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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 [1]

Via Tom Piatak [2]

Yes, just as Iran is poised to revive the Achaemenid Empire [3]!  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 [4] is that post.

11 Comments (Open | Close)

11 Comments To "Do These People Even Know What Soviet Means?"

#1 Comment By nathancontramundi On August 9, 2008 @ 8:27 pm

It’s unfortunate that Kimball, who, I humbly submit, does a great deed with The New Criterion, to wit, providing a conservative challenge to the New York/Boston/London Review‘s control of the high-brow crit. genre, is such a foolish, neo-connish dupe and idiot when it comes to more blatantly political matters.

Oil is everything. Oil is nothing. Funny how that works out.

#2 Comment By Daniel Larison On August 9, 2008 @ 8:32 pm

I became suspicious of Kimball’s foreign policy views ever since he strongly recommended Max Boot’s book on small wars. Everything I have seen since from him has confirmed my concerns.

#3 Comment By James_Nostack On August 10, 2008 @ 2:10 am

All of this was anticipated 10 years ago on “The Simpsons,” when Homer’s theft of a nuclear submarine causes Zombie Lenin to rise from his tomb, growling, “Must crush capitalism!” as the Russians run up the old Soviet flag.

My conclusion on all of this stuff is that the sorts of people who get tapped for “expert commentary” on real-time events are little more than clockwork automatons: the reason they can give “up-to-the-minute analysis” is because they only know how to say one thing, and thus can say it repeatedly without ever pausing to think. The market for TV pundits rewards those who can fill dead air, not those who call prior assumptions into question. Maybe we’re so well-informed it’s literally stupefying.

#4 Comment By petefrance On August 10, 2008 @ 2:24 am

I would think that Russia bombing Kodori gorge would at least give the lie to the idea that Russia is interested in preserving the status quo ante. Only the Russian press can repeat that this is a ‘peacekeeping’ move without blinking an eye.

Also, I don’t think that saying that Russia is interested in reviving the Soviet empire – hyperbolic though it may be – is necessarily nonsensical. The Soviet empire, as an idea, does not – at least to the Russian mind – necessarily entail workers councils or Communism. For the same reason, Putin can lament the end of the Soviet Union, without shedding a tear for the passing of the old regime.

#5 Comment By petefrance On August 10, 2008 @ 3:10 am

Come to think of it. It really doesn’t make any sense to require that soviets be a part of any imputed Soviet empire, as the Congress of Soviets didn’t even exist for most of the Soviet Union – and yet, the name remained.

#6 Pingback By Balloon Juice On August 10, 2008 @ 7:24 am

[…] And finally, Daniel Larison notes the irony in the coverage: […]

#7 Comment By Daniel Larison On August 10, 2008 @ 12:18 pm

Why are they bombing Kodori Gorge? I assume it is to support the Abkhaz entry into the war. We cannot be sure what their larger objectives are. Of course, that assumes that they have a plan and obtainable objectives. Obviously it isn’t a peacekeeping mission, just as the “peacekeepers” who were stationed in the statelets weren’t really peacekeeping, either, but were exploiting a regional conflict to expand Russian influence. I have never pretended otherwise. Yes, the official propaganda out of Moscow is that it is simply fulfilling its nominal peacekeeping role, which is what governments and their supporters will say at these times. I don’t buy that, but I also don’t buy that they’re bent on conquering Georgia and making it part of Russia. That would be a bridge too far, and I think the Russians understand this. KFOR isn’t a mere peacekeeping force, either, but that doesn’t stop our government from framing its mission that way. If you want peacekeepers who don’t have another agenda, talk to the Bangladeshis.

When Putin laments the end of the Soviet Union, he is lamenting the decline of Russia as a world power. To the extent that he is trying to make Russia into a credible world power again, he is attempting to undo that damage, but there’s no question of reassembling the Soviet empire. It’s gone, and even most Russian nationalists know that. Russia will wield influence and occasionally project power within the CIS from time to time, but there is simply no comparison to the Soviet empire and there is no chance of anyone reassembling it or trying to reassemble it.

Indeed, I think we misrepresent how bad the Soviet empire was by making frequent comparisons between the current government and the old one. In the old days, the tanks would have rolled in when the local government *said* something Moscow found threatening. Whatever the flaws of the current regime, it is so much better than how it used to be that it’s strange that we’re even having this conversation.

#8 Comment By Daniel Larison On August 10, 2008 @ 12:30 pm

I will grant that [5] leads me to think that the Russians are trying to break the Georgian military. We shall see whether that will satisfy Moscow or not. I still think annexation is not the goal. That would cause too many problems there and internationally and it would cost the Russians too much.

#9 Comment By Roach On August 10, 2008 @ 2:25 pm

Tactical considerations do not always accord with lines drawn on a map. It is no more some great evil if Russia bombs Tblisii or sets foot outside Ossetia than it was an invasion of the Northern United States for Lee to seek advantage in Gettysburg. I always throught the first requirement of military force was not to commit war crimes. Then it was, after obtaining strategic advantage, not to extend beyond self-defense (or the defense of some legitimate interest) into amoral conquest. I don’t see anything Russia has done here that has crossed that line, and its use of force so far is reasonable given the technical and other limitations it faces.

I do think this is many ways a sad unfortunate and unnecessary war. That said, I don’t think you can compare Russia’s tactics (or US ones for that matter) for the kind of indiscriminate violence that takes place in places like Sierra Leone or any war more than 30 years ago.

#10 Comment By taxman10m On August 10, 2008 @ 2:26 pm

It seems clear to me that the right is willing to jump on anything as evidence of some existential struggle because they really really really want an existential struggle.

#11 Comment By Daniel Larison On August 10, 2008 @ 2:59 pm

I agree, Chris, that they should not have to stop at an arbitrary place if going beyond it were necessary to achieve their objectives. But that’s just the thing–continuing the war is now unnecessary. I wouldn’t compare Russia’s tactics (or ours) to indiscriminate violence in African civil wars, but I think indiscriminate shelling in civilian areas is particularly troubling. Most of the deaths have been non-combatants caught up in the fighting, and to the extent that this can be avoided it should be. This use of shelling is something that the Georgians were also doing, but that does not make it any better. I don’t think Russia’s effort is so far much like what was done in Lebanon, but the bombing of the Beirut airport early on, along with attacks on the rest of the country’s infrastructure, hinted at what was to come and I think the same may be true here.