Georgia = Grenada, an antidote to Cold War II

Summary:  Bob Killebrew at the SWC displays the aggressive aspect of American strategy, joining the chorus calling for us to restart the cold war.  Fortunately we have Chet Richards to provide a useful perspective on the events in Georgia.  The contrast tells much about America.

What will the 2033 version of Wikipedia say about the Georgia – Russia fighting?  Chet Richards (Colonel, US Air Force, retired) suggests (via email) that we look at a similar event that occurred 25 years ago.  (Others have also compared the current fighting to Grenada, but I found none with this focus).  From today’s Wikipedia:

The Invasion of Grenada, codenamed Operation Urgent Fury, was an invasion of the island nation of Grenada by the United States of America and several other nations in response to an internal power struggle which ended with the deposition and execution of Grenadan Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. On October 25, 1983, the United States, Barbados, Jamaica and members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States landed ships on Grenada, defeated Grenadian and Cuban resistance and overthrew the military government of Hudson Austin.

The invasion was highly criticised by the United Kingdom, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada and the United Nations General Assembly, which condemned it as “a flagrant violation of international law”.[4] Conversely, it was reported to have enjoyed broad public support in the United States[5] as well as in segments of the population in Grenada. October 25 is a national holiday in Grenada, called Thanksgiving Day, to commemorate this event. Approximately 100 people lost their lives.

The Soviet Union pushed into our sphere of influence; we responded by invading Grenada and changing its government.  That’s what great powers do.  This simple insight, a commonplace of history, provides an antidote to the hysterical over-reaction of so many American geopolitical experts.  Like this essay, calling for us to restart the cold war.  Reading it illustrates why so many people in other lands consider the US a loose cannon on the world stage — too quick to escalate military tensions.

Russia-Georgia: Early Take“, Robert Killebrew (Colonel, US Army, retired), posted at the Small Wars Council, 15 August 2008 — Excerpt:

… Second, Putin and his government are attempting to establish the legitimacy of a Russian sphere of influence that looks very much like a reestablishment of the old Soviet empire. 

… What does this mean for the U.S. and for U.S. strategy? The first, obvious, lesson is that great-power competition is back, and it is not only with a remote and only vaguely challenging trading partner like China. Russia is now an active menace.

… As scholar Fred Kagan said recently, there is a “new axis” of anti-Russian democracies around the edge of the old Soviet empire. Supporting those states and securing their future must be a top priority for the U.S. and NATO, while Russia passes through the Putin phase and perhaps into a more benign future — the encouragement of which should be the top priority for U.S. and Western diplomacy. If this sounds like containment, well, it is.

For military strategy, the U.S. should immediately revamp its foreign military assistance programs to those countries, including a post-invasion Georgia. The intent of U.S. aid now should not be aimed not only at preparing forces for low-intensity conflict … but also at deterring Russian high-intensity, combined-arms attacks. Advanced integrated air-defenses (the Georgians had none), antitank munitions, precision weapons all must be provided so that Russia can no longer plan a walkover like the one we have witnessed.

Killebrew does not explain why these measures are necessary.  Probably due to some version of the Domino Theory.  Jack Snyder explains how this works in his National Interest article “Imperial Temptations” (Spring 2002):

ANOTHER COMMON myth of empire is the famous domino theory. According to this conception, small setbacks at the periphery of the empire will tend to snowball into an unstoppable chain of defeats that will ultimately threaten the imperial core. Consequently, empires must fight hard to prevent even the most trivial setbacks. Various causal mechanisms are imagined that might trigger such cascades: The opponent will seize ever more strategic resources from these victories, tipping the balance of forces and making further conquests easier. Vulnerable defenders will lose heart. Allies and enemies alike will come to doubt the empire’s resolve to fight for its commitments. An empire’s domestic political support will be undermined. Above all, lost credibility is the ultimate domino.

Such reasoning has been nearly universal among overstretched empires.

In keeping with modern geopolitical thinking in America, Killebrew does not both to weigh costs vs. benefits of his recommendation.  An aggressive response is warranted, the costs are not relevant, and Russia’s response to our actions is not considered (the last is almost a signature trait of American geopolitical work, as we saw in the planning for the Iraq adventure).


Robert Killebrew served more than 30 years in the US Army and is a former Army War College instructor.  He is the author of “SecDef has signaled a turning point in U.S. defense thinking“, Armed Forces Journal, February 2008.

Chet Richards is the Editor of the web site Defense and the National Interest and the author of three books, the latest and best being If We Can Keep It (see the review here).

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
  5. Comments on the Georgia-Russia fighting: Buchanan is profound, McCain is nuts, 15 August 2008
  6. Best insight yet about America and the Georgia-Russia fighting, 15 August 2008

Posts about America’s grand strategy

  1. The Myth of Grand Strategy   (31 January 2006)
  2. America’s Most Dangerous Enemy   (1 March 2006)
  3. America takes another step towards the “Long War”   (24 July 2007)
  4. One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy?   (28 October 2007)
  5. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I  (19 March 2007; revised 7 June 2008)
  6. How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part II  (14 June 2008)
  7. America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past  (30 June 2008)  – chapter 1 in a series of notes
  8. President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris  (1 July 2008) – chapter 2
  9. America’s grand strategy, now in shambles  (2 July 2008) — chapter 3
  10. America’s grand strategy, insanity at work  (7 July 2008) — chapter 4
  11. A lesson in war-mongering: “Maritime Strategy in an Age of Blood and Belief”  (8 July 2008) — chapter 6
  12. Geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering  (9 July 2008) — chapter 7
  13. Thoughts on fixing America’s national security apparatus  (11 August 2008)

13 thoughts on “Georgia = Grenada, an antidote to Cold War II”

  1. That’s what great powers do.

    Ah, that’s the rub. For Russia to act like a great power is to throw into question our “victory” in the Cold War.

    An equivalent affront would be for the Chinese Communists to demonstrate that they really actually are Communists after all.

  2. As a Meatball of One who had rather meaty access to plans and actions transpiring in quacky Grenada I can say that time is hardly perspectifier enough to bring clarity to circumstances of Ossetia-like character – even for open sourcey Wiki. The Wiki version of Grenada events reads closer to Clint Eastwood’s Hollywood take of matters (Heartbreak Ridge, I believe) than anything that actually transpired – and this 25 panning-out years later.

    Pertaining to your post “Perhaps *the* question about the Georgia – Russia conflict”. Imho,Excellent post/excerpts and follow up posts on the skirmish.

  3. So, the approved narrative here seems to be:
    The U.S, is a screw-up.
    Poor, poor, pitiful Russia.
    The ex-Soviet satellites (remember when they were called that?) are meanies (and also screw-ups, ’cause they talk to us).
    The U.S. had it coming.
    Putin is 10′ tall.
    The Russian Army is BACK.
    The Russian Navy is BACK.
    Sputnik mentality redux. Roger.

  4. Roberto Buffagni

    I am an Italian.
    If Georgia had been accepted into NATO, as the U.S. od A. government wanted, today we would be at war with Russia. Maybe, one day our European elites will begin to wonder if submitting ourselves to existential choices taken on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean is really wise.

  5. There are some parallels to Grenada, but don’t tease the model out too much.

    First, in Grenada there were genuine American citizens present rather than a “manufactured minority”.

    Second, a legitimately elected head of state was deposed by the New JEWEL Movement, which clearly had Cuban and Soviet support and training.

    And third, the Reagan administration had been pursuing a vigorous campaign against Soviet expansion in Latin American and the Caribbean since taking office, so Grenada did not establish a new precedent of America countering Russian expansion in the region.

    Also worthy of note, the date of the invasion of Grenada, October 25th, is a national holidy–“Thanksgiving Day”. Somehow I doubth the Georgians are greatful for Russia’s “help”.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Agreed, history does not repeat exactly. The relevant aspects are that Russia pushed into our sphere, and we used military force to push back. As de Tocqueville said, “history is a gallery of pictures, of which few are originals and many are copies.”

    As for these details… The safety of the US medical students is, I believe widely considered a weak pretext for the invasion — whereas there are “large” pro-Russian minorities in the break-away Georgian provinces. As the legitimately elected government had been deposed 4 years before the invasion, this too was not the cause of the invasion. We are left with similar reasons for both invasions.

    The Russians too have an active post-WWII history of vigorously campaigning against US expansion in Eastern Europe (e.g., Hungary 1956), so the current fighting does not establish a new precedent. The break-away provinces probably are grateful for Russia’s help, and might declare the invasion data a provincial holiday.

  6. OK, normally I’d let this stuff pass, but as someone who was actually on that tropical fuckin’ paradise in October, 1983, here it goes:

    First, the genuine American citizens were still hanging out at Grand Anse or ordering mojitos at the Red Crab while Maurice Bishop & Co. were getting capped. In true island colonial style, the Yanks there had no dog in the Cooard-Bishop rumble. The first sign most of the med students had that they needed to scamper was the arrival of Navy A-7s overhead. The PRA and the Grenadian militia had neither the time nor the competence to threaten the foreigners. This “threat” was a put-up job by my then boss, Ronnie Reagan.

    Second, the “legitimately elected head of state” (Bishop) was the LEADER of the “New JEWEL” party. He was defenestrated and then killed by his “Army” honcho, Bernie Cooard. Both were Soviet clients, and we had been leaning on Bishop ever since he and the New JEWEL threw out our old, corrupt, insane and brutal client, Eric Gairy, whose big fun was to travel to the U.S. once a year to use the head-of-state privledge to lecture the U.N. about aliens and UFOs. Nuttier than a granola bar. So the “Ohmigod the Commies are taking Grenada” is also a put-up job.

    Third…ummm…does the word “Chechnya” ring a bell?

    In Grenada and Panama six years later we did what Great Powers do: used force to reshape small neighboring governments into something we liked better. In Georgia the Russians did exactly the same. Period.

    The bottom line here is that like us, Russia sees itself having a “sphere of influence”. Unlike us, the Russians don’t have experience in meddling in their sphere subtly. They tend to be pretty brutal. This is a bad thing for the people in that sphere. But history has proved that we don’t help matters by making airy promises to these countries. We’re not going to war with Russia over Georgia any more than Russia was going to fight for Grenada. To let the Georgians think so, to the point where their man Saakashvili stupidly gave the Russians a causus belli, was at best irresponsible.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Great summary. The same facts as the Wikipedia gives, but much more interesting! Also, the first person testimony is always valuable. Thanks for the comment.

  7. George W. Bush and Condoleeza Rice say Russia can not lay claim to Abkazia and South Ossetia. This is stupider than anything they have ever said about Iraq. The situation in Georgia is a situation of might makes right. The Russians have the might in Georgia and there is not a thing George or Condoleeza can do about it.

  8. After the USSR crumbled, an honest look at the Soviet economy and infrastructure revealed a Potemkin village of pretend greatness obscuring a core of inept neglect. Things are not much better in Russia today.

    Russia had a hard enough time pacifying Chechnya. Russia was driven out of Afghanistan with its tail twixt legs. Russia’s military infrastructure is running on fumes, rusting and nearly obsolete. Georgia will prove to be a quagmire for Russia, unless Putin pulls up stakes and gets out quickly.

    You think this thing is over?

  9. I would hazard a guess that wikipedia in 2033 would say there was a ‘break’ in the cold war…

    The only problem being that after the break we find the USA as a super-power on one side of the fence and then a host of great powers on the other side. Mix in America’s and its allies economic problems and then on the other side of the fence these great powers economically doing relatively well.

    IMO Kosovo is what opened the floodgates, the missile shield could always be neutralized by other means, but the West annexing a Russian allies territory, I think that was the last stick in the eye of the bear. Add to this an EU incapable of any real hard power projection and a US military chasing shadows around the globe. Russia may not ever invade any NATO member, but they do have large minorities in some and a lot of cash to affect political change. Look at Ukraine, a pro-west president, but the parliament looks elsewhere. The color revolutions have become bit of a white wash.

    On second thoughts we might be reading wikipediaski in 2033…

  10. At the very real risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, but could all this have been a grand scheme at appeasing a frustrated Russia?

    The way all this played out with this President Jacques Clouseau of Georgia leading the way and seemingly catching everyone by surprise, except for the Russians…no, there is no one that smart in charge at the moment.

  11. To Albert Finestein : IMHO things ain’t gettin’ any better ANYWHERE. Not Russia, not china, & DEFINITELY not the great ol’ U.S. of A! Gonna check out your blog. Shalom.

  12. Ought the US sit back and ignore others getting stronger, even if it’s not at US expense Would the US be wise to allow Russia cart blanche to increase its power incrementaly on it’s disputed borders, it does have a lot of them. That would be a dimunition of the amount of US power (relative to Russia), which is the really important measure.

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