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Revisiting The Georgian War

The message out of the NATO meeting in Bucharest was “as good a deterrence message as voting them into” a formal path to membership, said Hadley. Vladimir “Putin was under no illusions about our commitment to Georgia and our commitment to Saakashvili. We’d been sending Putin a message about Georgia ever since Saakashvili was elected president.” ~Politico

Via Andrew

The frightening thing about this claim is that Hadley probably believes that advancing Georgia’s NATO membership sent a message of deterrence. Of course, it was actually a provocation and was viewed as such in Moscow. Along with the recognition of Kosovo independence earlier that year, the promise made to Georgia in Bucharest was one of the main reasons why Moscow began baiting Saakashvili later in 2008. It was also the promise of future NATO membership that gave the Georgian government the false impression that the U.S. would ultimately come to its aid in the event of a conflict. Had Georgian membership been approved at Bucharest, Moscow would have been even more outraged and Saakashvili would have become even more reckless. It would have changed none of the things that led to the escalation, but it might have required the U.S. to become involved in a conflict in which we had no interest. Had some of the staffers for Cheney and Hadley had their way, there would have been a major international war that could have engulfed Europe and perhaps escalated beyond that.

Hadley apparently cannot grasp that it was the U.S. commitment to Georgia and Saakashvili that made Putin and Medvedev so angry and combative. It’s true that no one in the Kremlin was under any illusions on this score. They regarded our backing for Saakashvili and Georgian NATO membership as an intolerable intrusion and another example of Western encroachment and provocation. Moscow had to put up with these things before, but at the height of the oil boom and before the financial crisis it no longer had to tolerate these provocations.

What is startling when reading this article is how clueless Asmus and Hadley still are as to why the conflict happened and how it might have been avoided. Like so many hawks, Asmus thinks the problem was that NATO did not make Georgian membership even more certain, and he thinks that Bush did not engage in enough threatening bluster. This is foolish, but it does at least acknowledge the possibility that the administration mishandled things. Asmus’ analysis is very wrong, but given his horribly flawed assumptions about foreign policy his argument has some internal logic. Hadley is simply oblivious. He cannot conceive how administration policies created the poor state of U.S.-Russian relations, and he also has no understanding of how our reckless encouragement of Saakashvili and the dangerous projection of our influence into a region in which we have no interests precipitated the crisis in 2008. He refers to the Russian invasion as if it were something that came out of nowhere.

Remember that Hadley was National Security Advisor for several years before this. He was partly responsible for crafting the policies that led to the crisis and the war. The obliviousness on display in this article helps to explain why those policies were so flawed. Be very glad that he and people like him are no longer in government. This reminds us that the differences in the responses of our two main presidential candidates to the war in Georgia were not great as a matter of policy, but they were meaningful. In the end, both fell back on the conventional narrative that put all of the blame on Russia, but what we saw initially was that McCain was an unstable, dangerous person and Obama was at least rational and calm. Had McCain won and a similar crisis occurred, it is easy to imagine McCain authorizing military intervention. Whatever else happens, I don’t think anyone can seriously argue that the United States would be better off with that maniac in charge.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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