James Poulos on Georgia

11 August 2008, 1320 EDT

Given the outpouring of hyperbolic rhetoric in US opinion-editorials today (more on this later), some more level-headed commentary is in order. I’ve already posted on Charles King’s excellent CSM editorial; today, James Poulos weighs in in The Guardian:

Saakashvili’s overheated rhetoric – “If the whole world does not stop Russia,” he has remarked, “then Russian tanks will be able to reach any other European capital” – is illustrative of the kind of feverish thinking that is sure to transform a regional crisis into a global one. But where the frustrated desperation that Saakashvili has brought upon himself seems to explain his descent into hyperbole, American commentators have no such excuse. The real wake-up call placed by the Russo-Georgian conflict is not a clarion to a new cold war, but a head check for pro-democracy ideologues – whose idealism has ratified a style of sloppy thinking and rote sloganeering that actually threatens the durability of representative government around the world.

The anti-Russia lobby is giving the pro-Israel lobby a run for its money, hyping the settling of scores among two European, Orthodox Christian countries as more dangerous to the peace and security of the west than any clash of civilisations or jihad ever was. Casting this conflict as a 9/11-style litmus test of patriotism and humanity, New Criterion editor Roger Kimball praises John McCain as a man who “knows evil and repudiates it”, deriding Barack Obama as one “crippled by moral relativism” for daring to admit “fault on both sides”. For Kimball, Russia, “uncivilised” as our terrorist enemies, affords the added menace of a disgruntled ex-superpower hell-bent on “an imperialist mission”. Meanwhile, at Slate, Anne Applebaum balefully warns that Russia may make “Islamic terrorism” look like “the least of our problems”.

This will only come true if the west, in a paroxysm of fear and loathing, makes an enemy of Russia – which, indeed, would be a far more formidable foe than Iran, Hizbullah, and al-Qaida combined. No strategy against jihad can succeed with Russia aligned actively against the west. But no Russian official has expressed a desire to eradicate Georgia from the face of the earth, or drive the Georgian people into the sea. Nor are motives like these driving an illegal and destabilising Russian nuclear programme. Nor is our friendship with Georgia quite as deep and profound as our friendship with Israel.

Read the whole thing.