Monday, August 11, 2008



The war (let’s call it what it is) between Georgia and Russia, ostensibly over South Ossetia, has led to several thoughts:

---The fighting is already being portrayed by many, but especially by John McCain, who seems to yearn and pine for the good old days of the Cold War, as another episode of the evil Russians attempting to snuff out freedom, democracy and all that is good in a tiny, defenseless neighboring state. This may very well be the case. There is no doubt that Russia, historically and understandably suspicious, some might say paranoid, would like to keep at least a sphere of influence in the former Soviet republics and would like to check Western, and especially American, influence on its borders. With their growing power and oil wealth, Mr. Putin and his minions have shown inordinate eagerness for muscle flexing. Further, President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, while lately displaying growing signs of authoritarianism, does have some democratic bona fides. So the “Russia as the ravenous bear” scenario does have some plausibility.

However, before we completely buy the “intransigent and aggressive Russia snuffing out an embryonic, defenseless, innocent democracy” story, let’s make sure, or as sure as we can, of a few things:

First, that Mr. Saakashvili is a democrat, pro-market leader and not yet another U.S. stooge whose shortcomings, or worse, are overlooked because he does the bidding of the current U.S. administration. Remember that Georgia has (or had, until troops were called home to defend their own nation (perhaps we could learn something here)) the third largest contingent of foreign troop in Iraq and that those troops were sent there under heavy pressure, in all its forms, from the Bush administration. Also remember that we have supported some especially malodorous stooges in the past, including Rhee, Stroessner, Diem, Thieu, Batista, Reza Pahlavi, Somoza, and, ironically, Saddam Hussein, as long as they have done our bidding. It appears that it would be more than unfair to place Mr. Saakashvili in such reprehensible company, but let’s restrain ourselves before we put him in the company of, say, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Nelson Mandela.

Second, that the south Ossetians, who are largely ethnic Russians, really want to be part of Georgia rather than a part of Russia. Despite Russian, and especially Soviet, history, it is not unimaginable that people might want to be part of Russia.

Third, that the Georgians did not provoke this conflict. We still don’t know who started this one.

---The Germans, and, to a lesser extent, the French, did us a great favor by effectively vetoing Georgian membership in NATO. Had Georgia been allowed to join NATO, we would have been obligated by treaty to join this conflict, possibly inciting World War III over South Ossetia. In practice, the NATO treaty, which calls on all members to treat an attack on one as an attack on all, would have been ignored before Americans were called on to die for Tskhinvali, but such abrogation, too, would have had negative consequences.

---The most overriding thought, though, is that the RUSSIANS AND THE GEORGIANS have a problem, and we should all hope and pray that THEY work it out.

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