Sunday, August 24, 2008

"Quagmire's" Back: Georgia, Russia, NATO, Bush, and the Blame Game

Russia's stomping on the undersized country of Georgia was so outrageous that the United Nations started complaining.

Obviously, someone must be to blame.

Last week, the intellectual world's Monday morning quarterbacks were deciding where the fault lay.

Lesser minds might have thought that Georgia was at fault, for trying to reclaim some of its territory, or that Russia was at fault, for a massively disproportionate response.

But Boston University's Professor Andrew J. Bacevich rose above such plebeian imaginings. In the August 15, 2008, issue of The Christian Science Monitor, he revealed the 'real' culprits.

Russian Invasion NATO's Fault: And Bush is Wrong

Professor Bacevich's belief makes perfect sense, when you see things his way.

"Russia's payback"
The Christian Science Monitor (August 15, 2008)
"NATO disrespected Russia for too long. Now the Alliance must regroup."

"Boston - Poke a bear often enough and you're likely to get bitten. As the crisis over Georgia continues, this describes where the West finds itself today in its relations with Russia.

(I put some relevant excerpts from the article below.)

The professor seems to believe that Russia's invasion of Georgia was NATO's fault: and I think he's right, sort of.

I think this is a fairly good paraphrase of the professor's argument:
  • NATO offered NATO membership to Russia's old Soviet satellite states
  • Russia didn't like it, and complained
  • NATO persisted in 'disrespecting' Russia by treating its neighbors like independent nations
  • Obviously, NATO should have done what Russia wanted
  • Therefore, it's NATO's fault that Russia invaded Georgia
It should be no surprise that America's president Bush is involved.

Georgia, Bush, Iraq, and the Triumphant Return of "Quagmire"

Professor Bacevich becomes almost lyric as he describes the folly of NATO, America, and the Bush administration.

"...As the old saying goes: The sky grows dark with chickens coming home to roost. Russia's brutal treatment of Georgia is payback for the West's disdainful treatment of Russia back when it was prostrate. Western weakness in responding to this challenge reflects the folly of allowing NATO to lose sight of its core mission, which is to protect Europe, not pacify Central Asia. Meanwhile, the Bush administration, despite America's vaunted military power, can do little more than protest, remonstrate, and offer Georgia symbolic assistance. Still trying to extricate itself from the quagmire of Iraq, the US already has more than enough military commitments to keep itself busy...." [emphasis mine]

It may be just me, but that "despite America's vaunted military power" seems to have a bit of "neener, neener" in the subtext.

The Bush administration, it seems, is being cast in an unfavorable light, for being unable to "do little more than protest, remonstrate, and offer Georgia symbolic assistance."

Perhaps professor Bacevich believes that America is wrong to use diplomacy in the Georgia-Russia situation, and would have done better to attack, had it been possible to launch a massive military offensive against Russia.

Somehow, though, I doubt it.

Then, the good professor used this phrase: "...Still trying to extricate itself from the quagmire of Iraq...."

Back in the sixties and seventies, "quagmire" was an excellent metaphor. It evoked images of the swampy land of Vietnam, and reminded people of how America was mired in an 'unwinnable' war.

When applied to Iraq, however, "quagmire" loses some of its power. There are very few rice paddies in the country. In fact, a great deal of Iraq is desert. "Sand trap" might be a better metaphor: although it does not have the historic panache of "quagmire."

The use (and, arguably, misuse) of "quagmire" is something I've discussed before ("Another Fortnight, and Still No Quagmires " (May 28, 2008))

The professor's use of the tried-and-true term, "quagmire," however, is a minor point. The word appears only once, after all.

Russian Imperialism is Okay?!

Professor Bacevich has a remarkably tolerant view of Russia's actions in Georgia:

"...Russia is not our friend, but it need not be our enemy. The Kremlin's ambitions are not ideological but imperial. Putin is not a totalitarian; he is a nationalist, intent on ensuring that Russia be treated with respect and, within the area defining its 'near abroad,' even deference. Yet beyond its immediate neighborhood the danger posed by a resurgent Russia is a limited one, in no way comparable to the threat once posed by the Soviet Union....."

I think a reasonable summary of that paragraph is: 'Don't worry: all Russia wants is a little empire to call its own.'

If that argument sounds familiar, it should.

Russia and Georgia: Been There, Done That?

Back in 1938, quite a few of the best and brightest in England believed that the treaty of Versailles had been unjust to Germany. I think they had a point.

They also seemed to believe that if Germany was allowed to acquire a few little countries, the German leadership would feel better, and Europe would enjoy peace.

This was, in a way, a very enlightened policy. It allowed British leaders to demonstrate that they understood the German position regarding Czechoslovakia: in particular the part of Czechoslovakia called the Sudetenland, where ethnic Germans complained about the way they were treated.

The wisdom which Chamberlain and other showed in the Munich meeting has been disputed, particularly considering how Chancellor Hitler's Germany behaved a little later.

However, at the time recognizing Germany's imperial aspirations, and allowing Germany to have control of a few little countries in eastern Europe, may have seemed quite reasonable.

I don't know if Russia's coming to the, ah, defense of ethnic Russians in South Ossetia is quite parallel to Germany's acquisition of Sudetenland. For starters, Russia is a whole lot bigger than Germany.

Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don't

Although the focus of professor Bacevich's article is how NATO should have shown Russia more respect, he couldn't seem to resist taking a swipe at the Bush administration.

"...Meanwhile, the Bush administration, despite America's vaunted military power, can do little more than protest, remonstrate, and offer Georgia symbolic assistance...." It's Bush's fault, of course, for getting America involved in the "quagmire" of Iraq.

In a way, I see the professor's point. America's efforts at dealing with the invasion of Georgia have been diplomatic, rather than military, in nature.

But has the professor considered the alternatives?

Here are responses which America might have taken, with how the 'intelligent' people on campus would probably react:
  1. Ignore the crisis
    • Apathetic!
  2. Use non-violent diplomacy:
    protest, remonstrate, offer symbolic assistance
    • Ineffectual!
  3. Send in the Troops
    • Militaristic, imperialistic warmongering!
  4. Combine diplomacy and military force
    • America says 'peace' but wages war!
At this point, America is pursuing option #2. And the professor complains of America's ineffectiveness. But somehow I don't think that he'd approve of any American actions. At least, not as long as the current president is in the White House.

Ironically, professor Bacevich, with his assertion that consideration should be given Russia's imperialistic ambitions, has published a brand-new book: "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism."
Excerpts from
"Russia's payback"
The Christian Science Monitor (August 15, 2008)
"NATO disrespected Russia for too long. Now the Alliance must regroup."

"Boston - Poke a bear often enough and you're likely to get bitten. As the crisis over Georgia continues, this describes where the West finds itself today in its relations with Russia.

(Back to top)

"Amid conflicting reports of Russia's commitment to a cease-fire, one thing is clear: Moscow scored a crushing geopolitical victory this week. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared that the US must choose between a "virtual project" with Georgia, or a real partnership with Russia.

"After days of evident disarray, only now is the West cobbling together a response: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit Georgia in a symbolic show of support, US Air Force cargo jets are delivering small amounts of humanitarian aid, and NATO ministers will meet Tuesday to consider the crisis. When they do, they should remember how we got to this point...."

(Back to top)

"...NATO, a military alliance founded to contain Soviet power, embarked upon an aggressive program of eastward enlargement, incorporating into its ranks former Soviet satellites such as Hungary and Poland and former Soviet republics such as Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Although the Kremlin objected vociferously, the West ignored these protests...."

(Back to top)


Anonymous said...

The hypocrisy here is unbelivable. Take a good look in the mirror. If you want to condemn Putin and Medvedev you are entitled to. But what do you have to say about Bush and Cheney? Not only did they invade another nation, but they also planted a permanent occupational force there and deposed the old regime in favor of a more friendly one - something the Soviets have yet to do. To compare Putin and Medvedev to Hitler, nothing short of the Devil incarnate can be used in a comparison with Bush and Cheney.

Brian H. Gill said...


If hypocrisy is defined as not agreeing with you, yes: I am a hypocrite.

Bush and Cheney? You're probably referring to the Coalition's invasion of Iraq. If you believe that Iraq would be better off with Saddam Hussein in control, that's what you believe.

Although the Chamberlain reference inevitably involves Hitler, the point I intended to make was that attempting to appease aggressors is a strategy with a history of dubious success.

As for Bush and Cheney being like the Devil incarnate: I've heard that before.

Recently, an otherwise-reasonable adult referred to Bush as "diabolical."

The virulent hatred of President Bush that I've seen in the last four years is unlike anything in my experience, with the possible exception of how some liberals reacted to President Nixon, after Watergate.

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