Daniel Larison

Do These People Even Know What Soviet Means?

What we’ll think of is the country of Georgia and we’ll realize that August 8 was the date when Russia began reassembling the former Soviet empire in earnest. ~Roger Kimball

Via Tom Piatak

Yes, just as Iran is poised to revive the Achaemenid Empire!  It’s not just that I find the charges of Russian imperialism a bit tired coming from people who have insisted for years that invading other countries, toppling their governments and setting up puppet states is not imperialism, but I find them very boring.  I mean, how unimaginative can one be to say, “They’re bringing back the Soviet Union!”?  That’s the sort of thing an eccentric Bond villain would try to do.  There are no more workers’ councils, and there is no more USSR.  In every sense of the word, the Soviets are gone and their empire is dust.  No one–not Putin, not Medvedev, not anyone–is bringing it back as it once existed.  Now if Kimball had said that Moscow is trying to reassemble parts of the pre-revolutionary Russian Empire, at least in terms of its territorial dimensions, I would still say that he is grossly exaggerating what’s going on, but at least he wouldn’t be embarrassing himself by saying completely nonsensical things. 

The fact is that Russia has yet to advance its ground forces beyond the separatist regions, and it has given no indication in its movements or its rhetoric that it intends to do anything in the way of “reabsorbing” or annexing Georgia.  This is irresponsible alarmism.  While some suspect that the endgame is to overthrow Saakashvili, we cannot know that, either.  As hard as it is for some people to believe, Russia still seems to be defending the status quo ante and exacting punishment on Saakashvili’s government for his blunder.  When that starts to change, I will be among the first to acknowledge it, because at that point Russia’s fairly limited response will have mutated into something else.  There are parallels with the war in Lebanon two years ago: Israel could have waged a limited, focused campaign against Hizbullah that would have had the backing of most other countries, or it could engage in the wholesale wrecking of an entire country and lose international sympathy, and it chose the latter.  To the extent that the Russians are already starting to imitate Israel’s response in targeting public infrastructure, I think they are making a mistake.  The indiscriminate nature of the fighting so far is very troubling, seeing as it has already killed 1,500 people. 

Note well that the same people who are warning desperately that Russia is trying to get its hands on the BTC pipeline are the same people who will deny to their dying breath that oil had anything to do with the invasion of Iraq.  It might be that they have a point about Iraq, but just watch how they attribute the most mercenary ambitions to other powers that they absolutely refuse to contemplate when thinking about our policies.  Note also how keeping the BTC pipeline from falling under Russian control or influence has become the most frequently-cited reason among Westerners why we should help the Georgians (i.e., they are urging us to back Georgia in a war for oil, or at least access to oil). 

Update: I said I would acknowledge that something has changed when Russian forces advanced beyond the separatist areas, and here is that post.

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Anti-Russian Bias

Charles Ganske has an interesting post about the war and the overheated anti-Russian reactions in the English-language  media, echoing my complaints about predictable Western commentary on Russia:

CNN briefly portrayed Russia as the big red USSR while showing Americans where South Ossetia and Georgia are on the world map. Hugh Hewitt, one of the most popular conservative talk radio show hosts in America, cited a report on the air from Austin-based Strategic Forecasting Inc. asserting that Russia was using the Georgia campaign to intimidate all of the former Soviet republics. The report, Hewitt seemed to imply, suggested a master plan by the Kremlin to revive the at least a rump Soviet Union through military might. Hugh Hewitt’s guest, Larry Kudlow, a popular conservative commentator who hosts the highly watched “Kudlow and Company” TV show on CNBC, called Russian leaders “war criminals”. A news announcer on the same national talk radio network said that Russian forces had reportedly killed 1,400 people in the region, even though this was actually the number claimed by the South Ossetians as victims of Georgian shelling and bombs. Headlines on AOL news said, “Russia Invades Small Neighbor”, which makes for a more dog bites man headline than, “Russia puts troops into small region invaded by former Soviet republic asserting sovereignty over disputed territory”. The U.S. taxpayer funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty website published a ridiculous article by Echo Moskvy radio’s Yulia Latynina, calling South Ossetia a “terrorist state” and comparing the region to the PLO or Hezbollah statelets in southern Lebanon — as if the South Ossetians were sending suicide bombers and rockets into Georgia.

Ganske then asks an important question:

…why do so many Americans, conservatives especially, who normally proclaim their distrust the media, accept it so unquestioningly on the subject of Russia? After all, it isn’t as if the same biases that lead many Americans to confess to pollsters that they have Obama fatigue from so many puff profiles of the Democratic presidential candidate do not also affect coverage of foreign affairs in the U.S. In other words, a media tendency to focus on compelling personalities, like Vladimir Putin, rather than report on a complex country like Russia from the bottom up. 

Ganske asks several questions that drive home just how persistent the anti-Russian bias in our media coverage is by the simple fact that virtually no one in the West ever asks them:

The question never seems to be raised: what if Russia’s neighbors are occasionally in the wrong? Were Ukraine and Belarus entitled to subsidized Russian gas at a quarter of the European price indefinitely? Is Georgia justified in forcing the issue of a separatist region with arms rather than negotiations? Should Poland host an American radar, supposedly designed to counter the Iranian missile threat, that can track anything in Russian airspace all the way to the Urals? Is Russia always doomed to be a nasty Bear roaming the woods looking for trouble?

The question about subsidized gas supplies is particularly important, since you will frequently hear about how Russia wields its energy supplies as an instrument of policy.  First of all, this is not all that incredible or even all that sinister, since the energy companies are state-run industries that are going to be used to give the government leverage overseas.  But even then the coverage of the change in subsidy levels was misleading, since it emphasized that the price was going up and neglected to note that Ukraine was still receiving the supplies at a heavily discounted rate.  Even so, what would normally have been greeted as a welcome reduction in government distortion of the market price was seen as a dastardly ploy to punish neighboring states.  

Ganske also addresses the important, if obvious point about double standards.  Missing from the discussion of double standards, however, is the extent to which Russian problems with Chechen terrorism have been treated very differently from the way our government has responded to domestic terrorist threats in other countries. 

Update: Greg Djerejian has a good post that covers a lot of ground.  Alex Massie also has a useful round-up of links along with his own comments from yesterday.

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You Can't Have It All

One United Nations diplomat joked on Saturday that “if someone went to the Russians and said, ‘OK, Kosovo for Iran,’ we’d have a deal.”

That might be hyperbole, but there is a growing feeling among some officials in the Bush administration that perhaps the United States cannot have it all, and may have to choose its priorities, particularly when it comes to Russia. ~Helene Cooper

It’s an encouraging sign that this feeling is growing at least among some officials, but what does it say about this administration that they apparently believed that the U.S. could have it all and didn’t need to prioritize which policies were more important and which were secondary?  This is the crew that thought it could expand NATO twice in five years and recognize Kosovo, all the while berating Russia for its internal political conditions, and then ask the Russians for help with Iran as if nothing had happened. 

There is a basic problem with having all these satellites whose interests we are supposed to protect.  U.S. interests will often require our government to raise the hopes of small nations, only to dash them when our real priorities conflict with lending support to them.  At the same time, to the extent that our government takes these obligations to numerous satellites seriously it requires compromising or limiting our ability to pursue policies in the American interest.

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Georgia And Russia

The Bolshevik government signed a treaty respecting Georgia’s independence — which Europe, as President Saakashvili pointedly reminded me, naïvely insisted on taking at face value. By the time the Europeans woke up to reality, it was too late. ~James Traub

Of course, the Europeans of the late 1910s and early 1920s may have had just a few other things that were higher priorities than the independence of Georgia.  It wasn’t a question of “waking up”–by 1920-21, European support for the Whites throughout most of the old empire had disappeared because the Bolsheviks had won.  U.S. aid to the Whites in Siberia would expire soon after that when the Bolsheviks took Vladivostok.  Meanwhile, there were problems brewing for different Allied powers in Iraq and Turkey at this time that took precedence.  Leave it to a nationalist like Saakashvili to think of post-WWI history in utterly ethnocentric terms.  Of course, he has every reason to portray the Russia-Georgia relationship today as a reprise of the Bolshevik takeover: it plays well with Western audiences, it inspires sympathy and aligns the modern Russian government with its far more despicable predecessor. 

Traub writes later:

The head of the Georgian Communist party was Lavrenti Beria, a cold-blooded killer who would become the master architect of Stalin’s terror.

I assume most people know who Beria was, but I cite this because it is important to remember that Saakashvili’s wife invoked Beria, along with Stalin, as an example of the kind of strong Georgian leader that she believed her husband to be.  Even once you account for Georgian nationalist bias, the old cult of personality directed towards Stalin and the collective post-Soviet amnesia about Soviet government crimes, that statement remains fairly shocking since his wife is Dutch and presumably knows more of the record of Stalin and Beria unclouded by mythology.  (Interestingly, the old Weekly Standard article by Richard Carlson that also included this detail has apparently been scrubbed from their site, but here is the cache of the page.)  Here is a telling excerpt from the interview with Saakashvili’s wife that I have mentioned before:

I think my husband is the right person to frighten people. That is not to say it is immediately fascism or something. Should he develop extremist traits he will be alerted to that. 

It seems that he was not alerted often enough.  

Traub adds this very debatable claim later:

Of course NATO is no longer an anti-Soviet alliance, and the fact that Russia views NATO’s eastward expansion as a threat to its security is a vivid sign of the deep-rooted cold war mentality of Mr. Putin and his circle.

Think about that one.  Having outlived its reason for being when the USSR collapsed, NATO remains a military alliance, and it is expanding up to the borders of Russia, but it reflects the Cold War mentality of Putin and his circle that they regard this as a threat?  Isn’t there at least as much evidence for the Cold War mentality of the people who support expanding an outdated Cold War alliance in deliberately anti-Russian ways?  Add to this that one of the biggest supporters of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and one of the biggest critics of Russia during the Second Chechen War and over the last decade, John McCain, is unusually strident in his hostility to Russia, which he expresses through his support for Tbilisi.  It doesn’t take a genius to grasp that Moscow perceives NATO expansion in anti-Russian terms because some of its foremost advocates, including someone who may be the next President, are obviously, reflexively anti-Russian. 

Nonetheless, while there are certain problems with Traub’s piece (the constant references to 1938 are as grating as they are irrelevant, except insofar as it describes Saakashvili’s neocon-like obsession with that year), it offers some good background, particularly as it relates to the background of the current conflict:

Soon after taking office, he succeeded in regaining Georgian control over the southwestern province of Ajara. Then, in the summer of 2004, citing growing banditry and chaos, he sent Interior Ministry troops into South Ossetia. After a series of inconclusive clashes, the troops were forced to make a humiliating withdrawal.

Still, this violation of the status quo infuriated the Russians, and Mr. Saakashvili, for once listening to his few dovish advisors, agreed to seek a negotiated settlement in Abkhazia. By late 2005, a Georgian mediator had initialed an agreement: Georgia would not use force, and the Abkhaz would allow the gradual return of 200,000-plus ethnic Georgians who had fled the violence. But the agreement collapsed in early 2006, done in by hardliners on both sides. This chapter has been all but effaced from the history one hears in Georgia.

Traub also acknowledges the direct role Western recognition of Kosovo had on Moscow’s decision-making:

Although Russia, as the peacekeeping power, was charged with preserving an international consensus that recognized Georgia’s claims over Abkhazia, Russia lifted sanctions on Abkhazia last March. This had nothing to do with local events: Mr. Putin had tried for years to prevent Kosovo from declaring its independence from Serbia, and when the Kosovars went ahead, with strong American and European support, last February, Mr. Putin responded by leveling a blow at America’s Caucasus darling.

The thing that I find most frustrating, and what I think Russians may also find very frustrating, is that even after years of long Russian forebearance in the face of things Moscow regarded as serious provocations and humiliations Russia has continually been portrayed as an expansionist, revisionist and (in McCain’s crazy world) “revanchist.”  Many American pols were taking this view of Russia when it was quite weak, c. 1999, and you have them taking it up now that Russia is resurgent, and at neither time was it the correct view. 

Traub buys into the view that recent events have made it harder to advance a realist view of Russia:

In a recent essay, the archrealist Henry Kissinger argued that Putin-era policy had been driven not by dreams of restored glory, but by “a quest for a reliable strategic partner, with America being the preferred choice.” Some Russia experts on the left, like Stephen Cohen of Princeton, have taken a similar view. But Russia’s bellicose behavior, and now the hostilities along its border, make it increasingly difficult to act on such a premise without seeming naïve.

On this point, however, Kissinger and Cohen are right.  One of the impediments to building such a partnership between Washington and Moscow is the assumption that Moscow is a revisionist power that must be thwarted at every step.  The other obvious impediments are the steady eastward creep of NATO and the introduction of U.S. weapons systems into current central European member states.  Depressingly, some of the foreign policy advisors to the candidates don’t seem to understand this at all.  Just as worrying as Kagan’s misleading democracy/autocracy struggle model are the views of one of Obama’s Russia advisors, Michael McFaul:

He attributes Russia’s hostility to further NATO expansion less to geostrategic calculations than to what he says is Mr. Putin’s cold war mentality. The essential Russian calculus, he says, is, “Anything we can do to weaken the U.S. is good for Russia.”

There’s that Cold War mentality again.  But if he has a Cold War mentality, how would his response to NATO expansion be anything but the result of a geostrategic calculation about the military and political threat the expanded Alliance poses?  It is not encouraging that any of Obama’s advisors thinks that the current Russian government is dedicated to working against U.S. interests, since that attitude, if it continues to be enshrined in policy, will be a self-fulfilling one.

Update: The full Carlson article is here.

Correction: Carlson’s Weekly Standard article was not taken down from their site.  The mistake was entirely mine, and I regret the error.

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McCain's Georgia Obsession

John Cole cuts through the superficial Politico coverage of the candidates’ responses to the war in Georgia and comes to the right conclusion:

So, in what the Politico calls a 3 am test, John McCain responds belligerently towards Russia, and were he President there is no doubt it would exacerbate the situation, and it turns out that his top foreign policy advisor just so happened to be a wholly owned subsidiary of the nation of Georgia.

This is right, but John can push this a bit more if he looks back at McCain’s history of statements about Georgia.  As Justin Raimondo wrote for TAC earlier this year, McCain has been taking the anti-Russian line on South Ossetia for years:

In 2006, McCain traveled to Tskhinvali, in the disputed region South Ossetia, where pro-Russian citizens want to secede from the former Soviet republic of Georgia and seek union with Russia. After his visit, he concluded:

I think that the attitude there is best described by what you see by driving in [to Tskhinvali]: a very large billboard with a picture of Vladimir Putin on it, which says ‘Vladimir Putin Our President.’ I do not believe that Vladimir Putin is now, or ever should be, the president of sovereign Georgian soil.

Imagine if the British, annoyed by American encroachments in Texas, had sent a member of Parliament to denounce the defenders of the Alamo. That, at any rate, is how the South Ossetians think of it. And what American interests or values are at stake in that dirt-poor, war-torn corner of the Caucasus?

Of course, McCain’s hostility to Russia and his weird chumminess with the Georgian government predates 2006 and even predates the rise of Saakashvili.  1999-2000 GOP debate watchers may remember how frequently McCain invoked Shevardnadze’s name and declared his desire to defend Georgia against the Russians.  The same advisor who has been on the Georgian payroll, Scheunemann, is also the advisor who coined the phrase ”rogue state rollback” that McCain was peddling in his first bid for the White House, and in McCain’s mind for almost a decade Russia has been one of the states whose influence he wants to roll back.  This has become evident in other anti-Russian poses he has taken, including his proposal that they be thrown out of the G-8 and excluded from his dangerous pet project, the League of Democracies. 

Reacting to the same article, Robert Stacy McCain says:

So, if getting tough with the Russkies is what you want, Maverick’s your man. 

If “getting tough with” means “mindlessly provoking for no good reason,” that’s absolutely right.

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A Vision Of Our Possible Future

Now for something completely different. 

If Joe Lieberman is named McCain’s running mate, what else will happen?  James has a vision

Paleocons will set fire to their TVs, AIPAC will commission an aircraft carrier, and a Day of Mourning will be proclaimed in Damascus; Putin will quietly switch places with Daniel Craig, and Reason magazine will announce the Death of Fun in a double issue that endorses John Edwards for President. John McCain himself will unveil a 50:1 size artist’s rendering of the new dollar coin, with Harry Truman on one side and Ariel Sharon on the other, and he will promise to appoint Doug Feith Attorney General and Hillary Clinton Ambassador to Yemen. Bill Clinton will board himself up in the Chateau Marmont with Kristanna Loken and Carla Bruni, and Sarkozy will annex Lebanon and then commit suicide.

Pat Buchanan will immediately announce his candidacy on the Tory Party ticket for the Presidency of Canada, Daniel Larison will be appointed Comes privatae largitionis of Chicago, and Will Wilkinson will declare central Iowa a sovereign Misery-Free Zone with completely porous borders. Andrew Sullivan will move to the Isle of Man. Ross and Reihan will be named the emergency interim CEOs of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Matt Lauer will melt into a puddle of Awesomeberry flavored Kool-Aid, Family Guy will run only on Danish satellite, and The New Republic will become profitable. Joel Osteen will gain eighty pounds, David Brooks will become the Scarlet Pimpernel, and the Bilderbergs will relocate to Shanghai.

That all sounds about right, except for the outlandish part about paleocons burning their televisions.  To do that, we would need to own televisions in the first place.  We do respect private property rights, after all, and we’re not about to start burning other people’s TVs.  I would prefer to be mesazon of Greektown, but I’ll take what I can get.

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A Not So Cunning Plan

Paradoxically, standing up to Moscow is not only the right thing to do in this crisis, but the best way to improve relations with Russia in the long term. For only a Russia that abandons its imperial agenda and respects its neighbors, irrespective of size, can be a true partner for the west. ~Svante Cornell

This is the sort of bizarre argument that interventionists are reduced to making, since the observations that the West has no vital interests in the north Caucasus and that the West doesn’t want to damage relations with Russia by backing Saakashvili’s reckless blunder are, to my surprise, quickly becoming the common ones that people across the spectrum are making.  With the exception of a few pundits and bloggers, there have been no calls for confrontation, and even the WSJ, your normally reliable guide to American Russophobic opinion, adopted a fairly mild tone in its editorial.  So we are treated to the claim that we must confront and deeply damage relations with Russia so that we can have good long-term relations with some future Russia that does not do any of the things that Moscow believes to be in its interests and within its rights in its near-abroad.  In other words, until Russia concedes to every Western demand and ceases pursuing what it considers its own interests, it will not be a suitable “partner” for the West, so we will have to confront them at every turn until relations have become so terrible that Moscow will conclude that it should yield in all things.  This is not exactly a winning grand strategy, since Russia will not respond in the way that Cornell wants. 

This argument assumes that Moscow craves Western approval above all else and will sacrifice what it considers its legitimate influence on its periphery (particularly in territories that it controlled for more than a century up until 1991) to acquire that approval.  This also assumes that America and Europe actually have an interest in damaging relations with Russia in the short term, when many governments in Europe, particularly Germany’s government, are quite interested to cultivate good relations right now.  None of these assumptions is correct.  There is not going to be a revolution in the internal politics of Russia such that Moscow will cease pursuing its ambitions in the Caucasus or elsewhere in former Soviet space, because these are the places where Moscow will always try to expand its influence.    

Imagine that the Southwestern United States, including all of California, separated from the rest of the country and became a number of independent states after having been part of the U.S. for the last 160 years.  These were lands that had not always belonged to the U.S. and had been acquired through a war of conquest, but over those 160 years Americans came to think of these territories as integral parts of the country.  Would it be wrong for Washington to try to have great influence over these states?  Would it be surprising if Washington viewed those states’ development of close relations with a foreign power on another continent as a potential threat, and wouldn’t it make a certain amount of sense if Washington saw their application to make a military alliance with this foreign power as dangerous and provocative?

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The March Of The Apologists

It didn’t take long for the defenders of Saakashvili to swing into action.  Edward Lucas in the Times offers the “at least he’s not absolutely horrible” defense:

A crackdown on the Opposition in November, bullying of the media and instances of abuse of power among senior officials have allowed detractors to draw uncomfortable parallels between Georgia and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

These are misplaced: Georgia is not perfect, but it is not a dictatorship. Its leadership does not peddle a phoney ideology, such as the Kremlin’s mishmash of Soviet nostalgia and tsarist-era chauvinism. It has a thriving civil society, vocal opposition and ardently wants to be in the EU and Nato. Moral grounds alone would be enough reason for supporting it against Russian aggression.

That’s true–Saakashvili has only been elected with 90+% of the vote and runs an effectively one-party state, but this is just democratic despotism.  Calling it a dictatorship might be pushing things a bit.  As for ideology, Saakashvili offers a much more pleasing mishmash of Georgian nationalism and nostalgia for Stalin.  If Russia were engaged in aggression, Lucas might have a point.  But at least Lucas skips the usual song and dance about defending “our values” and gets down to the real reason why most people west of the Black Sea thinks the West care about what happens in Georgia:

The biggest threat Russia poses to Europe is the Kremlin’s monopoly on energy export routes to the West from the former Soviet Union. The one breach in that is the oil and gas pipeline that leads from energy-rich Azerbaijan to Turkey, across Georgia. If Georgia falls, Europe’s hopes of energy independence from Russia fall too.

But Europe’s hopes of energy independence from Russia are chimerical.  Even if the Georgian pipeline stayed out of Russian hands, Europe’s dependence on Russian and Central Asian energy would still remain great (which is one of the reasons why the Europeans are not inclined to make the Russians angry).  European energy independence from their main energy supplier in the region is a fantasy.

Where do most of the supplies from the east come from?  In addition to coming from Russia itself, they come from Central Asian states that are increasingly under Russia’s thumb.  Turkmenistan and Russia cut a deal not long ago, which M.K. Bhadrakumar, writing for Asia Times, described this way:

From the details coming out of Ashgabat in Turkmenistan and Moscow over the weekend, it is apparent that the great game over Caspian energy has taken a dramatic turn. In the geopolitics of energy security, nothing like this has happened before. The United States has suffered a huge defeat in the race for Caspian gas.

That was a little over a week ago.  In the wake of this deal, which effectively secured Russian control over Turkmen gas exports, having one pipeline not under Russian control, whether direct or indirect, is not going to make that much difference.     

The New York Post has the subtle headline, “Raping Georgia,” for Ralph Peters’ latest column.  Peters refers to Russia’s “elaborate act of aggression,” which must be very elaborate indeed, since the Russians were not responsible for escalating the conflict.  The Ossetians did goad the Georgians into escalation, and the Russians were prepared for the escalation, but this pins the responsibility on Saakashvili even more since he could have refused to be drawn in to the trap. 

Peters offers this typically overwrought line:

Russia, you see, still believes it’s entitled to all of its former empire.

This is a lie.  All of its former empire would include states, such as Poland, that it has shown no designs on whatever in the post-Cold War world.  To the extent that Russia does believe it is entitled to significant influence in its near-abroad, this belief is actually no more pretentious than the Roosevelt Corollary concerning U.S. policy in Latin America.  Peters concludes:

The only thing that’s 100 percent clear is which side we should be on.

That’s also right.  It’s perfectly clear that we shouldn’t take sides in a shooting war in the Caucasus.  Oh, that’s not what Peters meant?  How strange.

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Day Two

According to this, based on a RIA Novosti report, Abkhazia has entered the fray in the Kodori Gorge area, which is at the old cease-fire line and was the site of the last flare-up of Georgian-Abkhaz tensions two years ago.  The AP confirms Abkhaz involvement.  Foreign Policy‘s blog reports the comments that the Abkhaz foreign minister made to Der Spiegel.  Abkhazia’s entry into the war may have been unavoidable, but I think that may mean paradoxically that the conflict will take longer to resolve now that a fourth party has joined.  It should hasten the end of hostilities by dividing Georgian resources, but it could complicate arranging a cease-fire.

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Overstretched

The prime minister needs to hear that using Ossetia as a pretext for imperialism [bold mine-DL] will have consequences for Russia’s relationship with the West. ~The Wall Street Journal

Goodness knows the WSJ is against pretexts for imperialism.  Ahem.  I find this use of “imperialism” quite annoying, even if it is typical for their editors.  When Russia supports separatist movements that weaken a bordering state that has strong historical and cultural ties to their country and whose government Moscow wants to keep out of the West’s orbit, that is imperialism, but when the U.S. launches wars on the other side of the world, backs separatists in countries thousands of miles away and arms small nations on the doorstep of other major powers that is supposed to be something else.  I suppose they call it global leadership.  Global leadership is all right, you see, but imperialism–which is what other people do–certainly isn’t.  Arguably, Russia is and always has been pursuing regional hegemony in the Caucasus, and since the distinction between hegemony and imperialism is wafer-thin I suppose it is not entirely inappropriate to describe Russian policy in the north Caucasus as somewhat imperialistic.  However, if we are going to lower the bar on what constitutes imperialism so far down to accuse the Russians of engaging in it, we would need to have an entirely new word to describe what it is our government does on a regular basis.  Maybe hyper-imperialism?

Setting aside this issue of double standards, so long as Russia does not threaten to end Georgian independence I see no good reason why this should have to damage U.S.-Russian relations.  That doesn’t mean it won’t damage them, since this administration has been expert in wrecking the relationship with Moscow, but there is no good reason why it should.  Taking the long view, the Russians have done us a favor by reminding us how crazy it was to contemplate including Georgia in NATO, and this conflict is a reminder of the limits of U.S. influence and the dangers of tying the U.S. to reckless proxies.  We cannot and should not be everywhere at equal strength at all times, and we are not and will not be prepared to back up many of the implicit guarantees our government has made to various states around the world.  The influence of other major powers over their immediate neighbors is unavoidable, and if our government insists on treating every instance of an exercise of this influence as proof of imperialism that must be stopped or reversed we will begin to see the costs of overstretch.

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