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.

  1. 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.
  2. Georgia’s government provoked the Russians by their actions, including firing on Russian peacekeepers.  Many sources corroborate this, including the US Ambassador to Russia .
  3. 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.

  1. How Georgia Turns“, 4 August 2008
  2. Why Bother Researching, Pt. II“, 26 August 2008 — (I suggest ingoring the far-over-the-top personal attacks at Totten)
  3. 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.

17 thoughts on “Before we reignite the cold war, what happened in Georgia?”

  1. I like Spengler’s take on the situation when he points out that Georgia’s population is set to halve in the next 40 years due to their demographic decline. What’s the point of going to war to save a nation that won’t save itself?

  2. First a narrow view: First of all the Georgians are clearly to blame for this mess. They attacked first and the Russians retaliated in order to protect the rights of the South Ossetians. We can critize the Russians for going into another country, but honestly this is what the West has done several times in Kosovo, East Timor or Iraq.

    Now a broader view: This is NOT just about Georgia. This is about the whole Post-Cold War world order. Especially in Europe. The EU and NATO has created a large area where a Kantian peace rules, where democracy flourish and the free market is dominant (more or less). In that area armed forces is only used to “export” democracy – not for collective or national selfdefence. Russia could have fitted into this system if the reforms of the Yeltsin period had succeed and Russia had become a liberal democracy. It didn’t. Instead Putin and the Siloviki (FSB, military) took over and began to promote the ideal of a strong authoritarian state. As far as I can see Putin didn’t want a confrontation with the West – as a matter of fact he tried to cooperate with the West by trying to make deals with the Americans. Bear in mind he called president Bush just after the 911-attacks and offered Russian support. The Russians opened up for American bases in Central Asia.

    The problem is that you can’t have a system of Kantian peace and a system of authoritarianism coexist in Europe. It doesn’t work that way. Since it is our core belief that democracy must rule the world we will always try to spread it (peacefully or not) and refuse “realpolitik” with a country like Russia. Of course they would begin to push back as soon as they could. You also have to bear in mind that pride and lost glory also matter. Even in the very democratic Germany officers as late as 1990 had books that showed maps with the borders after 1945 and the borders before 1939. In other words: How it was and how Europe really should look like. Only after the fall of the Berlin Wall did the Germans finally accept that the borders in the East were settled and that they would never regain for example the lost areas in Poland. Can it come as a surprise that the Russians – who without firing a shot lost an entire empire back in 1989-1991 – wanted to get at least some parts of the lost empire back? Revenge is also a motivation, because many Russians felt betrayed when NATO was enlarged despite pledges (not written down) by the old President Bush in 1990. Today cities like Sct. Petersborg are less than a 100 miles from the nearest NATO country (Estonia).

    The problem is that we have become very weak in the last years. The Russians senses that. They have watched the debacle in Iraq and the mess in Afghanistan, the covert war in Pakistan and the possibility of a war with Iran. They are much stronger now and they will continue to become stronger, while we become weaker. So they push back now and they will continue to do so until we decide to stop them. One way or the other.
    Fabius Maximus replies: What is your source for these beliefs? You state them like Scriptural truths, as in …

    (1) “The problem is that you can’t have a system of Kantian peace and a system of authoritarianism coexist in Europe. It doesn’t work that way.”

    Given this Manichean view, what is the solution? Sounds like you foresee war, if we are strong enough. Or if we wait for Russia to start it.

    (2) “coexist in Europe.”

    Why limit this to Europe? Mexico was a one-party state for generations — less democratic than today’s Russia. As were other Latin American states. Should we have invaded, sending our tanks on a run down to Cape Horn?

    (3) Putin is an authoritarian? All observers I have seen say that Putin is extremely popular. They held free elections.

    (4) “So they push back now and they will continue to do so until we decide to stop them. One way or the other.”

    Here we have a Rule #2 alert: Avoid analysts relying on psychic powers.” Recovering their traditional sphere of influence does not mean that the Russian government will push on to the Rhine. Not every great power is expansionistic — the USSR was unusual in this respect.

  3. Palin is wrong about “unprovoked”, but the reality was a series of escalating provocations and responses by both sides.

    If the Russians had begun evacuating any (Russian/) Ossettians before the Aug 7 Georgia tanks over the border, and firing on the ‘peacekeepers’, then I’d claim it was a deliberate Russian provacation escalation effort, expecting a Georgian response that would be used to flood S. Ossetia with Russians.
    Michael Totten’s report of the Georgian version claims such escalating Russian provocations, which, even if true, might still accept the “first tanks over the border” started it. I haven’t seen much on pre-Aug 7 provocations.

    “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.

    Well, what if Turkey and Greece start fighting, two NATO members? I think the “perhaps so” is exactly what a mature answer should be: even if a country is in NATO, there might be a situation where our ally is wrong, and provokes an attack, which then allows NATO allies to not support it.

    Yes, Palin “believes unprovoked”, and that might be an issue. “Not sufficiently provoked” is more nuanced, accurate. Was Israel provoked in its last Lebanon incursion? Certainly yes. Was the provocation sufficient to justify the response? We don’t have good guidelines to answer that question.

    Finally, what is the solution, Fab? It’s easy to say that every option includes injustice and is thus “wrong”. But la-la “Palin’s idea is no good since it’s not perfect” is pretty unhelpful in the real world of hard choices.

    What is your alternative proposed action for the USA now, which you think is better than Palin’s?
    Fabius Maximus replies: “I haven’t seen much on pre-Aug 7 provocations.” This game did not start on 7 August, nor can anyone but God calculate who has the moral high ground. That’s the key point here.

    “what if Turkey and Greece start fighting, two NATO members?”

    What is the relevance of that statement to this discussion? It’s happened before. Since NATO is an external defense alliance, we were not involved.

    “even if a country is in NATO, there might be a situation where our ally is wrong, and provokes an attack, which then allows NATO allies to not support it.”

    Very creative. Perhaps we should renegotiate the NATA Treaty to that effect, or perhaps put a codicil to this effect when admitting these eastern european states. But we didn’t, and we might be called to war due to this omission.

    “…more nuanced, accurate. Was Israel provoked in its last Lebanon incursion? Certainly yes. Was the provocation sufficient to justify the response? We don’t have good guidelines to answer that question.”

    Palin not interviewed about philosophical theory, nor is the issue very complex. We are talking about an alliance with Georgia that might involve us in a war with Russia.

    “Finally, what is the solution, Fab?”

    Stop the mad rush to involve America in wars around the world of the past 8 years, and seems likely to continue in a McCain – Palin Adminsitration. This is is a break with our past policies, which have on the whole served us well. IMO there is little geopolitical sense to this, as the potential benefits are grossly disproportionate to the great risks.

  4. The solution is engagement as opposed to confrontation. The US and Russia aren’t about to go to war over Europe. This century is about energy and transportation. Getting Russia inside the G8 and dependent upon outside suppliers ought to be a key goal. With time (and certainly we took the long view in the Cold War), Russia’s business concerns will have more say in government, just as they do here. We ought to consider disbanding NATO as a Cold War relic and let the EU take care of its own. These are steps that would stabilize, rather than radicalize, the situation.

    Palin’s a lightweight reading off of McCain’s script. Anyone who doesn’t recognize that is a fool.

  5. Another voice on this issue:How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Forget Russia Has the Bomb“, Matthew Yglesias, 12 September 2008 — Excerpt:

    “It {the inteview with Palin} made you wish that more supporters of NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine — Democrats and Republicans both — would get the question about going to war with Russia. Because watching the exchange between her and Charlie Gibson as they kind of offhandedly mention that war with Russia could be an Article V treaty obligation and then skip ahead to the next issue without dwelling at all on the fact that US-Russia war could mean a full scale nuclear exchange and the death of billions of people was a bit shocking.

    “The hope, of course, would be that an unconditional US security guarantee to Georgia would deter Russia from doing anything rash. But of course it might not. And based on what we know about the origins of the latest round of fighting, an unconditional US security guarantee to Georgia might well prompt the Georgians to do something rash. Even before the recent fighting, there were Russian military forces stationed inside the sovereign borders of both Georgia (as “peacekeepers” in South Ossetia and Abkhazia) and Ukraine (on a military base near Sebastopol) in a way that leaves some ambiguity as to what would constitute an attack by who on whom. It’s a dangerous situation, and politicians really ought to be asked to contemplate the enormity of a US-Russian military conflict in a serious way.”

  6. On the other hand, logic is futile if we have lost our minds. For evidence see chapter one of Slate’s “The Sarah Palin Hyperbole Watch“, with some gems like this:

    She knows more about energy than probably anyone else in the United States of America.
    — John McCain, in a TV interview with WCSH TV 6 of Portland, Maine (video here)

    Why don’t people laugh at candidates when they say these things? That would be powerful corrective force in our political system.

  7. I cannot say Georgians were “wrong” to do what they did. There were probably more than enough provocations and nastiness from both sides. But I do believe it was stupid. They should have taped all the provocative actions and gone to the (western) media, maybe the UN. Raise noise without giving excuses for attack. Gods know there were many people/organisations able and willing to call “Putin’s Russia” “evil” even before the war. It may not have worked, but we all saw how the alternative worked out.

  8. As for Palin interview, her views on Gerogia/Ukraine in NATO could cause significant problems, if they are implemented. Luckily thats a rather big “if”. Even a president Palin could not get Georgia in NATO without France/Germany/etc agreeing (they said “no” last time). Nor could she start a shooting war with Iran unless the military proffesionals and SecDef said it was possible/smart. And theres always a (small?) chance of congress growing a backbone and saying “no” to the next foolish adventure.

    She also talked about “terrorists who are hell-bent on destroying our nation”. But they cant. Everyone knows that – even the terrorists themselves. They kill because they believe its the right thing to do, not because they expect to defeat the US military and take over its lands. Talking of terrorists as an existential threat makes all sacrifices made to combat them seem worthwile, when what is needed is a rational discussion/vote on what is and what isnt worth it.

  9. Thank you, esd29a. Why do we keep getting dragged into moronic discussions like this? Ah, yes, because we didn’t seven years ago!
    Fabius Maximus replies: I am afraid we will be able to repeat your words in 2012. Perhaps also in 2016.

  10. When you say “stop the mad rush to involve America in wars”, I guess you mean:

    Out of Iraq — it’s OK if it becomes Iranian backed Shia death squads vs. Saddam trained Sunni death squads and a descent into warlord hell (like Somalia). If it does, we blame it on Bush — Arabs not ready for democracy.

    Probably the Kurds take Kirkuk and declare independence, and maybe our Nato ally Turkey invades — but we not only don’t get involved, we tell those nations we won’t get involved (except for talk — like we talk about Darfur and the slo-mo genocide).

    Out of Afghanistan — let the Taliban murder all the Afghans who were freedom lovers or US allies, but aren’t ruthless enough to frighten the uncommitted.

    On the alliance with Georgia, what was Obama’s opinion? Oh yeah, in April (?), he supported Georgia going into NATO. Are you forgetting? not caring? is there a double standard (bad if a Rep wants something, but OK if the Dem wants the same thing)?

    Let’s see, big powers allied with little power, but other big power enemy wanted to ‘protect’ part of little power (the Sudetenland); big power allies say a little aggression isn’t worth war. Aggressive big power takes over, and keeps taking.

    This is the kind of history you advocate us repeating?
    Fabius Maximus replies: Rule #2 alert! “Avoid analysts relying on psychic powers.” Your prophetic powers inspite awe! Instead of speaking about Iraq… please send me some of proceeds from your next trip to Vegas.

    Also, please re-check you crystal ball, just to be sure: will these things happen unless we wage war in the Middle East? Or if we wage war in the Middle East? Both seem possible to me.

  11. Tom Grey wrote:

    “Let’s see, big powers allied with little power, but other big power enemy wanted to ‘protect’ part of little power (the Sudetenland); big power allies say a little aggression isn’t worth war. Aggressive big power takes over, and keeps taking. This is the kind of history you advocate us repeating?”

    It might be worth keeping in mind that, in terms of human history, the Nazis were a very special case. Most powers, even expansionist, authoritarian, mass-murdering powers, have not had the ambition of conquering the world within a generation.

    Please explain why we should assume that the Taliban, Iraqi warlords, or even Putin’s Russia, are anywhere near being the sort of threat that the Nazis were. The Taliban is about 40,000 guys in the back of pick-up trucks with AK’s that are most likely as old as I am.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Overcome with greed, I missed that Grey’s previous comment triggered Goodwin’s Law.

    “As an Internet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one. Once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress.”

    Winners collect their prizes under the pinata.

  12. Dear FM
    I will try to avoid the trap you mentioned.

    Regarding the question of democracy vs. authoritarian rule: Something happened in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was very strange, but it was like the Western world adopted the idea that democracy would spread around the world just like communists once believed that communism one day would rule the world. Hence our unwillingness to accept other systems than our own. I am not even talking about the neocons. This view is dominent among Western politicians (even European leftists) and is not even open for debate. It is taken for granted that democracy one day will rule the World. We accept the fact that a country like China is authoritarian, but we don’t like it and we often point fingers at them. Ignoring that China isn’t the same as in the sixties.

    Russia is still some sort of democracy (which by the way means that the Kantian peace theory is wrong, since Georgia also is some sort of a democracy). But the main media is under strong control and the liberal opposition has been silenced. Many journalists have been killed. So perhaps Russia is still a democracy, but it is certainly not a liberal democracy.

    I am not predicting that Russia will make a military push toward the Fulda Gap. That is not the issue. The issue is the countries in the former Soviet Union who are now independent and in some cases are members of NATO and the EU. Many Russians don’t understand why Ukraine is independent. Russia’s first kingdom was in Ukraine and had Kiev as the capital. For the Russians it doesn’t make sense that suddenly Ukraine is independent and that many Russians live in a foreign country.

    The problem is also the Baltic states. There are small, but prosperous and members of EU and NATO. They are also very vulnerable. The Russians have never accepted the independence of the Baltic states and showed it in different ways. Last year – when the Estonian government decided to remove a war memorial from the capital Tallinn – the Russians staged demonstrations and riots, Estonia was hit by a severe computer attack and a Russian delegation from the Duma demanded that the government of Estonia should step down. In Moscow the Estonian and Swedish ambassadors were assaulted by members of the youth movement Nashi.

    You asked about sources. These are my own views, but I have spoken with the Russian ambassador and the Estonian ambassador, a Danish army general involved in building up the Baltic defences and several other experts. I also try to read a lot about the subject, but I am afraid only open sources. Nothing secret.
    Fabius Maximus replies: This comment is much more modest analytically, and matches the available public data. As I said, my objection was specificly to ” So they push back now and they will continue to do so until we decide to stop them. One way or the other.”

  13. I seem to remember that Russia floated the desire to join NATO along with the suggestion that after 1989 it was no longer necessary as an alliance to contain Russia. I did a quick Google search and only came up with this somewhat vague piece from 2000:

    “But Mr Putin said he could not imagine his country being isolated from Europe. “When we talk about our opposition to Nato’s expansion… we have never ever declared any region of the world a zone of our special interests. Its attempts to exclude us from the process is what causes opposition and concern on our part.”

    If NATO expands to include Belorus, Ukraine and Georgia, not to mention holding forces in Afghanistan and later Pakistan (?!), anyone looking at a map from a commander’s desk inside Russia is going to be getting highly alarmed at what can only appear as a deliberate attempt at encirclement. Especially when you remember the aircraft carrier heavy US fleets in the Pacific on the Eastern shore and Alaskan forces near the Pole, all on Russian borders essentially.

    Not only encirclement but as Putin voiced in the quote above, ability to isolate/exclude. Which I don’t think is their desire.

    Clearly it would be far better to have a neutral buffer zone of states rather than edging NATO right up to Russia’s borders. There is really no excuse for any other policy right now other than the US is hell-bent on ratcheting up conflict and tension in order to keep the military-industrial-congressional machine running at full steam ahead.

  14. I for one don’t believe that Georgia acted without tacit approval from Washington. I think the objective was twofold:
    1. See if Russia was awake and determined enough to respond forcefully. If not, that’s good to know.
    2. If they did – which they did – they now have a good narrative to use in order to sign up Belorus, Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, reasons to put more ships into Black Sea and strain Turkey-Russian relations esp. since Turkey is already in NATO (see today’s article in Asian Times on this relationship which is not going US’s way apparently). In other words, the Georgian campaign was a pawn move on the chessboard, the object of which game is to get NATO fully up to Russia’s borders effectively sealing her off so that the US can continue dominating the Middle East further south which for some reason they seem hell-bent on achieving.

  15. Re: comment 14
    When the membership action plan (MAP) for Georgia was proposed (by US) in the last NATO summit France and Germany said “no” and prevented that. The reason: presence of russian forces and unresolved conflicts in Georgian territory. And this war has proven them right and strengthened their case (increased russian “peacekeeper” forces, Russia recognizing S.Ossetia and Abkhazia). There may be more sympathy for Georgia in the west but major NATO decisions are (and should be) based on cold facts, not emotions.

    Not sure about Ukraine. One thing to note is that (unlike, for example, the baltic states, which were pro-west from their independence) their pro-US/west stance was the result of the “orange revolution”. It is a relatively recent development and there is a significant political opposition to it.

    And Belarus in NATO?? The “last european dictatorship”? Ha. Read:

  16. FM note: I have edited this, adding additional information and linking to the primary source.

    Interview with Vladimir Putin by Thomas Roth, ARD, 29 August 2008 — reportedly banned in UK and US); some transcripts allegedly have been edited.

    Video here.
    German transcript (unverified): here and here.

    About ARD, from Wikipedia:

    ARD (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland – “Consortium of public-law broadcasting institutions of the Federal Republic of Germany”), is a joint organization of Germany’s regional public-service broadcasters. It was founded in West Germany in 1950 to represent the common interests of the new, de-centralized post-war broadcasting services — in particular, the introduction of a joint television network.

    Today ARD maintains and operates a national television network, known since 1994 as Das Erste (“The First”). This network began broadcasting in 1952 under the name of Deutsches Fernsehen (“German Television”), becoming Erstes Deutsches Fernsehen (“First German Television”) with the introduction of a new corporate design on October 1, 1984. The name is an indication that it is regarded as the country’s primary network. ARD’s

    Here is supposedly a full transcript, posted by “Real Jew News” — take it for whatever it is worth. Excerpt from part III:

    Roth: The last question I would like to ask you is a question that I am very interested in myself.

    Don’t you think that you personally are in the trap of your authoritarian state? In the existing system, you receive information from your secret services and from other sources which include the highest economic environment — even the mass media in Russia. These, no doubt, are all afraid of telling you anything different from what you are willing to hear.

    Is it not then the case that your existing authoritarian system obstructs a broad view for you to see the processes that happen today in Europe, the US, and in other countries?

    Putin: Dear Mr Roth, you have characterized our political system as ‘authoritative’ and therefore a political system to be censured. But please, in this context, let us consider the conflict which we are presently discussing.

    Don’t you know what has been happening in Georgia in recent years? The mysterious death of Saakashvili’s opponent, Zurab Zhvania, the prime minister? The reprisals against the opposition? The violent dispersion of the opposition demonstration in November last year? The rigging of national elections practically in the conditions of a state of emergency? Then this criminal action in S.Ossetia resulting in many civilian deaths.

    And yet for all of this, does the West still tout Georgia as a ‘democratic country’ with which a dialogue must be held and which is to be taken into NATO and perhaps in the EU? The regime in Georgia is a far cry from what the West wants the world to believe.

    Yet if another country protects its interests, simply its citizens’ right to life — who have been attacked — 80 of our people were immediately killed by the Georgian attack, 2000 civilians are dead in the end — and what, we are accused of being ‘authoritarian?’

    And if we protect the lives of our citizens, we will have Kolbasa [Russian sausage since Russia relies on European food imports] taken away from us? Do we have a choice between Kolbasa and life? We choose life, Mr Roth.”

  17. Maybe I am missing something, but support in a treaty does not mean, or even imply, immediate armed intervention. Think about our relationship with Israel. The United States has never sent our armed forces into action during one of the Arab-Israel wars. Logistical support, political support, money, everything but. So supporting Georgia doesn’t mean war with Russia. Even though I consider Palin a lightweight on Foreign Policy, I think her answer is correct, both technically and politically (saying No sends a very bad signal, saying Yes sends a not much better message). The aggressor needs to know that they are possibly lighting a fire, but guaranteeing we will plunge in with both feet sets up a dangerous tripwire that could get us manipulated into conflict.

    I found it ironic that Putin’s answer in the last excerpt was precisely what Mr. Roth might have predicted would come from a totalitarian leader who held one view of the truth, which was dutifully reinforced by the underlings. However, Mr. Roth, in his phrasing of the question, almost ensured that nothing better could come of it.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I do not understand what you are saying.

    “even imply, immediate armed intervention.”

    Who said that it does? But it might come to that in the future. Do we make treaties without any thought about honoring them? If the check is not cashed this week, do we consider it null and void? If so, you have a very low view of America, and its honor.

    “but guaranteeing we will plunge in with both feet sets up a dangerous tripwire”

    That sort of guarantee — defending an ally if attacked — is exactly the point of treaties like NATO. A conditional guaranteee — we will defend you it convenient, if easy, if we feel like it — is of no use. It neither helps our friends or deters enemies.

    These discussions are similar to those about America’s foreign debts, in which folks often suggest just not paying. Both diminish America’s standing in the world by some tiny increment each time they are said.

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