Those Plucky Georgians


Not quite as Bill Kristol advertizes:

Russia must be condemned for its unsanctioned intervention. But the war began as an ill-considered move by Georgia to retake South Ossetia by force. Saakashvili's larger goal was to lead his country into war as a form of calculated self-sacrifice, hoping that Russia's predictable overreaction would convince the West of exactly the narrative that many commentators have now taken up.

I'm struck by how Iraq still casts a shadow. On what grounds, after all, does the Bush administration condemn Russia? Launching a war without UN permission? Er ... it's not that easy for the US to go all high-minded at this point. How strong is the NATO alliance in reacting to this kind of provocation? Immeasurably weakened by the past seven years. Why is Russia so much more powerful than it was? Putin's political skills and oil - whose value has sky-rocketed since the US invasion of the Middle East.

Georgia, alas, is within Russia's traditional field of influence, and was provoking the kind of massive over-reaction they're now getting.

The fantasy that a country like Georgia, however much we may want to support its democratic aspirations, is a big player in great power politics - fecklessly encouraged by the abstract "freedom-is-on-the-march" utopianism of Bush - has now been thoroughly debunked. No, this is not Bush's fault. But it is partly his fault that our options and moral standing are so limited in response. Georgians, led foolishly on, will now turn on the West just as emotionally as they once foolishly glommed onto it. And no, this is not Czechoslovakia or Hungary. Russia is no longer a totalitarian country, just a corrupt-but-relatively-free-market autocracy on the steroids of the oil bonanza. But Russia is still Russia.

The US will do nothing but diplomacy because there is no vital interest at stake in Georgia, and because the US military is completely absorbed in two wars that make this Georgia-Russia conflict a tea-party. Russia knows this; the US knows this; the EU knows this; and the Georgian leadership was too cocky to absorb it.

So can we quit the hyper-ventilating, please? This is another indicator of how the world is not uni-polar, and how badly this administration has managed American soft and hard power for the last seven years. A stronger, more belligerent Russia is part of the post-Bush picture. And there's not much anyone can do about it now.

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