The current crisis in Georgia has a lot of people thinking, and paying attention to a region of the world we tend to ignore — the breakaway republics of the former Soviet Union. Hell, when most Americans think about “Georgia,” we first think of the state and not the nation, which is smaller both in size and population. About the most significant thing most people know bout Georgia-the-nation is that it’s where Joseph Stalin hailed from.
Well, Georgia-the-nation is front and center now, thanks to Russia invading and bisecting the little country, killing thousands in the process and bringing back into sharp relief the fact that while the Soviet Union is officially kaput, their former war machine is still a very, very potent force — and very, very few of their nearest neighbors have the wherewithal to stand against Russia on their own.
Why should we care? There are lots of reasons.
First up, ever since Georgia became free, it has been both a fairly healthy democracy and a staunch friend to the US and the West in general. On a political and ethical stance, we ought to stand up for them as they have stood with us. It’s the decent, honorable, principled thing to do.
More pragmatically, Georgia sits astride the pipelines that supply much of Western Europe with its energy needs. If Russia takes and holds control over those pipelines, they will hold yet another dagger to Western Europe’s throat.
Most ominously, Georgia was one of the key captive states of the former Soviet Union. It was one of the first places the Soviets assimilated, and — as I noted — it’s where Joseph Stalin hailed from. Its return to the Russian sphere of control is a very disturbing sign that Putin (and his puppet, Medvedev) are interested in bringing back the bad old days of the Soviet empire — without that pesky pretense of Communism giving a veneer to flagrant, open thuggery and tyranny.
In this situation, it may seem a bit trite to say “how is this playing politically in the US?,” but it’s an essential one. The opinions of three men take absolute precedence in this matter — the current president, and the two men who are vying to succeed him.
President Bush wasted no time in condemning the Russian attack, and offered support to Georgia. The precise form and efficacy of that support has yet to be determined, but it’s a promising sign that he does take this very, very seriously.
Bush was also seen having a very heated discussion with Vladimir Putin while both were attending the Beijing Olympics, as reported by Australia’s prime minister.
Senator John McCain has his credentials clearly lined up. He’s been warning about the dangers of resurgent Russian imperialism, and even singled out Georgia as a potential flashpoint. McCain has also often echoed President Bush’s oft-mocked declaration that he looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and saw his soul; McCain says he, too, looked into Putin’s eyes and saw three letters — “K – G – B.”
McCain’s first response to the Georgian invasion with a strong denouncement, returning to a theme that has been a mainstay of his for years now.
And then there’s Senator Obama. Obama’s first statement:
“I strongly condemn the outbreak of violence in Georgia, and urge an immediate end to armed conflict. Now is the time for Georgia and Russia to show restraint, and to avoid an escalation to full scale war. Georgia’s territorial integrity must be respected. All sides should enter into direct talks on behalf of stability in Georgia, and the United States, the United Nations Security Council, and the international community should fully support a peaceful resolution to this crisis.”
This was while the Russians were in the middle of a full-scale invasion of Georgia, with divisions of tanks killing people and destroying things at whim. And he thought that the United Nations should get involved. In case anyone needs reminding, Russia sits on the United Nations Security Council — and has veto power over any actions by the Council, should it wish.
Senator Obama, to his credit, realized that his first response was too mealy-mouthed and wishy-washy, and quickly issued a new statement that echoed the sentiments of President Bush and Senator McCain:
“We should continue to push for a United Nations Security Council Resolution calling for an immediate end to the violence. This is a clear violation of the sovereignty and internationally recognized borders of Georgia – the UN must stand up for the sovereignty of its members, and peace in the world.”
As noted, turning to the UN will not do a damned bit of good. Although it is nice to see him be willing to give a smidgen more condemnation to Russia, instead of pulling the old “both sides have acted wrongly” equivocation.
He’s also pulling out all the stops, even going to the classic tactic known as “making shit up.” Obama now says that he’s been warning about Russian aggression for some time, even in Georgia. As nice as that sounds, there’s not a shred of evidence of him ever saying such a thing in public before the Russian invasion.
Meanwhile, Senator McCain has doubled down. He stated that “we are all Georgians,” and is pushing hard for the US to do something tangible to help out the beleaguered people of Georgia.
So, what should the US do about the Russian invasion of Georgia? More to the point, what can we do?
That’s an ugly question, one I’m going to have to think about for a while. Besides, this piece is long enough. I’ll revisit the topic later today.