't be easy, but well worth it in the long run. As a bonus, we won't have to expand NATO.


Posted by: Neill at August 25, 2008 08:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Neill wrote:

I think it's a lot harder to make the case that Iran following on the heels of Vietnam is a just coincidence, than not.


Personally, I don't see your argument, but perhaps you can expand it...

In Vietnam we had French colonial/business interests going after for the wealth of SE Asia, offset by traditional Chinese interests in the rich "rice bowl" of SE Asia, and Vietnamese patriots schooled in Markxist thought. When France floundered in its effort to stay in control, other Western owers stepped in; the US did it with hob-nailed boots and many feet.

In Iran we saw the US and Great Britain intervene for oil, arguably overthrowing a viable (if floundering) democratic government, and installing its own choice of autocratic rulers. With that ruler came the political pratices and all the trappings of a very repressive government. Then, in response to Islamic forces, who were disenchanted with the West and Western values, we saw an anti-Western push back, and a dminution of Western influence.

The only thing in common between the two, is a common enemy -- the West, which was tapping into the resources of the areas to the benefit of Western business interests.

The underlying motives, pressures, and ideologies/rationales seem very dissimilar, except in the desire to take control of their own lives. That part is not coincidental, but the underlying pressures seem quite different.

Where do you see the similarities and commonalities between VN and IRAN (or Iraq, or any of the countries in the Middle East)?

Posted by: Walt SHerrill at August 26, 2008 06:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

TBILISI, GEORGIA – Virtually everyone believes Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili foolishly provoked a Russian invasion on August 7, 2008, when he sent troops into the breakaway district of South Ossetia. “The warfare began Aug. 7 when Georgia launched a barrage targeting South Ossetia,” the Associated Press reported over the weekend in typical fashion.

Virtually everyone is wrong. Georgia didn't start it on August 7, nor on any other date. The South Ossetian militia started it on August 6 when its fighters fired on Georgian peacekeepers and Georgian villages with weapons banned by the agreement hammered out between the two sides in 1994. At the same time, the Russian military sent its invasion force bearing down on Georgia from the north side of the Caucasus Mountains on the Russian side of the border through the Roki tunnel and into Georgia. This happened before Saakashvili sent additional troops to South Ossetia and allegedly started the war......

Read the whole thing, for background and bona fides.

Posted by: Neill at August 26, 2008 11:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Interesting (as Totten usually is). But, not a mind changer in terms of policy. I don't think anyone on this thread -- including Greg -- has said the Russians are nice guys. And, even the experts on Totten's site agree that Georgia's President went out of his way to be provocative. Probably unwise. (As an aside, I'd like to know the vintage of the anti-russian posters Totten has posted on his site -- if they predate the War, they seem to be less than prudent -- don't you think?)

If you can figure out how the US is supposed to protect the Caucuses, while being squeezed between a hostile Russia and an unwilling Turkey, be my guest. NATO would likely love to hear from you.

Oh, by the way, your response to Zathras had me rolling on the floor. I had this nagging suspicion, though, that you might be serious...

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at August 26, 2008 12:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mr. SHerill:

"The only thing in common between the two, is a common enemy -- the West, which was tapping into the resources of the areas to the benefit of Western business interests."

And a common perceived US impotence in regard to protecting allies, first introduced by the Democrats post-Watergate.

Bin Laden's term is apt: America is a paper tiger.

Posted by: Neill at August 26, 2008 03:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Did our enemies think that America think that America was a Paper Tiger before 1975?


Because we weren't!!

Until we turned tail in Vietnam....

Think Khomeini didn't notice that seeing dead Americans is the Achilles Heel of the American people?

Posted by: Neill at August 26, 2008 07:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Neill wrote:

...And a common perceived US impotence in regard to protecting allies, first introduced by the Democrats post-Watergate.

I notice you didn't answer the earlier question: where are the parallels?

Watergate and Post-Watergate?

Were you around for the TET OFFENSIVE? (1968.) I was a year or two out of the military and in college, by then. I think that particular event had a lot more to do with the change in our posture and our confidence in the world than Watergate and what followed.

TET shook our confidence in our country's civilian and military leadership. After TET, it began to loke like our leaders had either lied to us or were incompetent. Or both.

It was beginning to look like that in Iraq, too... The difference now, is that we don't have a draft, our military is overworked, and its equipment is worn out. And, of course, we're seeing moths flying out of our pockets. Yet it seems you're ready to go to war.

As I learned long ago, in dealing with my wife and inlaws, you've got to pick your battles. It seems that for many, you included (and, it would seem, John McCain), any battle will do.

Thanks, but no thanks.

Posted by: Walt Sherrill at August 26, 2008 08:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I never mentioned any "parallel" between Vietnam and the Iranian Revolution. I said the former paved the way for the latter.

Enemies of America are interested in Tet and America's Vietnam surrender solely as the demonstrated template in how to defeat America.

Exposure of media images portraying American deaths (or hostages, in the case of the Tehran Embassy takeover) to the American voting public is the key component of that template. They know they can never defeat America at its strong suit, conventional military conflict, so they target America's weakness: a media that can be manipulated to to shake popular confidence and morale, which can translate into actual surrender at the ballot box.

Tet was terrible military defeat for the North Vietnamese. Tet was a huge media victory for the North Vietnamese, and as such was a major turning point in the war.

It's truly tragic that Americans don't seem to realize that the true battlefield is their TV screen. The Trojan horse is in each of our living rooms.

The combination of awesome American power, on the one hand, and staggering naivete, on the other, must be a source of endless puzzled amusement to our enemies.

Posted by: Neill at August 27, 2008 12:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In your most recent reply you wrote:

"I never mentioned any "parallel" between Vietnam and the Iranian Revolution. I said the former paved the way for the latter."

While you didn't use the world parallel, you did say essentially the same thing, when you wrote:

"I think it's a lot harder to make the case that Iran following on the heels of Vietnam is a just coincidence, than not."

If wasn't a coincidence, what was it? Just a matter of timing?

You seem to feel that if we could just win the military encounters we take on, we coulld also win the hearts and minds of the peoples we vanquish. I don't think it works that way.

Contrary to what Cheney and the neocons believed about Iraq, the people there weren't and aren't nascent Americans waiting only to be doused with right fertilizer to blossum into a vibrant Western-style democracy. The same was true in Vietnam, and it's true in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Put simply, it looks to me as though you're just venting, put off by the fact that we've not used all the power we could have used, upset that we didn't stick it out regardless of military deaths or cost in VN, and fearful that we've somehow gone soft and are about to repeat it again. You are also apparently upset that a relatively small country like Iran (or an ex-Superpower like Russian) can thumb their noses at us.

You may be right on all counts. But...

But it's also possible that we shouldn't have fought some of these battles or wars, or gotten outselves involved in some of these messes, in the first place. It's also possible the voting public and their elected representatives have come to understand this. Even the dumbest of us can learn from our mistakes.

The Iraq war has sated this generation's appetite for war, just as the Vietnam War did for an earlier generation. Every twenty years, it seems, we've got to learn it all over again.

Posted by: Walt Sherrill at August 27, 2008 09:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

All these comments and only a couple not ignoring the elephant in the room--BTC, oil, and gas! Does anybody really think that Russia would have given a whit about South Ossetia if there were no BTC pipeline busting Russia's monopoly over gas distribution to Europe from Central Asia? Come on, Greg, get real!

It's as if the Iraq Occupation had nothing to do with oil. Yeah, right!

The US foreign affairs propaganda machine can tell you everything about a situation but for one little thing--what's at stake here. I am really sick of propaganda and embedded bloggers who intentionally disregard a major part of the story.

All I can figure is that people working in foreign affairs in this country must realize that they will pay a price candor. And many earn their living from spinning convincing stories, full of ethnic tensions and emotional, irrational actors, that reflect only the part of the situation convenient to the US government.

The state of public discourse in this country is truly shameful.

Posted by: JohnH at August 28, 2008 08:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Here's some real analysis that does not shy away from talking about what is really at stake in Georgia. It's a lot more than US or NATO "credibility"--Georgia is the keystone to US ambitions in Central Asia.

Why does it take a former Indian diplomat to explain these things in a clear, direct manner?

Posted by: JohnH at August 29, 2008 10:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

aye yie yie....

from john h's above link:

Page 1 of 2
Russia remains a Black Sea power
By M K Bhadrakumar

If the struggle in the Caucasus was ever over oil and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's) agenda towards Central Asia, the United States suffered a colossal setback this week. Kazakhstan, the Caspian energy powerhouse and a key Central Asian player, has decided to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Russia over the conflict with Georgia, and Russia's de facto control over two major Black Sea ports has been consolidated.

At a meeting in the Tajik capital Dushanbe on Thursday on the sidelines of the summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Kazakh President Nurusultan Nazarbayev told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that Moscow could count on Astana's support in the present crisis.

In his press conference in Dushanbe, Medvedev underlined that

his SCO counterparts, including China, showed understanding of the Russian position. Moscow appears satisfied that the SCO summit also issued a statement on the Caucasus developments, which, inter alia, said, "The leaders of the SCO member states welcome the signing in Moscow of the six principles for regulating the South Ossetia conflict, and support Russia's active role in assisting peace and cooperation in the region." The SCO comprises China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

There were tell-tale signs that something was afoot when the Kazakh Foreign Ministry issued a statement on August 19 hinting at broad understanding for the Russian position. The statement called for an "unbiased and balanced assessment" of events and pointed out that an "attempt [was made] to resolve a complicated ethno-territorial issue by the use of force", which led to "grave consequences". The statement said Astana supported the "way the Russian leadership proposed to resolve the issue" within the framework of the United Nations charter, the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and international law.

The lengthy statement leaned toward the Russian position but offered a labored explanation for doing so.

Kazakhstan has since stepped out into the thick of the diplomatic sweepstakes and whole-heartedly endorsed the Russian position.
This has become a turning point for Russian diplomacy in the post-Soviet space. Nazarbayev said:
I am amazed that the West simply ignored the fact that Georgian armed forces attacked the peaceful city of Tskhinvali [in South Ossetia]. Therefore, my assessment is as follows: I think that it originally started with this. And Russia's response could either have been to keep silent or to protect their people and so on. I believe that all subsequent steps taken by Russia have been designed to stop bloodshed of ordinary residents of this long-suffering city. Of course, there are many refugees, many homeless.

Guided by out bilateral agreement on friendship and cooperation between Kazakhstan and Russia, we have provided humanitarian aid: 100 tons have already been sent. We will continue to provide assistance together with you.

Of course, there was loss of life on the Georgian side - war is war. The resolution of the conflict with Georgia has now been shifted to some indeterminate time in the future. We have always had good relations with Georgia. Kazakhstan's companies have made substantial investments there. Of course, those that have done this want stability there. The conditions of the plan that you and [President of France Nicolas] Sarkozy drew up must be implemented, but some have begun to disavow certain points in the plan.

However, I think that negotiations will continue and that there will be peace - there is no other alternative. Therefore, Kazakhstan understands all the measures that have been taken, and Kazakhstan supports them. For our part, we will be ready to do everything to ensure that everyone returns to the negotiating table.
From Moscow's point of view, Nazarbayev's words are worth their weight in gold. Kazakhstan is the richest energy producer in Central Asia and is a regional heavyweight. It borders China. The entire US regional strategy in Central Asia ultimately aims at replacing Russia and China as Kazakhstan's number one partner. American oil majors began making a beeline to Kazakhstan immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 - including Chevron, with which US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was associated.........

Posted by: Neill at August 30, 2008 01:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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