Comments on the Georgia-Russia fighting: Buchanan is profound, McCain is nuts

Summary:  Patrick Buchanan is one of our few original political writers.  He often says things of great wisdom, and often things which with I totally disagree.  This is one of the former.  Derbyshire’s comments also match my views (except the ambiguous last sentence).  McCain’s bizarre remarks demonstrate why many regard the prospect of his presidency with fear.

Leadership“, by John Derbyshire, National Review Online, 12 August 2008

I agree with this:

As Chamberlain gave a war guarantee to Poland he could not honor, the United States began to hand out NATO war guarantees to six Warsaw Pact nations, the three Baltic republics, and, soon, Ukraine and Georgia. Should a hostile regime come to power in Moscow and reoccupy these nations, we would have to declare war. Yet no matter how much we treasure the newly free Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, their independence is not a vital U.S. interest, and never has been. And the threatened loss of their independence cannot justify war with a nuclear-armed Russia.

… As Britain threw over Japan and drove Italy into the arms of Hitler, Bush pushes Putin’s Russia into the arms of China by meddling in the politics of Georgia, Ukraine, and Belarus, planting U.S. bases in Central Asia, and hectoring him for running an autocratic state that does not pass muster with the National Endowment for Democracy.

– from Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, by Patrick J. Buchanan, pp.421-2.

There are some spectacles that are at once tragic and farcical. One such has been the sight of Georgian troops scuttling back from assisting us in whatever it is we imagine we are doing in Iraq, to help defend their homeland, while Condoleezza Rice stamps her foot, George W. Bush watches a basketball game, and John McCain says that he will do such things, what they are, yet he knows not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth.

We are governed by fools. At least Putin knows what he wants, and how to get it. If only freedom had such leaders!

The WWII analogy is apt.  Politicos feel bold and brave declaring alliances, having second thoughts only when they are called to honor them. 

This good sense contrasts with the recommendations of Presidential Candidate McCain, “We Are All Georgians“, op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, 14 August 2008 — Excerpt:

The world has learned at great cost the price of allowing aggression against free nations to go unchecked. A cease-fire that holds is a vital first step, but only one. With our allies, we now must stand in united purpose to persuade the Russian government to end violence permanently and withdraw its troops from Georgia. International monitors must gain immediate access to war-torn areas in order to avert an even greater humanitarian disaster, and we should ensure that emergency aid lifted by air and sea is delivered.

We should work toward the establishment of an independent, international peacekeeping force in the separatist regions, and stand ready to help our Georgian partners put their country back together. This will entail reviewing anew our relations with both Georgia and Russia. As the NATO secretary general has said, Georgia remains in line for alliance membership, and I hope NATO will move ahead with a membership track for both Georgia and Ukraine.

We must help them through this tragedy, and they should know that the thoughts, prayers and support of the American people are with them. This small democracy, far away from our shores, is an inspiration to all those who cherish our deepest ideals. As I told President Saakashvili on the day the cease-fire was declared, today we are all Georgians. We mustn’t forget it.

This is bizarre on several levels.

(1)  How are we going to “persuade the Russian government to end violence permanently and withdraw its troops from Georgia.” 

(2)  I doubt much that many nations will enroll in his “independent, international peacekeeping force in the separatist regions.”  There are never enough crazy nations around when we need them.

(3)  Extending our alliance, the US defense shield, deep into the Russian sphere is influence is just nuts.  Saying we are all Berliners beautifully expressed a logical and fundamental alliance, at the heart of NATO.  Saying we are all Georgians is pretty, but writes a check we are unlikely to honor.  The apt analogy in American history is our encouragement for the Hungarian revolt (esp. the CIA’s), only to watch the horror of the Soviet Union’s reassertion of control.

(4)  Perhaps most important, his premise is probably wrong.  As Matthew Yglesias says in “Overhyping Georgia“, The American Prospect, 13 August 2008: 

The reality, however, is that world history in the relevant sense isn’t made often at all. That’s what makes it noteworthy. And it’s especially unlikely to be made in remote, obscure countries unless — as in Sarajevo in 1914 — major countries use events in obscure ones as a pretext to escalate longstanding conflicts.

… But while Russia’s punishment of Georgia may not have major consequences for America or for world security, a hysterical American response just might. Most obviously, if we were to take things like John McCain’s Aug. 12 proclamation that “we are all Georgians” seriously, we would be in the midst of a shooting war with Russia and literally risking the end of human civilization in a nuclear exchange.

By all accounts, McCain just wants to engage in some irresponsible posturing rather than to follow through on the implications of his words, but even excessive posturing and loose talk of a new Cold War with Russia would have real costs.

So it goes in the waning years of the American hegemony, as too many of our leaders lack an awareness of limits — limits to our resources, limits to our ambitions, limits in our place in the world.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Other posts about the Georgia-Russia fighting

  1. The Russia-Georgia war threatens one of the world’s oil arteries, 10 August 2008
  2. Perhaps *the* question about the Georgia – Russia conflict, 10 August 2008
  3. Keys to interpreting news about the Georgia – Russia fighting, 13 August 2008
  4. What did we learn from the Russia – Georgia conflict?, 13 August 2008

Click here to see a list of all posts about strategy and military theory.

10 thoughts on “Comments on the Georgia-Russia fighting: Buchanan is profound, McCain is nuts

  1. Politicos not only *like* to talk tough, they have to talk tough during an election campaign. I believe, though can’t cite where, Dems have already accused Bush of a weak response, goading him to talk tough. Israel continually threatens its neighbors verbally, but only occasionally walks its talk. When I hear words like “this must not go unanswered”, I relax.

  2. Yeah, Derbyshire’s unrepentant yearning for Putin’s authoritarianism is one of the many reasons he is mocked and ignored by thinking people. The other would be his blatant and self-aware racism and homophobia, and his proclaimed love of underage girls.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I do not know about all that other stuff (nor do I care), but this article is IMO quite sensible. The last sentance is, as I noted, ambiguous.

  3. Foust: ” his proclaimed love of underage girls ”
    Derbyshire: “Even with the strenuous body-hardening exercise routines now compulsory for movie stars, at age 36 the forces of nature have won out over the view-worthiness of the unsupported female bust. It is, in fact, a sad truth about human life that beyond our salad days, very few of us are interesting to look at in the buff. Added to that sadness is the very unfair truth that a woman’s salad days are shorter than a man’s — really, in this precise context, only from about 15 to 20.”

    So he’s saying that the average woman’s breasts would be worthy of ogling between 15 and 20, but there might be noteworthy exceptions.

    Your use of the term “love” is so vague that I can’t pin you down to a contradiction. Your attempt to use “mocked and ignored by thinking people” goes beyond vague. Who comprises the group of thinking people, how is the group defined, and what specific actions constituted mockery?

    Further, why exactly is Foust more important, more connected, or otherwise more socially exalted than Derbyshire?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for the background. The legal prohibitions protecting underage girls is one thing. Our society’s denial of biological reality is another, and absurd. Post-pubescent girls have a large number of physical traits that men are hard-wired to find desirable. Hypocrisy in these things is considered a sign of good thinking (doubleplusgood).

    This hypocrisy makes such attacks among the most despicable of ad hominem attacks, IMO.

  4. Oh, wait, I just figured out why Joshua Foust is more socially exalted than Derbyshire:
    Joshua Foust:” In 2006 I was named, among others, Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.”
    http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/author/joshua-foust/

    Time Magazine: “Who are these people? Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I’m not going to watch Lost tonight. I’m going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana? I’m going to mash up 50 Cent’s vocals with Queen’s instrumentals? I’m going to blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street? Who has that time and that energy and that passion?
    The answer is, you do. And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME’s Person of the Year for 2006 is you.”
    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1569514,00.html

    So Joshua Foust shares his honor with everyone else on the Internet. The weight of the laurels would be excruciating to lesser men, like Derbyshire … except Derbyshire was also named as Person of the Year, 2006.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: This strikes me as a bit trivial. Esp as I suspect he wrote that as a joke.

  5. I’m as fond of the female anatomy as the next guy, but to get back on the subject, one of the real paradoxes is is that – for all our “War on Terror” posturing – probably the most effective defensive strategy for Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia, and Ukraine would be some sort of guerrilla response.

    In other words, on the Lehrer News Hour, they showed a Russian tank officer who said that if the United States could go into Baghdad then Russia could go into Tbilisi.

    Well, yeah; but remember what happed to us after we got to Baghdad. And that should be the point.

    In other words, and let me speak plainly, the United States, as part of its Grand Strategy, should consider the merits of itself becoming a “state sponsor” of quite a lot of the activities it has recently been denouncing.

    And this is not a contradiction. After all, we have both an Air Force and anti-aircraft missiles. Or espionage and counter-espionage. In any event, according H. John Poole, the only way to get good at counter guerrilla warfare is to be able to conduct it yourself. Which is really common sense.

    And, whatever problems my suggestion may have, would be a heck of a lot better than a direct nuclear confrontation with Russia.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Insurgencies, of which guerilla warfare is a subset, are rare for a good reason: the cost is high. Not just in damage to one’s economy (the war is fought at home), but in casualties. From memory, the ratio of friend to foe deaths is usually over 10:1. Not everyone is prepared to pay that price. Esp if the aggressor is satisfied with a client:patron state arrangement. Which is my guess as to Russia’s goals.

    Extending NATO to their doorstep is unaccepable to Russia, and they have shown the will and capability to push back.

  6. Let me restate my point: If Hezbollah can repel Israel; then why can’t Estonia repel Russia?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: IMO your point was clear and cogent. The answer is that perhaps they can, but that does not mean that will consider doing so worth the cost. Few do, historically..

  7. in tweny years the right will revere bush as much as they do reagan. today he his caught between the derbyshire why-are-we-wasting-resources-on-pissant-countries wing and the mccain why-aren’t-we-already-bombing-somebody contingent. bush is being considered but assertive, realistic but with eyes open to opportunity. his only flaw, besides that frat-boy smirk, was not overriding rumsfeld and letting shinseki go in with enough troops to do iraq right. surge would not have been needed, we would have bases but no major troop numbers in iraq, and our “standing” would be much better. but he did make corrections and now his administration will end on a good note. maybe the dem pres candidate in 2032 will try to imitate bush on the world stage to try to improve poll numbers at home, too.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Presidents are judged not by their character but by their accomplishments. Reagan’s term saw a major inflection in both America’s domestic economy its and international standing, reversing trends from the 1970’s that we leading us to disaster.

    Bush has nothing remotely like this. The recovery from the 2001-02 recession was done at great cost, perhaps with long-term consequences more painful than if we had let the recession run its course. We can only guess at how history will see his wars, but I doubt the verdict will be favorable. He undertook almost no significant domestic initiatives.

  8. >in tweny years the right will revere bush as much as they do reagan.

    Yes it is sobering to think that at the current rate of realignment these will be the salad days, the last time when US seemed to made a difference.

    Bush’s guarantees to Georgia are going to cost it more credibility. Both with the Georgians who will feel abandoned and Europe who increasingly sees the US and it’s continual impulse to bluster and escalate every problem until failure is reached – as a problem maker not a solver.
    Europe has to find an accommodation with Russia and if the US puts it’s influence up to slow that process then it will see that influence decline.

    It is clear at the US doesn’t do grand strategy. Americans culturally unable due to the cold war, to integrate other points of view can’t synthesize strategy properly. For the rest of the world a strategy of pandering to US pride while quietly doing the opposite to undermine American interests, whenever they are inconvenient, works wonderfully well. Whether it’s Australian troops buying protection by pretending to fight in Iraq or Turks signing energy deals with Iran hardly a week goes by without an example.

    It will also be interesting to see if the US really will sacrifice it’s legacy – the international organizations such as the WTO and G8 in an attempt to forestall it’s inevitable decline. Kicking Russia out of the G8 for instance damages the G8 more than it damages Russia.

  9. Are those the breasts that launched a thousand ships?
    And burnt the topless towers of Russia?
    Sweet Georgian, make me immortal with a kiss.

    — (not) Christopher Marlowe :P

  10. Great article …. Limits people limits is what the current American foreign policy lacks. Considering Estonia it is different the terrain isn’t mountainous as southern Lebanon so it will be a urban warfare few dare to get involved in.

    This war have shown the Russians the need for a stronger economy, Russia just couldn’t flex its economic power as china does with Taiwan , The great Russia couldn’t stop shipments from Ukraine! While Taiwan will only get its weapon package only if john mcain initiates his new, limitless, and world wrecking foreing policy. A huge disparity is apparent between China and Russia.

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