Here are excerpts from 3 articles about the changes to the world order following the Georgia-Russia conflict, and America’s difficulty in adapting to them.
- Stratfor asks if the US still has strong levers with which to move Iran?
- Expert Americans, like Prof. Kenneth Anderson, retain delusions of American hegemony
- Consequences of America’s encouragement of other nations
1. Stratfor asks if the US still has strong levers with which to move Iran?
Asking the right questions is a key to successful analysis, esp after major events. We see this done well in Stratfor’s “Intelligence Guidance” of 22 August 2008 — Excerpt:
The Iranian issue is still absolutely on the table. A few weeks ago the plan was to increase sanctions on the Iranians if they did not provide satisfactory answers on uranium enrichment. The United States said that they hadn’t, and the next step would be sanctions in which Russia would participate. The latest word is that those sanctions are dead since the Russians will not play. Everyone is ignoring this, but it is critical.
What is the next step in U.S. relations with Iran? Is Washington going to ramp up the crisis or use this distraction to ditch its policy, cut its losses in the Middle East and come home? Are the Iranians going to reconsider the accommodations they have made in Iraq and try to go for a better deal? Will the Russians encourage the Iranians to do so?
2. Expert Americans, like Prof. Kenneth Anderson, retain delusions of American hegemony.
The world can change in an instant, but even expert’s opinions require time to adjust. We see an example in this essay by Kenneth Anderson, a law professor at American University and research fellow of the Hoover Institution. “Georgia, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia“, posted at Opinio Juris, 22 August 2008. Like the Kagan essay to which he refers, Anderson dreams that the US and its new Eastern European allies together can confront Russia in its sphere of influence — something the US never dared do even at the height of the cold war, when the USSR was an existential threat to us. It is no such thing today, and the high-flown rhetoric of war hawks write checks we unlikely to honor. See the third item for more on this.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my experiences in Georgia in the early 1990s, monitoring the various conflicts – Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and the then-Georgian civil war in Tbilisi – and noting that the secessionist conflicts were marked on each side by ethnic cleansing as extreme as anything I saw in the Yugloslav wars, a country which I also monitored for Human Rights Watch, during the mid-1980s on through the early years of those wars.
… First, I share unreservedly the belief that Russia is deliberately undertaking a dangerous, threatening, imperial expansion in the “near abroad” and that it must be opposed and rolled back.
… Second, NATO is going to undergo a reshaping in two directions out of this crisis, in the ways offered by Robert Kagan in his new Weekly Standard essay. On the one hand, the idea of NATO evolving into some kind of post Cold War ‘legionnaires of the good guys’, into which Russia would eventually become attached in some friendly way, is dead. It was dead for many reasons before this – to start with, the conversion of a club of mutual protection into a club of general cosmopolitan altruism never took account of the unwillingness of Europe, let alone America, to pay for it, or staff it. On the other hand, the idea of NATO as a genuine mutual protection club is back, at least as far as the Eastern Europeans are concerned; since the Western Europeans are much more interested in gas than protection, however, the forward path of NATO as a re-invigorated mutual protection association is cloudy. How long can a free rider club last if its guarantor starts to incur serious costs? I don’t know, but I doubt the answer is forever.
Third, it is a grave error to conflate rolling back Russian expansionism with the idea that Georgia should have actual political, security, and military control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia. … Disentangling rolling back Russian imperialism from endorsing Georgian control in fact over uncontrollable territories is only one of two core problems for US policy.
Fourth, therefore, US policy must also disentangle “democracy” from what Georgian democracy currently is – which is best characterized not as democracy, but instead as “participatory ethnic nationalism.” The US can be proud of what it has done to help Georgia reach the point of free elections, and to take the first steps toward liberal democracy.
… As practical policy, this counsels for the kind of legal ambiguity that I wrote about in an earlier post. No one should be talking about independence for South Ossetia or Abkhazia; the formalities of territorial integrity matter, here as in many other places in the world. Russia must be firmly opposed on this political point. On the other hand, no one should talk of Georgia in actual fact governing these places, either. Yet, on a third hand, it is unacceptable in these circumstances for the Russians to exercise de facto political control over them either particularly by filling them with all the military instruments suitable for an invasion and occupation of Georgia proper.
The best solution – and I say this reluctantly, because it contains grave difficulties all its own – is the placement of ceasefire monitors and peacekeepers who are genuinely from outside and who would have obligations to all ethnic communities. That works only so-so, because the Russians are able so completely to dominate, but it is certainly a better moral and political policy than proposing, with a straight face, that the Georgians take actual political control. Even to propose that cedes both the practical reality and the moral high ground. Better simply to assert that what’s required is a deliberate legal ambiguity – and then concentrate on getting Russian rollback of its actual military forces. It has the virtue, at least, of uniting what the practical goal would have to be in any case with what the moral policy should be.
… The failure, first, to disentangle opposing Russian imperialism from unwise and frankly not morally defensible Georgian demands for actual political control and, second, to disentangle the laudable project of Georgian democracy from the overlapping and less laudable project of participatory ethnic nationalism in Georgia risks tying US policy to a standard of Georgian behavior in war, conflict, control of non-ethnic Georgian territories – asserting a frankly romanticized standard of Georgian goodness and purity – that, as a matter of history, even recent history, they have not managed to meet.
US responses should be tied to Russian ill-doing, which are legion, not unlikely assertions of Georgian virtue. There is, in my view, no reason why the US response should be any less vigorous on that account, and it is likely to be a firmer basis for action in the longer run, because it remains a valid policy even if Georgian behavior were somehow to undertake a reversion to the historic mean.
Addendum: Kenneth Anderson’s Law of War and Just War Theory Blog is well worth reading by those interested in the foundations of geopolitical dynamics.
3. Consequences of America’s encouragement of other nations
“The Risk of the Zinger“, David Ignatius, op-ed in the Washington Post, 20 August 2008 — The closing paragraphs:
In his own feisty comments in recent months, McCain encouraged Georgians to believe America would back them up in a crisis. That expectation was naive, and it was wrong to encourage it. It was especially wrong to give a volatile leader such as Saakashvili what he evidently imagined was an American blank check.
In the post-Cold War world, small countries often get into fights they can’t finish — hoping that big powers will come to their rescue. That happened in the 1990s with Bosnia and Kosovo, which hoped their desperate vulnerability would force Western intervention, as it eventually did. On the other side, the Serbs played the same game, hoping (wrongly, as it turned out) that Russia would intervene. The better part of wisdom sometimes is to tell small, embattled nations and ethnic groups: Swallow your pride and compromise; the cavalry isn’t coming to save you.
There’s a moral problem with all the pro-Georgia cheerleading, which has gotten lost in the op-ed blasts against Putin’s neo-imperialism. A recurring phenomenon of the early Cold War was that America encouraged oppressed peoples to rise up and fight for freedom — and then, when things got rough, abandoned them to their fate. The CIA did that egregiously in the early 1950s, broadcasting to the Soviet republics and the nations of Eastern Europe that America would back their liberation from Soviet tyranny. After the brutal suppression of the Hungarian revolution in 1956, responsible U.S. leaders learned to be more cautious, and more honest about the limits of American power.
Now, after the Georgia war, McCain should learn that lesson: American leaders shouldn’t make threats the country can’t deliver or promises it isn’t prepared to keep. The rhetoric of confrontation may make us feel good, but other people end up getting killed.
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
- The Russia-Georgia war threatens one of the world’s oil arteries, 10 August 2008
- Perhaps *the* question about the Georgia – Russia conflict, 10 August 2008
- Keys to interpreting news about the Georgia – Russia fighting, 13 August 2008
- What did we learn from the Russia – Georgia conflict?, 13 August 2008
- Comments on the Georgia-Russia fighting: Buchanan is profound, McCain is nuts, 15 August 2008
- Best insight yet about America and the Georgia-Russia fighting, 15 August 2008
- Georgia = Grenada, an antidote to Cold War II, 16 August 2008
Posts about America’s grand strategy
- The Myth of Grand Strategy (31 January 2006)
- America’s Most Dangerous Enemy (1 March 2006)
- America takes another step towards the “Long War” (24 July 2007)
- One step beyond Lind: What is America’s geopolitical strategy? (28 October 2007)
- How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I (19 March 2007; revised 7 June 2008)
- How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part II (14 June 2008)
- America’s grand strategy: lessons from our past (30 June 2008) – chapter 1 in a series of notes
- President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris (1 July 2008) – chapter 2
- America’s grand strategy, now in shambles (2 July 2008) — chapter 3
- America’s grand strategy, insanity at work (7 July 2008) — chapter 4
- A lesson in war-mongering: “Maritime Strategy in an Age of Blood and Belief” (8 July 2008) — chapter 6
- Geopolitical analysis need not be war-mongering (9 July 2008) — chapter 7
- Thoughts on fixing America’s national security apparatus (11 August 2008)