If Russia doesn't halt its advance into Georgia, here's what Max Boot would have the U.S. do:
It is also important to give Georgia the wherewithal to defend itself. It has a small but capable military which has received lots of American training and equipment in recent years (and has paid us back by sending a sizable contingent to Iraq). But it may not have two key weapons that would enable it to wreak havoc on the Russian advance. I am thinking of the Stinger and the Javelin. Both are relatively small, inexpensive, handheld missiles. The former is designed for attacking aircraft, the latter for attacking armored vehicles. The Stinger, as we know, has already been used with devastating effectiveness against the Russian air force once before-in Afghanistan. The Javelin is newer, and the Russians haven't yet seen its abilities demonstrated. But there is little doubt that it could do a great deal to bog down the Russians as their vehicles advance down narrow mountain roads into Georgia.
If Russia doesn't call off its offensive right away, the Pentagon should rush deliveries of Javelins and Stingers to Georgia. If the Russians insist on committing acts of aggression, at least let their victims defend themselves properly-and make the Russians pay the kind of price they paid once before in Afghanistan. As we've learned recently, with Iran supporting anti-American attacks in Iraq, proxy warfare is a fiendishly powerful way of fighting. If it is used against us, it should also be used by us.
To his credit, Boot goes on to note the obvious objection that Russia might be in a position to make life miserable for us if we started treating Georgia as '80s Afghanistan, take two. Here's his rebuttal, starting with the Iranian front:
On Iran ...Russia has been more hindrance than help. It has helped Iran to develop its nuclear program and it has been selling Iran high-tech surface-to-air missiles. Russia has gone along grudgingly with weak sanctions at the UN but, along with China, it has blocked more robust action. If Russia delivers important aid in the war on terrorism or other areas, I'm not aware of it. Increasingly the Russians have adopted a confrontational tone with the West, and they have backed it up with bullying of our allies. The Bush administration and other Western governments have tried their best to get along with Russia. That has been interpreted by Putin not as a sign of goodwill but as a sign of weakness. It is time to send a different message by making clear that Russia has crossed a red line in Georgia.
Will Russia send high-tech munitions to insurgents fighting American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq? ... Given the problems that Russia has had (and continues to have) with Islamic extremists within in its own borders, if I were running the Kremlin I would be extremely careful about handing out missiles that could be used to bring down Russian aircraft. Al Qaeda, the Mahdist Army, and the Taliban are not exactly Russian allies at the moment, and it is doubtful that they could ever be reliable proxies.
Finally, economic warfare:
Will Russia disrupt fuel supplies to the West--in particular the natural gas supplies on which Germany and so many other European nations rely? ... Perhaps. It has certainly flexed its muscles in the past by disrupting energy supplies to Ukraine and other customers. The problem with that strategy is that it costs Russia a lot of money and runs the risks that its customers will find alternative suppliers in the future. Russia might well try this tack, but I doubt it would be a long-run success.
Now these arguments have a certain surface plausibility, but I would find them much more convincing if Boot were not simultaneously arguing that Russia's ambitions (and capabilities) run as follows: "Today, Georgia; tomorrow, Ukraine; the day after, Estonia?" It's hard for me to believe that Putin's Russia is both an aggressive, expansive power poised to rebuild the Soviet Empire at tank-point and that the Russians would be more or less helpless to retaliate against us in their own neighborhood if we decided to start a proxy war with them in the Caucuses. Sure, maybe Moscow wouldn't have a strong countermove, but do we really want to dare them to make things harder for us where Tehran's quest for nukes is concerned? Or dare them to foul up our ongoing counter-insurgency in Afghanistan? Is the fate of Abkhazia and South Ossetia really worth escalating the already-substantial risks we face in the Middle East and Central Asia?
This comes back to the point I tried to make a few days ago, about grand strategy and trade-offs. Russia is not quite the resurgent global powerhouse, I think, that Boot and other hawks seem to suggest it is: Rather, it's a potent regional power whose lousy long-term prospects have been offset, for now at least, by booming energy revenues and extremely savvy leadership. Whereas the Soviet Union could project power into Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia with relative ease, Putin's Russia can project power against its smallish neighbors, and even then only within limits. (Moscow's difficulties in merely holding onto Chechnya suggest that maintaining an actual occupation of Georgia, as the Tsars and Soviets managed to do without much hardship, would probably be beyond the current Russian regime's capabilities.)
As a general post-Cold War rule, Russia's relative weakness on the global stage means that the United States doesn't need to take a kid-gloves approach to the Kremlin when their interests and ours diverge. But at this specific moment, the U.S. is engaged in extremely costly, extremely important nation-building, counter-insurgency and counter-proliferation efforts involving countries that border on the Russian near abroad. And as long as the locus of the War on Terror (or the struggle against Islamist extremism, or whatever you want to call it) remains in Iran, Iraq, and Central Asia - as opposed to, say, the Andean highlands, or some other place where Russia's influence and capacity for mischief are pretty negligible - it seems imprudent, to put it mildly, to simultaneously launch ourselves into a proxy war with one of the largest countries in the region. Diplomatically, we should of course be taking Georgia's side right now; militarily, not so much.
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