A Few Points on Georgia

  • Read Fred Kaplan on whether the prospect of NATO membership and other forms of Western support for Georgia helped cause this war. If Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili thought the US would rush to the trenches for him, he was badly mistaken, but one can see how wishful thinking and US behavior might have created a powerful cocktail. It is also possible that the prospect of Georgia entering NATO created a window of opportunity that Russia jumped through.
  • As Justin Logan mentioned, we owe the Germans and French thanks for preventing NATO expansion and potentially getting us mixed up in this war. Like all wars, this one is tragic, but it would be far more tragic if it provoked a wider war or nuclear crisis between the US and Russia.
  • Ignore Robert Kagan, Bill Kristol and Richard Holbrooke. Even if Russia takes all of Georgia (and it may do so as a bargaining chip), Cold War II is not nigh — although we can bring it closer by further encircling Russia with security guarantees that encourage its neighbors to avoid getting along with it. The Cold War happened because post-World War II Western Europe lacked the capacity to defend itself from Soviet attack and, we feared, from Communist subversion. We sent our troops and funds to Europe to restore the balance of power. Today Russia has an economy about the size of a medium-sized European country. At $70-80 billion a year, it spends about 1/4 of what Europe does on defense, and less than we spend on researching and developing new weapons alone. Its military spending depends on high energy prices, and it has a declining population. It is a threat to its weak neighbors, not Europe, and not us (unless we consider inadvertent nuclear war.)
  • That neocons like Kristol are attacking the Bush’s administration’s reaction to this crisis, which shows how far the administration has moved toward pragmatism. John McCain, on the other hand, continues to reveal a preference for military confrontation over safety.
  • This is not a simple struggle between freedom and its enemies. We sympathize with Georgia because it is a young democracy and mistrust Russia because it is autocratic. But there is ethnic chauvinism and blame on both sides. Russia cares whether its neighbors are anti-Russian, not whether they are democratic per se.
  • The idea that the credibility of our commitments to defend our allies will be undermined by failing to stand up for Georgia is wrong. We do not lose credibility by not defending states where we have few interests and no defense commitment. On this matter, read Daryl Press.
  • Unless we want a war with Russia, there is very little the United States can do to defend Georgia, and we should stop pretending otherwise.
  • That 2,000 Georgian troops were sent to Iraq does not mean we owe Georgia participation in their conflict with Russia, or even a ride home on US aircraft. Russia is unlikely to take a shot at these planes for fear of provoking us, but accidents happen, and it’s not clear why we ought to take such risks.