Before we reignite the cold war, what happened in Georgia?
We have two versions of what happened in Geogia. Since these events might put us on course to re-igniting the Cold War, I suggest we pay more attention to the details. The vast expenditures, the diversion of scarce national resources and leadership capital from pressing domestic needs, and the risk of atomic war … let’s not slide into this (again) without thinking it over.
This post briefly examines the two sides of this debate.
- The Georgians are our friends, the Russians our enemies. The Russians started the fighting, as bad guys do. We will do whatever necessary to protect Georgia, even at the risk of war. The most recent advocate of that view is Gov Palin, in her interview with ABC News.
- Georgia’s government provoked the Russians by their actions, including firing on Russian peacekeepers. Many sources corroborate this, including the US Ambassador to Russia .
- As do others, from The War Nerd to Registan, plus contemporaneous media reports.
I recommend reading the following transcript in full. Much of it I found painful, including this bit.
1. Excerpt from transcript of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s interview with ABC News’ Charles Gibson, 11 September 2008 (provided by Fox News)
GIBSON: Let’s start, because we are near Russia. Let’s start with Russia and Georgia. The administration has said, we’ve got to maintain the territorial integrity of Georgia. Do you believe the United States should try to restore Georgian sovereignty over South Ossetia and Abkhazia?
PALIN: First off, we’re going to continue good relations with Saakashvili there. I was able to speak the other day and giving my commitment, as John McCain’s running mate, that we will be committed to Georgia. And we have to keep an eye on Russia. For Russia to have asserted such pressure in terms of invading a smaller democratic country, unprovoked, is unacceptable. And we have to keep …
GIBSON: You believe unprovoked?
PALIN: I do believe unprovoked. And we have to keep our eyes on Russia. Under the leadership there.
GIBSON: What insight into Russian actions particularly in the last couple weeks does the proximity of the state give you?
PALIN: They’re our next door neighbors. And you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.
GIBSON: You favor putting Georgia and Ukraine into NATO?
PALIN: Ukraine definitely yes. Yes. And Georgia. Putin thinks otherwise, obviously he thinks otherwise.
GIBSON: Under the NATO treaty, wouldn’t we then have to go to war if Russia went into Georgia?
PALIN: Perhaps so. That is the agreement. When you are a NATO ally, is, if another country is attacked, you are going to be expected to be called upon and help.
The last line is a nice touch of uncertainty about one of our primo treaty obligations. “Perhaps so. That is the agreement.” Unfortunately, for modern America this is as close to realism as we get. We make the treaty, but might not honor it. Just like out national debts, which we incur with no thought of repayment.
Back on Earth, far from the black hat – white hat world of the neocons, these events look more grey-ish. As usual in that part of the world.
2. Excerpt from the Transcript of Ambassador John Beyrle’s interview in Kommersant, 22 September 2008
Note: the transcript is an unverified translation from a website of unknown authenticity. Here is a summary in English published by Kommersant. Articles by UPI and the International Herald Tribune confirm the gist of the text.
Question: No senior official of the US Administration like President George W. Bush or State Secretary Condolleezza Rice has ever condemned bombardment of Tskhinvali. Does it mean that the United States supports this kind of action?
John Beyrle: __Since we kept telling Georgia not to do it, it must be clear that we never wanted the events to take this particular turn. The United States and Russia have been partners in international mechanisms like the Group of UN Secretary General’s Friends for Georgia, trying to facilitate settlement of the latent conflicts on the Georgian territory. We do not want any violence… It is clear to us that the Russian troops were justified to retaliate after the attack on Russian peacekeepers.
__ Unfortunately, they never stopped with that and entered the territory of Georgia jeopardizing territorial integrity of this country. Question: Are you saying that Russia’s reaction to the attack on peacekeepers was legitimate but advance of the troops to beyond the conflict are was not? John Beyrle: We saw destruction of civilian infrastructure. We heard some politicians in Russia clamoring for replacement of the democratically elected government of Georgia. Some Russian politicians openly question territorial integrity of Georgia. That is why we think that Russia has gone too far. Actually, we are not the only ones to think so. Lots of members of the international community think so too.
3. Other evidence
For a more flavorful description, but so far as I can tell equally accurate: “South Ossetia, The War of My Dreams“, by Gary Brecher, the War Nerd, at The Exiled Online, 11 August 2008 — Excerpt:
I’ll skip the history. Just remember that South Ossetia is a little apple-shaped blob dangling from Russian territory down into Georgia, and most of it has been under control of South Ossetian irregulars backed by Russian “peacekeepers” for the last few years.
The Georgians didn’t like that. You don’t give up territory in that part of the world, ever. … So: hard people on every side in that part of the world. No quarter asked or given. No good guys. Especially not the Georgians. They have a rep as good people, one-on-one, but you don’t want to mess with them and you especially don’t want to try to take land from them.
The Georgians bided their time, then went on the offensive, Caucasian style, by pretending to make peace and all the time planning a sneak attack on South Ossetia. They just signed a treaty granting autonomy to South Ossetia this week, and then they attacked, Corleone style. Georgian MLRS units barraged Tskhinvali, the capital city of South Ossetia; Georgian troops swarmed over Ossetian roadblocks; and all in all, it was a great, whiz-bang start, but like Petraeus asked about Iraq way back in 2003, what’s the ending to this story? As in: how do you invade territory that the Russians have staked out for protection without thinking about how they’ll react.
For more detail, see Joshua Foust’s reports at Registan (All Central Asia, All The Time). This is more information than most of us want, but not than we need if President McCain or President Palin intend to start WWIII over Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Here are a few of his articles, which have links to more detailed accounts.
- “How Georgia Turns“, 4 August 2008
- “Why Bother Researching, Pt. II“, 26 August 2008 — (I suggest ingoring the far-over-the-top personal attacks at Totten)
- “Ex-Post Facto Justifications“, 28 August 2008
Please share your comments by posting below. Please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post. Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
Other Posts about the Candidates
1. How the Iraq and Vietnam wars are mirror images of each other, 7 February 2008 — Now we have McCain, the leading Republican Presidential candidate, talking of an open-ended commitment to victory in Iraq.
2. A look at the next phase of the Iraq War: 2009-2012, 1 March 2008 — What is next in Iraq? None of the leading candidates have expressed any intention of leaving Iraq – except in the distant and vague future. McCain intends to fight so long as (or until) we suffer few casualties, then stay for a long time (perhaps a hundred years, as McCain said here and here) ). On the other hand, Obama has been quite explicit…
3. Our metastable Empire, built on a foundation of clay, 3 March 2008 — We can elect leaders with vast ambitions (foreign for McCain, domestic for Obama), but can no longer afford them.
4. How long will all American Presidents be War Presidents?, 21 March 2008 — The Presidential campaign rolls on in the seventh year since 9/11, with the only debate about the Long War being in which nations America should fight. We see this even the speeches of the most “liberal” candidate, Senator Barack Obama.
5. American history changes direction as the baton passes between our political parties (18 May 2008) – Importance of the November 2008 political landslide.
6. President Obama, an Muslim apostate?, 2 June 2008 — Nope.
7. Is Obama running for the office of Chief Shaman?, 6 June 2008 — Weirdness from our next President.
8. Does America need a charismatic President?, 15 july 2008
9. More about charisma, by Don Vandergriff…(#2 in the “getting ready for Obama” series), 16 July 2008 — About charisma: know it before you buy it!
10. Obama might be the shaman that America needs, 17 July 2008 — At what point does criticism of Obama’s charisma and rhetoric become criticism of leadership itself — and blind faith in technocratic solutions so loved by policy nerds? Michael Knox Beran crosses that line in “Obama, Shaman“, City Journal, Summer 2008.
11. Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal, 8 August 2008 — Obama’s statement about America may be the simple truth; this may be why so many find it disturbing.
12. A powerful perspective on the candidates for President of the US, 28 August 2008 — John Derbyshire expresses what I have said about the candidates dreams of saving the world.
13. McCain believes we are stupid. Is he correct?, 30 August 2008
14. Alaska is near Russia, and Gov Palin’s other foreign policy experience, 1 September 2008
15. It’s is not just McCain who believes we’re dumb – it’s a crowd, 3 September 2008
16. Governor Palin as an archetype for our time, 9 September 2008
For interesting articles about the candidates from other sources, see About the candidates for President of the United States.