The Duck of Minerva

Quick note on Georgia-Russia

11 August 2008

Notwithstanding the ridiculousness of some of the rhetoric in today’s US papers, Russia has clearly stepped over the line in Georgia.

Russian commentators, fed by a steady onslaught of their government’s propaganda about Georgian “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing,” almost certainly will deny it, but the Georgian offensive in South Ossetia–as well as the civilian losses it inflicted and the refugees it created–does not provide a pretext for Russian attacks inside Georgia whilst the Georgians call for a cease fire. Although it seems the Georgians haven’t stopped fighting the Russians in South Ossetia, one has to wonder what exactly they’re supposed to do with Russian forces attacking their (undisputed) territory on two fronts.

In other words, aspects of the statements issued by western leaders are basically correct:

“There is no justification for continued Russian military action in Georgia, which threatens the stability of the entire region and risks a humanitarian catastrophe,” the prime minister said in a statement.

“There is an immediate and pressing need to end the fighting and disengage all military forces in South Ossetia.

“The Georgian government has offered a ceasefire, which I urge the Russians to reciprocate without delay,” he said.

Nato’s secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, joined the US president, George Bush, in criticising Russia for “disproportionate” use of force.

However, attempts to compare Russia to Nazi Germany and Georgia to 1938 Czechoslovakia betray the intellectual laziness of certain segments of the American pundit class–not to mention an inability to contemplate a world without titanic struggles between good and evil.

McCain’s claim that MAP for Georgia would have deterred the Russians constitutes what I see as a troubling misunderstanding of how promises of western support influenced Saakashvili’s calculations–and created false hopes for the Georgians.

So the best hope for Georgia is that the Russians decide that they’ve made their point and shown the Georgians that the ‘strong do what they will and that the weak do what they must,’ that they can cut a deal with the west from a position of strength, and that a chastened Georgia is less of a problem than a devastated (or occupied) one.

The chances of returning to “status quo ante” in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, moreover, look pretty low right now. But, in some ways, it might be better for everyone if Georgia finally realized that they’re not getting either back.

When this is over, and if Georgia remains independent, the US and the Europeans will have an obligation to help Georgia rebuild and get back on track, not least because of our part in giving them the wrong impression about what our commitments to them really amounted to.

[note: the strikethroughs were cheesy and didn’t quite communicate what I intended either, so I’ve eliminated them. Some aspects of what I wrote were wrong, others were right]