War in Georgia: What is to be done?

Today’s Wall Street Journal publishes a column by the president of Georgia laying out the stakes involved in Russia’s invasion of his country. The war on Georgia, he says, is a war about the future of freedom in Europe. Implicit in his assessment of the stakes is a plea for help. Marc Champion’s article Fighting raises the stakes for embattled U.S. ally” on page A10 of the Journal also makes clear the stakes involved here.

What is to be done? Commenting on John Hinderaker’s post on “the oil angle,” our friend at the State Department sketches out an answer:

This is a huge event, and our inaction has been a disgrace. Have you noticed that Secretary Rice and President Bush’s responses have virtually mirrored Senator Obama’s recommendations? It is heaps of shame on the current administration for letting a close ally dangle like this, and is instructive of just how bad an Obama foreign policy would be.

There have been only a very few times that I have been embarrassed by this Administration. This has been one of them.

Your last post on the energy route made an important point. Georgia is important to the West for more than just political reasons. It is an incredibly strategic location. That pipeline is an independent source of energy for the West, and an independent source of income for countries in the Caspian Basin. It allows them to have an independent foreign policy. It gives, say, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan the freedom to allow US arms to fly across their territory on the way to Afghanistan. Did you know that Russia forbids the transport of US military hardware across its territory, even by plane? Of course, Iran does too. Look at a map and think of where the large US logistical bases are located (Germany). That leaves only a narrow corridor — across Georgia and Azerbaijan — that we can use to supply our troops in Afghanistan.

There’s another point here. Russia is best influenced from Tbilisi, Astana, Kiev, etc. — not from Moscow. Russia is a bully. It does not respond to demarches, security council rebukes and harsh denunciations. Remember Orwell’s comment about goose-stepping armies (and yes, the Russians still goose-step):

The goose-step, for instance, is one of the most horrible sights in the world, far more terrifying than a dive-bomber. It is simply an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face. Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is “Yes, I am ugly, and you daren’t laugh at me,” like the bully who makes faces at his victim.

Russia has been angry that Georgia and its other former Soviet colonies haven’t been bowing to Russian control. Russia is out to teach them a lesson.

And that’s precisely why this attack is a swipe at the US. President Bush made Georgia one of his signature projects. One of the very first decisions Bush’s security council made in 2001 was on Georgia. Georgia’s progress over the last few years have been awe-inspiring and President Bush can very plausibly take a significant amount of credit for that. The Georgians sure think so. They renamed the main street in downtown Tbilisi after him. They sent troops to help us in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. Russia is punishing Georgia for cozying up with the US, and telegraphing the message to the rest of its neighbors: listen to us and not the Americans.

Given the weak response from the US, who do you think Russia’s neighbors are listening to right now? Countries like Estonia or Kazakhstan are going to be terrified over this. Or think about the Czech Republic who just fought a very contentious political battle to allow missile defense radars (the Russian Chief of Staff of the Army threatened an invasion!) . Poland has yet to sign an agreement to allow missile defense interceptors on their soil. What do you want to bet the price just went up? NATO has also been silent. What does that mean for countries like Ukraine who have asked to join, bucking Moscow’s decree not to do so or else. The message is clear: don’t go too far out on the US’ limb because they won’t back you up. (and what kind of lesson will Israel take away from this?)

Put into the context of Russia’s recent behavior — the polonium poisonings, trying to kill a pro-Western presidential candidate in Ukraine, shutting off energy supplies to Europe, high tech arms transfers and nuclear know-how to Iran, strategic bomber runs into Alaskan airspace, etc., etc., etc. – this is very serious indeed. Russia responds to resistance and pushback, not “strong denunciations.” So far they’ve only found an open door.

In a way, this attack is very similar to the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979. Iran terrorized a helpless group of people to humiliate the US. I believe that is what is going on here.

The US is typically slow to respond to shocks like this. We still have time to redeem ourselves. However, it appears that our foreign policy has taken a decisively Carter-esque turn. Iran has witnessed US acquiescence to their proxy Hezbollah taking over Lebanon. We’ve done little about their militias killing Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our enemies are learning that there is virtually nothing that will evoke an American response.

Let’s hope that this brings back some of some of that first-term President Bush. Otherwise, surely bad things will follow. President Bush sees himself as a bold, Trumanesque President. It’s time for a bold response like the Berlin Airlift.

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