Two things seem rather clear to me: First, Georgia made a collossal mistake last week by firing on Russian personnel in the hopes of capturing South Ossetia. It's a fair point that a sovereign coutry shouldn't have to "capture" land within it's own border, but it's Georgia who disrupted the status quo.
Second, George Bush remains the worst President ever. Why? Because when a small country is being threatened by a large country, it will come begging other large powers for some kind of security guarantee. So most large powers, when led by wise men, offer flat refusals to small powers looking for security guarantees. When they're not well-led, you end up guaranteeing the sovereignty of Belgium and going to war against Germany.
It doesn't need to be that bad, if the global hegemon actually has the means and the will to guarantee the security of a small country far from it's borders. But if you're going to make noises about security guarantees, you better damn well bring guns to a gunfight. It doesn't take an international relations scholar to realize that making noise about, for example, bringing Georgia in to NATO (a purely military collective security organization) without having any intent of actually providing security is the worst possible policy.
Guess what the Bush Administration did? That's right, the worst of all possible policies. They've spent the last several years making nudge-nudge wink-wink gestures towards Georgian sovereignty, which seem to have convinced Georgians in power and in the streets that if a big fight started between Georgia and Russia, America would have their backs. But when it came right down to it, the facts remain that the US has no interest in defending Georgia's borders.
To wax alarmist for a moment, there's more than just the posession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia at stake here. If you take a look at a map of Georgia, you'll notice that if Russia ends up in posession of those two provinces -- either de facto or de jure -- Russia will have gone from bordering Georgia entirely along mountains to bordering Georgia on a broad plain in the west and on low central foothills near Gori. For once in the post-war world, a comparison with Munich in 1938 is actually reasonable: the Sudetenland wasn't just part of Czechoslovakia, it was also the bulwark of that country's defenses against Germany. The fruits of Munich meant that it was impossible for Czechoslovakia to meaningfully defend itself against it's much larger neighbour. Similarly, by the end of this war Georgia will be nearly indefensible from a Russian attack -- in as much as it's possible to be safe when you're bordering Russia.
I've got tons of scorn for Bush, who clearly has made a bad situation worse over the years, but Booman is right that he inherited a bad policy from the Clinton Administration. What makes this tragedy so depressing is that it is quintessentially fucking American: talk shit about Russia, try to browbeat the Europeans in to dangerous expansionism, commit no real resources to follow-through, and then bemoan European spinelessness when your brilliant plan goes tits-up.
How stupidly bipartisan is US policy in the Caucasus? Let's turn the mike to Richard Holbrooke, your reliably stupid liberal hawk:
Moscow seeks to roll back democratic breakthroughs on its borders, to destroy any chance of further NATO or E.U. enlargement and to reestablish a sphere of hegemony over its neighbors. By trying to destroy a democratic, pro-Western Georgia, Moscow is sending a message that, in its part of the world, being close to Washington and the West does not pay.Uh-huh. And America would be totally disinterested if Mexico had tried to join the Warsaw Pact. NATO is an explicitly military alliance that continues to threaten Russia implicitly and explicitly. Whether it's constructing anti-Russian radar sites capable of tracking all air traffic west of the Urals, or demanding that Russia sell it's natural gas at below market rates, NATO has never, for even a moment, stopped threatening Russia since the "end" of the Cold War, nor has the US for a moment treated Russia as a reasonable ally in the world.
What can we do? First, Georgia deserves our solidarity and support. (Georgia has supported us; its more than 2,000 troops are the third-largest contingent in Iraq -- understandably those troops are being recalled.) We must get the fighting stopped and preserve Georgia's territorial integrity within its current international border. As soon as hostilities cease, there should be a major, coordinated transatlantic effort to help Tbilisi rebuild and recover.So, Richard Holbrooke and his co-author believe that America should first evict Russian forces from Georgia -- no idea how, of course -- and then commit tens of billions of dollars to reconstructing a country most people don't give a damn about. In an election year, in the middle of a recession.
Na. Ga. Happen.
The shame is that Holbrooke and the other liberal hawks will never pay a price for their stupidity. They thought they could keep pushing Russia year after year, and Russia would never push back. They thought they could clearly tell Moscow that NATO would end up surrounding its western frontiers, and there was nothing Russia could do about it. They were wrong, and their wrongness has become clear. Nevertheless, Holbrooke will probably end up being SecState in the Obama administration.
As I've been writing this, there've been more reports that Russian troops have left Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and entered what CNN is ridiculously calling "Georgia proper" (what was going on before now? Does CNN concede that those territories weren't actually Georgian?) Apparently Senaki and Gori are both being taken by Russian forces. That means to me that Russia is playing for a bigger prize in this invasion. In theory, if the tanks stop at Gori, there's a reasonable argument that Russia is just trying to defend what it's already taken (Gori sits at the confluence of two valleys, and it's the only way Georgian forces could counter-attack into South Ossetia.) Still, given that nothing so far about the Russian moves has been what you could reasonably call "defensive", I'm tacking back towards alarmism. If Russian tanks are in Tblisi by Friday, I wouldn't be surprised.
[Fast-moving update: Fox News is reporting that the tanks are already moving towards Tblisi.]
A tip for understanding the fight going on: Robert Farley has been doing regular updates, and I would also suggest looking for good maps of Georgia, especially topographical ones. Wikipedia and Perry-Castaneda are as always useful resources.
One last thing: while opinions will differ, I think a strong argument can be made that, despite the last week, Vladimir Putin is still better for international peace than George W. Bush.