Monday, August 11, 2008

The sky in Bill Kristol's world is always red, white, and blue

Russian forces pushed past the borders of South Ossetia today and into Georgia proper as the Kremlin forewarned about the opening of a second front. Russian troops and tanks overran lightly defended Georgian positions in the town of Senaki, a full twenty-five miles from the South Ossetian border. Concurrently, the Kremlin issued an ultimatum to Georgian special forces digging in along the border with Abkhazia, another renegade province: disarm or face annihilation.

[Above, state-of-the-art medical facilities in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali. Photo courtesy of the New York Times]

The case here seems pretty clear: Russia is out to bust some heads, looking to quell a small, restive, U.S.-allied neighbor and pick up some ethnic Russians and their territory in the process (not an insignificant factor, given Russia's negative population growth rate). This is a naked land grab, and the escalation of the conflict to include sustained bombing of Tblisi, the opening of an Abkhazian front, and the continued drive through South Ossetia make it difficult to argue that Russia is not engaging in pre-meditated aggression...which, for those of you keeping count at home, is a war crime.

The New York Times's Opinionator blog does a good job laying out Georgian-Russian Power Relations 101, but the real story here is how the West will respond. With the Olympics in full swing, world leaders' collective attention is not focused on the Caucasus (never fear: Dubya made sure to bring a sage old friend with him to Beijing, in case circumstances dictate a quick foreign policy decision...someone should give ol' Hank some No-Doz). While Georgia is in a race against time---as GWS pointed out last week, if Georgian defenders can't hold out until Michael Phelps leaves the pool for the last time, they're finished---Russia is somewhat beholden to the same timetable. For the next couple weeks, Russia will be able to turn most of Georgia into a free-fire zone.

The Russian air force bombed Tblisi's airport a few short hours before French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner was slated to arrive, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out what message Russia is trying to send. The Georgians' pleas for a cease-fire have been pocket-vetoed by the Russian President, the Russian Prime Minister, and the Russian Foreign Ministry. American diplomats say the bedraggled, outnumbered, outgunned Georgian forces have tried to surrender and withdraw, but the Russian forces have pursued them and refused to grant quarter. GWS predicts that from now until Beijing's closing ceremonies, Russia's generals will let slip the dogs of war, as they've already cried havoc.

President Saakashvili of Georgia has accused the Russians of ethinc cleansing, and while that claim's outlandish for now, the Russian Army's continued push into Georgian territory does nothing to quell GWS's concerns. It's worth pointing out that Abkhazia didn't have anything to do with this current conflict except having similar demographics to South Ossetia; here, the Russians don't have a leg to stand on when it comes to "punishing Georgian aggression," but the international community has turned a blind eye to this warmongering escalation of the conflict.

GWS's rage gland was inflamed earlier today when he read William Kristol's op-ed in today's Times. GWS agrees with Kristol in many ways, and early reports from retreating Georgian soldiers have contained a running theme: we can't believe you pricks are just going to abandon us like this. DBMIVFK further congratulates Kristol for getting this far through an op-ed without 1) suggesting that lower taxes might solve the problem, and 2) for getting about two-thirds of the way through his piece before vividly demonstrating how frightfully out of touch with reality the man is.

"Surely we cannot simply stand by as an autocratic aggressor gobbles up part of — and perhaps destabilizes all of — a friendly democratic nation that we were sponsoring for NATO membership a few months ago." Surely! Thanks Bill. One quick question: how do you propose we, um, go about doing that?

Kristol somehow fails to connect the dots from Kabul and Baghdad to Tblisi, to wit: if we hadn't launched the absurd War on Terror Kristol's Weekly Standard championed, we'd probably have the force flexibility to credibly deter the Russians' advance. Surely we can't simply stand by? What else would you have us do, Mr. Kristol? Where, exactly, do you get off by advocating a foolish war and then complaining when we don't have any spare combat brigades to throw around? Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?


Anonymous said...

My, my...where do I begin?

First, Kristol is wrong.

Second, so are you.

To wit (as you enjoy saying) Russia's aggression into Georgia is not a naked land grab at all, at least not of Georgia. No one cares about South Osetia, least of all the ruskies. This move is about 2 major things and 1 minor.

1. Toppling a democratic government too friendly with the West. Russia's demand that no negotiations about leaving can happen until the Georgian president steps down makes clear their goal here is to serve up Georgia as an example that leaving the Russian sphere for NATO and the West will not be tolerated. An example to whom, exactly?

2. The Ukraine. Russia's true goal is to keep the Ukraine from joining NATO and solidifying their defenses against a Russian takeover. They want the Ukraine back because that would give them complete control of the Black Sea, all major ports on it and the 3 major oil pipelines leading to the West. This is control of oil and thus of power.

3. It is also an ego boost to a country who has seen its greatest days behind it politically, but now finds itself flush with oil profits to pay its armies and fuel the aggression.

Their timing is perfect if, as you and Kristol both contend, it were solely up to the US to do something about it. This threat shows that you all owe Rumsfeld an apology. There IS an OLD and NEW Europe. The OLD poo poos it or wants to know when the US will send troops. They are always there when they need us. NEW Europe (the old Soviet republics) sees this for what it is and is girding itself to resist. See Poland and its quickly signing of the missile shield deal. The sooner US troops are on their soil, the better. Even the Russians will think really hard before openly killing US troops.

And just what's wrong with the rest of NATO doing something? If there ever were a vested interest for Europe in keeping the oil flowing and out of Russian control, this is it. It's the Europeans who use that oil after all, not us.

Hell, NATO went to war in Serbo-Croatia for no good reason at all. They weren’t a part of NATO and there was no vested interest in either side losing (and we are still there 14 years later, for those complaining about an exit strategy from Iraq). So why not ante up for something that ACTUALLY matters?

Of course not. The first thing they all do is scream "where are the US Marines?"

You complain that Kristol is an ass for insisting we do something, but can't because of a pointless war taking up our military resources. I say we can debate how wrong you are on the Iraq war another time, but your point here is just as asinine as it assumes the only people who can or should do "something" is Team America.

I bet you laughed all through that movie and the hubris of us thinking we are world police. And look at you - the moment something bad happens in the world you are knee-jerking your 911 call to the Pentagon.

You probably were all for sending troops to overthrow the junta in Burma when they wouldn't let the humanitarian aid through. Can we say interfering in another sovereign nation? Of course not, because being a snarky liberal means never having to say you're sorry.

Great White Snark said...

No one cares about South Ossetia, least of all the Ruskies? Funny, Russia's parliament is meeting this week to discuss formal recognition of the region. Aside from that, I agree with most of your analysis.

I sort of cringe when people talk about the Caucasus as part of Europe, but that appears to be the way this debate's being framed here and elsewhere.

I think NATO's lack of a response has much more to do with the fact that Georgia isn't a member than anything else. Europe was clearly concerned about keeping the BTC pipeline open, and BP wisely built this pipeline outside the regions of Georgia where Russia can place troops. NATO went to war in the former Yugoslavia because of old fears about war spreading from the Balkans and because there was enough of a humanitarian rationale to get member nations on board. The current situation in Georgia lacks both those qualities, so I guess that helps explain the lack of NATO intervention? Had Russian troops gotten to the pipeline, I think we would have seen a much more animated response from Europe.

I'm absolutely not calling for an American intervention in Georgia---I'm merely excoriating the Bush Administration and its friends like Kristol for seeming to think that American military power is limitless. Claiming that somebody else SHOULD pick up for where the US failed to live up to its word is cold comfort for the Georgians, and our NATO allies didn't make unilateral security arrangements with the Georgians; depending on the kindness of strangers is not sound security policy. Security commitments are serious business, and the Bush Administration didn't live up to its word. And yes, you can say interfering with a sovereign nation, because I don't think the right of non-interference is sacrosanct.