The lessons for Israel and other small democracies from the Georgian conflict

August 24, 2008

CONTENTS

1. A small conflict with global implications
2. Bashar Assad, Moscow’s best friend
3. Old Europe, New Europe
4. And the Olympic gold for brutality goes to...
5. “Bush’s response was feckless”
6. “NATO’s statement is almost comically evenhanded”
7. “Russia is still a hungry empire”
8. “Doing nothing to prevent an innocent nation from being destroyed is nothing new”
9. “The utter failure of globetrotting diplomats”
10. “Back in the USSR” (By Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe, Aug. 13, 2008)
11. “NATO’s soft cower” (By Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, Aug. 22, 2008)
12. “Russia is still a hungry empire” (By Matthew Kaminski, WSJ, Aug. 19, 2008)
13. “Georgia, Israel and man’s nature” (By Caroline Glick, Jerus. Post, Aug. 14, 2008)
14. “Georgia and the American cowboy” (By Claudia Rosett, NRO, Aug. 12, 2008)


[Note by Tom Gross]

A SMALL CONFLICT WITH GLOBAL IMPLICATIONS

Although the Russia-Georgia-Ossetia crisis which began just over two weeks ago may have peaked, there are still ongoing developments. This morning, for example, a Georgian train exploded after it hit a Russian landmine, and the first U.S. warship arrived in Georgia today (carrying humanitarian aid). There are also still tens of thousands of refugees in Georgia, as well as occupying Russian troops, and many towns and villages lie in ruins.

While the conflict is seemingly local (South Ossetia has a population of just 70,000 – two-thirds Ossetian, one-third Georgian, and is the size of Rhode Island), it has potentially enormous global implications. These include possible ramifications for the Israeli-Arab conflict, for the efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and for the defense of small democracies everywhere, including Israel.

As historian Robert Kagan wrote in The Washington Post last week, “Historians will come to view Aug. 8, 2008, as a turning point no less significant than Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell” – though for far less promising reasons.

 

BASHAR ASSAD, MOSCOW’S BEST FRIEND

I include several articles below, with extracts first for those who don’t have time to read them in full. First a brief note about the specifically Israeli aspects:

The Jewish Agency evacuated 200 Jews from the war-torn city of Gori to safety in the Georgian capital Tbilisi. Dozens have since asked to immigrate to Israel and have been flown there. The Jewish quarter of the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali was severely damaged in the fighting.

Israel was one of the first countries to send humanitarian aid to Georgia, as well as advanced medical equipment. A delegation of Israeli doctors, headed by Prof. Avi Rifkind of Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, went to Georgia to help treat the injured.

Israeli journalist Tzadok Yehezkeli of Yediot Ahronot was seriously injured by shellfire in Gori. His companion, a Dutch journalist, was killed.

The only friendly foreign leader to arrive in Moscow at the peak of the Russian bombardment of Georgia was Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, who is seeking advanced arms from the Kremlin.

Moscow is also planning to sell to Iran the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system, which would raise the cost to Israel of any airstrike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

 

OLD EUROPE, NEW EUROPE

Policy analysts in Israel are very concerned about the failure of the West to come to the aid of Georgia, a democracy approximately the same size as Israel.

East Europe’s new democracies are also very concerned. Rarely have we witnessed such a contrast between what Donald Rumsfeld famously termed “Old Europe” and “New Europe.”

West European governments (“Old Europe”) have on the whole acted pathetically to Russia’s invasion.

“We don’t have time now to get into long discussions on blame,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.

And French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner opined: “We shouldn’t make any moral judgments on this war. Stopping the war, that’s what we’re interested in. Don’t ask us who’s good and who’s bad here.”

By contrast, the presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and the foreign minister of Ukraine, flew to Tbilisi to express solidarity with the Saakashvili government. Ukraine threatened the Russian fleet with loss of its Crimean base, and offered to turn two ex-Soviet radar stations over to the West. And Poland and the Czech Republic have asked the Bush administration to hasten its plan to install a missile defense shield in those countries.

 

AND THE OLYMPIC GOLD FOR BRUTALITY GOES TO...

A few other observations:

Russia seems to have planned to use the Olympic season to try and distract the international community – just as in 1979 it invaded Afghanistan on Christmas day.

In contrast to the hundreds of thousands of West European leftists who took to the streets in August two years ago to proclaim “We are all Hizbullah now” in reference to the anti-female, anti-gay and anti-Semitic terror group, there has been virtual silence on the streets when it comes to proclaiming support for the small fledgling democracy of Georgia.

Georgians are not relying too much on Condoleezza Rice’s ceasefire. Two of her prior ceasefires – Gaza in 2005 and Lebanon in 2006 – resulted in massive inflows of rockets to Hizbullah and Hamas, virtually guaranteeing deaths of citizens of a democratic country (Israel) in future.

Osama bin Laden himself has pointed out to his supporters that America is a fair-weather friend, and that when things get tough (such as in Lebanon in 1982, and in Somalia in 1993), the American government has cut and run.

***

I attach five articles below. There are extracts first for this who don’t have time to read them in full. (For those that have time, I would recommend reading the full articles rather than my extracts.)

All five writers – Jeff Jacoby, Charles Krauthammer, Matt Kaminski, Caroline Glick, and Claudia Rosett – are subscribers to this email list.

The articles below take the Georgian and pro-democratic position. I make this selection in response to a number of opinion articles I have read in recent days in major international publications like the Financial Times and International Herald Tribune (which has recently started billing itself on its masthead as “The Global edition of The New York Times”) which have defended Russia, despite the fact that it was the Russian army that invaded and bombed Georgia, not the other way round.

-- Tom Gross

 

ARTICLE EXTRACTS

“BUSH’S RESPONSE WAS FECKLESS”

In a piece fiercely critical of President Bush and Barack Obama’s lame response (but admiring of John McCain’s strong one) Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby writes:

Henry Kissinger used to say that while it can be dangerous to be an enemy of the United States, to be a friend is fatal. The people of South Vietnam learned that bitter lesson when the United States abandoned them in 1975. The Poles learned it after Yalta, the Hungarian freedom fighters learned it in 1956, the Cubans learned it at the Bay of Pigs. And tens of thousands of Iraqi Kurds and Shiites learned it in 1991, when at the urging of George H.W. Bush they rose against Saddam Hussein, only to be slaughtered when American support never materialized.

We can now add Georgia to that list.

The current President Bush has been a vocal champion of the young democracy in the former Soviet republic. He lauded the Rose Revolution that swept Mikheil Saakashvili to power, he backs Georgia’s bid to join NATO, and he traveled to Tbilisi in 2005 to give his “pledge to the Georgian people that you’ve got a solid friend in America.”

In return, the Georgians firmly aligned themselves with the United States, sending troops to fight alongside ours in Iraq and Afghanistan and even naming a main road in Tbilisi after Bush. At the White House in March, Saakashvili effusively thanked the president for having “really put Georgia firmly on the world’s freedom map.” ...

... “Why won’t America and NATO help us?” a distraught Georgian farmer asked a Western reporter this week. “If they won’t help us now, why did we help them in Iraq?”

 

“NATO’S STATEMENT IS ALMOST COMICALLY EVENHANDED”

Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer writes:

Read the first five paragraphs of the NATO statement on the Russian invasion of Georgia and you will find not a hint of who invaded whom. The statement is almost comically evenhanded. “We deplore all loss of life,” it declared, as if deploring a bus accident. And, it “expressed its grave concern over the situation in Georgia.” Situation, mind you.

It’s not until paragraph six that NATO, a 26-nation alliance with 900 million people and nearly half of world GDP, unsheathes its mighty sword, boldly declaring “Russian military action” – not aggression, not invasion, not even incursion, but “action” – to be “inconsistent with its peacekeeping role.”

Having launched a fearsome tautology Moscow’s way, what further action does the Greatest Alliance Of All Time take? Cancels the next NATO-Russia Council meeting.

That’s it. No dissolution of the G-8. No blocking of Russian entry to the World Trade Organization. No suspension of participation in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics (15 miles from the Georgian border). No statement of support for the Saakashvili government...

... If conditions continue, Georgia will be strangled and Saakashvili will fall, to be replaced by a Russian client whom Russia will offer to deal with magnanimously. Russia will have demonstrated its capacity to destroy a neighboring pro-Western regime without full-scale invasion or occupation and with zero resistance from NATO. Eastern European leaders will observe this outcome with shock, rethink their reflexive move toward the West and, in time, begin to accommodate themselves to Russian ambitions... The fate of far more than Georgia is at stake.

 

“RUSSIA IS STILL A HUNGRY EMPIRE”

In the third piece below, Wall Street Journal editorial board member Matthew Kaminski writes:

The sight of Russian tanks rolling through Georgia was shocking yet familiar. Images flash back of Chechnya in 1994 and ‘99, Vilnius ‘91, Afghanistan ‘79, Prague ‘68, Hungary ‘56. Before that the Soviet invasions, courtesy of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, of Poland and the Baltics in ‘39 and ‘40. Kazaks, Azeris, Tajiks, Ukrainians remember – from family stories and national lore – their own subjugation to Russian rule.

Other empires such as Britain and France adjusted, not without difficulty, to the fall of their distant domains. [But Russia] barely tried to find a new identity after the Soviet Union fell. The war in Georgia marks an easy return to territorial expansion (here Moscow has taken chunks of Georgia for itself) and attempted regional dominance.

... Starting out as an isolated village, Muscovy grew by conquest, swallowing up lands and people at a dizzying rate, especially from the 18th century on.

... The Soviets were even better empire builders. Vladimir Putin, whose formative years were spent in Dresden spying on the East German colonials, comes from this tradition...

 

“DOING NOTHING TO PREVENT AN INNOCENT NATION FROM BEING DESTROYED HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE NORMAL PRACTICE OF NATIONS”

Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick writes:

In their statements Wednesday on Russia’s invasion of Georgia, both U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice openly acknowledged that Russia is the aggressor in the war and that the U.S. stands by Georgia.

This is all very nice and well. But what does the fact that it took the U.S. a full five days to issue a clear statement against Russian aggression tell us about the U.S.? What does it say about Georgia and, in a larger sense, about the nature of world affairs?

Russia’s blitzkrieg in Georgia this week was not simply an act of aggression against a small, weak democracy. It was an assault on vital Western security interests. Since it achieved independence in 1990, Georgia has been the only obstacle in Russia’s path to exerting full control over oil supplies from Central Asia to the West. And now, in the aftermath of Russia’s conquest of Georgia, that obstacle has been set aside.

Georgia has several oil and gas pipelines that traverse its territory from Azerbaijan to Turkey, the main one being the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Together they transport more than 1 percent of global oil supplies from east to west. In response to the Russian invasion, British Petroleum, which owns the pipelines, announced that it will close them.

This means that Russia has won. In the future that same oil and gas will either be shipped through Russia, or it will be shipped through Georgia under the benevolent control of Russian “peacekeeping” forces...

“ISRAELI LEADERS HAVE FORGOTTEN HOLOCAUST LESSONS”

Then there is the fact that Georgia has gone out of its way to liberalize and democratize its society and political system and to be a loyal ally to the U.S...

... In Israel’s early years, with the memory of the Holocaust still fresh in its leaders’ minds, Israel founded its strategic posture on an acceptance of the fact that the soft power of international legitimacy, peace treaties, alliances and common interests only matters in the presence of the hard power of military force. People such as David Ben-Gurion realized that what was unique about the Holocaust was not the Allies’ willingness to sit by and watch an atrocity unfold but the magnitude of the atrocity they did nothing to stop. Doing nothing to prevent an innocent nation from being destroyed has always been the normal practice of nations.

Yet over time, and particularly after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, that fundamental acceptance of the world as it is was lost. It was first mitigated by Israel’s own shock in discovering its power. And it was further obfuscated in the aftermath of the war when the Soviets and the Arabs began promulgating the myth of Israeli aggression. In recent years, the understanding that the only guarantor of Israel’s survival is Israel’s ability to defeat all of its enemies decisively has been forgotten altogether by most of the country’s leaders and members of its intellectual classes...

 

“THE UTTER FAILURE OF GLOBETROTTING DIPLOMATS”

Claudia Rosett, writing in the National Review, says:

With Russia’s military blasting its way into neighboring Georgia, this sure seems like a moment when the world could use a democratic super-cop.

Good luck. Right now, we don’t have one.

America effectively resigned from the much-reviled role of lone superpower five years ago, after toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2002, and defying the Oil-for-Food devotees at the United Nations to overthrow the tyranny of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003. Since then, President Bush, to his credit, has stuck with the fight in Afghanistan and Iraq – a display of determination and firepower which goes far to explain why almost seven years have passed since September 11 without another major attack on U.S. shores.

But in dealing with other major threats to the free world, the White House has hung up its spurs, turned in its badge, and handed over the remaining items in the global-security portfolio to the soft-power ministrations of our globetrotting diplomats.

According to the State Department’s website, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice since opening up this diplomatic campaign full throttle in 2005 has made 76 trips to 79 countries, spending 2,017 hours on the road, in the air – whatever. Diplomacy has become a marathon end in itself. The resulting disconnects from reality were neatly summed up Monday on the State Department’s own website. While Russia’s military was smashing its way toward the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, the “Top Story” as tagged by State, was an interview with Rice, captioned “Iran: Staying on the Diplomatic Track.”

This is the soft-power mindset that seeks peace via a heap of Six-Party concessions to the grotesque thug-regime of North Korea; via fatuous U.N. resolutions ceding precious time to nuclear-wannabe Iran; via chit-chat with the terror-loving tyranny of Syria; via the feckless U.N. deal that officially brought a false end to Hizbullah’s 2006 war out of Lebanon against Israel (while allowing Hizbullah to re-arm, and without holding to account Hizbullah’s big backers in Damascus and Tehran). In this soft-power universe, peace is a process to be served by endless palaver over, de facto tolerance of, and European aid to a mini-state in Gaza run by the terrorists of Hamas...

... Vladimir Putin, first as Russia’s president, now as prime minister, has evidently observed all this soft power in action, and seen it as a series of green lights to start reclaiming the old Soviet dominions.

... For the democratic world, there will be no easy recovery from the chilling spectacle of Georgia’s 2,000 or so troops pulling out of Iraq to go join their own country’s desperate defense...


FULL ARTICLES

“WHILE IT CAN BE DANGEROUS TO BE AN ENEMY OF THE UNITED STATES, TO BE A FRIEND IS FATAL”

Back in the USSR
By Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe
August 13, 2008

Henry Kissinger used to say that while it can be dangerous to be an enemy of the United States, to be a friend is fatal. The people of South Vietnam learned that bitter lesson when the United States abandoned them in 1975. The Poles learned it after Yalta, the Hungarian freedom fighters learned it in 1956, the Cubans learned it at the Bay of Pigs. And tens of thousands of Iraqi Kurds and Shiites learned it in 1991, when at the urging of George H.W. Bush they rose against Saddam Hussein, only to be slaughtered when American support never materialized.

We can now add Georgia to that list.

The current President Bush has been a vocal champion of the young democracy in the former Soviet republic. He lauded the Rose Revolution that swept Mikheil Saakashvili to power, he backs Georgia’s bid to join NATO, and he traveled to Tbilisi in 2005 to give his “pledge to the Georgian people that you’ve got a solid friend in America.” In return, the Georgians firmly aligned themselves with the United States, sending troops to fight alongside ours in Iraq and Afghanistan and even naming a main road in Tbilisi after Bush. At the White House in March, Saakashvili effusively thanked the president for having “really put Georgia firmly on the world’s freedom map.”

Yet last week, when Russia contemptuously wiped its boots on that map, sending tanks and bombers to smash and kill their way across Georgia’s frontier, Bush’s response was feckless.

As the president horsed around in Beijing, posing with bikini-clad Olympic volleyball players, Russian ruler Vladimir Putin – no longer pretending to have relinquished executive power – was in the Caucuses directing Russian military operations against Georgia. The first response from the White House to Moscow’s naked aggression was milquetoast: evenhanded mush about the need for “a stand-down by all troops.” It took four days before Bush finally blasted Russia’s “dramatic and brutal escalation” in Georgia, and declared such behavior “unacceptable in the 21st century.” By then it was too late. Not only had Russia seized control of the separatist enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it had taken the Georgian city of Senaki with its military base, and was bombing two other key cities, Poti and Gori.

This was a “3 a.m. phone call” if anything ever was, and the White House bungled it. So did Barack Obama, whose first response was the same as Bush’s. “Now is the time for Georgia and Russia to show restraint,” he announced, seemingly unwilling to choose between the imperialist invader and its weaker neighbor.

It took Obama three tries to catch up with John McCain, who had recognized at once the import of Russia’s first military offensive beyond its borders since Soviet rule ended in 1991. McCain denounced Russia’s aggression as soon as the news hit, then followed it up on Monday with a forceful explanation of the moral and strategic stakes in this crisis.

And what are those stakes? Simply put, whether Russia can intimidate the countries on its periphery into toeing Moscow’s line and keeping their distance from America and the West. Putin couldn’t care less about the rights of South Ossetians or Abkhazians. But he cares intensely about restoring Moscow’s Cold War hegemony in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

In 2005, Putin characterized the end of the Soviet Union – i.e., the emancipation of Eastern Europe and tens of millions of human beings – as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” Putin, the apparatchik who spent 17 years in the KGB, aims to restore the glory that was the Brezhnevite USSR, and has revived every Soviet technique in pursuing that goal: The jailing and exile of political opponents. The murder of aggressive journalists. Gross interference with foreign elections. Top-down control of the media. Advanced weapons sales to villainous regimes. Anti-American obstructionism at the UN. Cyberwar against Estonia. Energy extortion against Ukraine. Savage destruction in Chechnya.

About the only Brezhnev-era tactic not tried was the invasion of a neighboring country. Now that line has been crossed too, and with impunity. For months, the United States has claimed to be ready for a military alliance with Georgia; that is what NATO membership means, after all. Yet it was unready to do a thing when its potential ally came under attack, except ferry Georgian troops home from Iraq.

“Why won’t America and NATO help us?” a distraught Georgian farmer asked a Western reporter this week. “If they won’t help us now, why did we help them in Iraq?”

 

NATO’S SOFT COWER

NATO’s soft cower
Atlantic alliance diplomats fiddle while Georgia burns.
By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
August 22, 2008

Read the first five paragraphs of the NATO statement on the Russian invasion of Georgia and you will find not a hint of who invaded whom. The statement is almost comically evenhanded. “We deplore all loss of life,” it declared, as if deploring a bus accident. And, it “expressed its grave concern over the situation in Georgia.” Situation, mind you.

It’s not until paragraph six that NATO, a 26-nation alliance with 900 million people and nearly half of world GDP, unsheathes its mighty sword, boldly declaring “Russian military action” – not aggression, not invasion, not even incursion, but “action” – to be “inconsistent with its peacekeeping role.”

Having launched a fearsome tautology Moscow’s way, what further action does the Greatest Alliance Of All Time take? Cancels the next NATO-Russia Council meeting.

That’s it. No dissolution of the G-8. No blocking of Russian entry to the World Trade Organization. No suspension of participation in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics (15 miles from the Georgian border). No statement of support for the Saakashvili government.

Remember: At issue is not military action, only measures – painless for the West – that would significantly affect Russia. In Soviet days, Russia didn’t care because it was at the center of a self-enclosed autarkic system that included 15 Soviet republics, all of Eastern Europe and a collection of overseas colonies. With these all gone, post-Soviet Russia is infinitely more dependent on the international system. It has political/economic pressure points. Yet with Georgia occupied, its infrastructure stripped and its capital under siege, NATO pushed not one of them.

Russian TV is already trumpeting “a crack in the NATO camp.” More like a chasm. Writing in the Times of London, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband even opposes expelling Russia from the G-8 – a perfectly calibrated and long-overdue measure. And a German diplomat says the Georgia issue should not have been brought to NATO in the first place, but instead to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a completely toothless consultative body, and to the United Nations, where inaction is guaranteed by the Russian veto.

To their credit, the French tried to do something. Unfortunately, President Nicolas Sarkozy was snookered by Moscow. Article V of the cease-fire agreement he brokered, allowing Russia the right to “implement additional security measures” within the borders of Georgia, is a blank check for Russian occupation.

So much for Old Europe. New Europe, with fresher memories of Russian oppression, was not so supine. The presidents of the Baltic republics (plus Ukraine and Poland) flew to Tbilisi to express solidarity with the Saakashvili government. Ukraine threatened the Russian fleet with loss of its Crimean base, and even offered to turn two ex-Soviet radar stations over to the West. And Poland dropped its dithering over details of a missile defense battery, agreeing almost overnight to American terms.

Eastern Europe understands the stakes in Georgia. It is the ultimate target. Russia’s aims are clear: (1) sever South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia for incorporation into Russia; (2) bring down Georgia’s pro-Western government; and (3) intimidate Eastern European countries into re-entering the Russian sphere of influence.

Objective No. 1 is already achieved. Georgia will never recover its provinces. They will soon be absorbed into Russia.

Objective No. 3 has backfired, for now. The Eastern Europeans have rallied to Georgia – and to the United States.

Objective No. 2 remains in the balance. Russian tanks have cut Georgia in half. Its largest port has been ransacked. Its capital is isolated. Russia shows every sign of staying in place by maintaining checkpoints and ultimate control.

If conditions continue, Georgia will be strangled and Saakashvili will fall, to be replaced by a Russian client whom Russia will offer to deal with magnanimously. Russia will have demonstrated its capacity to destroy a neighboring pro-Western regime without full-scale invasion or occupation and with zero resistance from NATO. Eastern European leaders will observe this outcome with shock, rethink their reflexive move toward the West and, in time, begin to accommodate themselves to Russian ambitions. Every Russian objective will have been achieved.

That is why so much hinges on the next few weeks, a time of maximum pressure on the Saakashvili government. The goal of this war is to demoralize and dominate Eastern Europe. Its outcome depends entirely on one development: Whether Russia succeeds in bringing down what it contemptuously calls “the Tbilisi regime.” The fate of far more than Georgia is at stake.

 

“THE WORLDVIEW OF A RUSSIAN NATIONALIST IS HARD FOR OUTSIDERS TO COMPREHEND”

Russia is still a hungry empire: The worldview of a Russian nationalist is hard for outsiders to comprehend
By Matthew Kaminski
The Wall Street Journal
August 19, 2008

The sight of Russian tanks rolling through Georgia was shocking yet familiar. Images flash back of Chechnya in 1994 and ‘99, Vilnius ‘91, Afghanistan ‘79, Prague ‘68, Hungary ‘56. Before that the Soviet invasions, courtesy of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, of Poland and the Baltics in ‘39 and ‘40. Kazaks, Azeris, Tajiks, Ukrainians remember – from family stories and national lore – their own subjugation to Russian rule.

Other empires such as Britain and France adjusted, not without difficulty, to the fall of their distant domains. Far more of Russia’s essence is tied up in the Imperium, and it barely tried to find a new identity after the Soviet Union fell. The war in Georgia marks an easy return to territorial expansion (here Moscow has taken chunks of Georgia for itself) and attempted regional dominance.

Russia is a relatively young nation, dating from after the turn of the previous millennium. Drive the highway from Gori to Tbilisi and you’ll find signs of Christianity that predate Russia by some five centuries. Georgians will tell you, with a mixture of pride and scorn, that their culture and history goes back a lot deeper than Russia’s.

Starting out as an isolated village, Muscovy grew by conquest, swallowing up lands and people at a dizzying rate, especially from the 18th century on. Though Russian nationalists claim otherwise, as a nation the Russians are a mix of Slavic, Asian and other European ethnicities. This national hodgepodge was wrenched together by an authoritarian czar who claimed his right to rule from the heavens.

The Soviets were even better empire builders. Vladimir Putin, whose formative years were spent in Dresden spying on the East German colonials, comes from this tradition.

Never in the history of empire was the periphery generally so much more advanced than the center. With each move into Europe, from the partitions of Poland to Stalin’s great triumph at Yalta, Russia acquired what it didn’t have – an industrialized economic base, better infrastructure and above all contact with Western civilization. Aside from St. Petersburg and a few other towns, Russia itself stayed a largely rural, Eastern Orthodox backwater. It knew it too.

In the Soviet days, Russian culture, language and history were pressed on its captive nations. But these nations in and outside the U.S.S.R. never gave up their dreams of freedom. Starting in the Baltics, and then spreading to the Caucasus and Ukraine, their resurgence was, as much if not more than Mikhail Gorbachev, the internal force that brought about the Soviet Union’s collapse. They easily imagined life without Mother Russia. Russia could not reciprocate. To dominate is to be.

Boris Yeltsin tried to give Russians an alternative narrative. For his own political survival he had to stoke a Russian reawakening against the Soviet behemoth. After leading the charge against the 1991 putsch, Yeltsin put forward democracy as a unifying and legitimizing idea for the new Russian state. But that went up in smoke with the shelling of the Russian parliament in 1993, the first Chechen war and the rise of the oligarchs.

Yeltsinism was fully discredited by the time Vladimir Putin took over. He doesn’t give the impression he ever believed in its main precepts of partnership with the West and freedom at home. For a while, Mr. Putin pushed some economic modernization, including cleaning up the tax code. His instinct, however, led him toward the past. The so-called humiliations of the Yeltsin era, which to most Westerners who lived there then looks like a golden era of relative normalcy, called for vengeance. The young democracies around Russia that chose a future in the West were to be forced back into Moscow’s sphere of influence.

It is curious to hear Russia invoke the Kosovo precedent to justify its invasion of Georgia. There is an unintended parallel. Two former communist apparatchiks (Mr. Putin and Slobodan Milosevic) took over weakened, demoralized countries and thought expansionist nationalism would lead them to glory.

The second Chechen war consolidated the Putin hold on power in 1999 – as stirring up the Serbs in Kosovo did for Milosevic in the late 1980s. The Serbs were then like the Russians are today. A European nation, though somewhat set apart by Orthodox Christianity, that opts out of the Western mainstream. This choice, alas, requires victims like Kosovo Albanians or Georgians – small nations whose fate the outside world might ignore.

The images from Georgia brought me back to a late May evening 12 years ago in Murmansk, the seat of Russia’s Northern Fleet. There ahead of elections, I’d met a smart and amiable teacher in the Russian Arctic city who, true to his nation’s reputation for hospitality, invited me home for vodka and some dinner.

Hours into our meeting I’d mentioned that perhaps Russia, then looking for its place, might aspire to become something like prosperous Norway just across the border from Murmansk – a country able to provide its people a good life. It stopped him cold. In this grim setting, my new friend spat in disgust and said, “Russia is no Norway. It is a great power. It is destined to be great.” Mr. Putin would doubtless agree.

 

THE LESSONS FOR ISRAEL OF THE GEORGIA CONFLICT

Georgia, Israel and the nature of man
By Caroline Glick
The Jerusalem Post
August 14, 2008

In their statements Wednesday on Russia’s invasion of Georgia, both U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice openly acknowledged that Russia is the aggressor in the war and that the U.S. stands by Georgia.

This is all very nice and well. But what does the fact that it took the U.S. a full five days to issue a clear statement against Russian aggression tell us about the U.S.? What does it say about Georgia and, in a larger sense, about the nature of world affairs?

Russia’s blitzkrieg in Georgia this week was not simply an act of aggression against a small, weak democracy. It was an assault on vital Western security interests. Since it achieved independence in 1990, Georgia has been the only obstacle in Russia’s path to exerting full control over oil supplies from Central Asia to the West. And now, in the aftermath of Russia’s conquest of Georgia, that obstacle has been set aside.

Georgia has several oil and gas pipelines that traverse its territory from Azerbaijan to Turkey, the main one being the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. Together they transport more than 1 percent of global oil supplies from east to west. In response to the Russian invasion, British Petroleum, which owns the pipelines, announced that it will close them.

This means that Russia has won. In the future that same oil and gas will either be shipped through Russia, or it will be shipped through Georgia under the benevolent control of Russian “peacekeeping” forces permanently stationed in Gori. The West now has no option other than appeasing Russia if it wishes to receive its oil from the Caucasus.

Russian control of these oil arteries represents as significant a threat to Western strategic interests as Saddam Hussein’s conquest of Kuwait and his threat to invade Saudi Arabia in 1990. Like Saddam’s aggression then, Russia’s takeover of Georgia threatens the stability of the international economy.

While Russia’s invasion of Georgia is substantively the same as Saddam’s attempt to assert control over Persian Gulf oil producers 18 years ago, what is different is the world’s response. Eighteen years ago, the U.S. led a UN-mandated international coalition to defeat Iraq and roll back Saddam’s aggression. Today, the West is encouraging Georgia to surrender.

Whether due to exhaustion over the domestic fights about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, dependence on Russian oil supplies, a residual and unjustified belief that Russia will side with the West in a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear weapons program, or the absence of an easy option for defending Georgia, it is manifestly clear that today the West is fully willing to accept complete Russian control of oil supplies from Central Asia.

Notwithstanding the strong statements issued Wednesday by Bush and Rice, the West has taken two steps to make its willingness to accept Russia’s moves clear. First, there was French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s photogenic mediation-tour to Moscow and Tbilisi on Tuesday. And second there was the U.S.’s response to Sarkozy’s shuttle diplomacy on Wednesday.

Sarkozy’s mediation efforts signaled nothing less than Europe’s abandonment of Georgia. During his visit to Moscow, where he met with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and Putin’s Charlie McCarthy doll, “President” Dmitry Medvedev, Sarkozy agreed to a six-point document setting out the terms of the cease-fire and the basis for “peace” talks to follow.

The document’s six points included the following principles: The non-use of force; a cease-fire; a guarantee of access to humanitarian aid; the garrisoning of Georgian military forces; the continued deployment of Russian forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and anywhere else they wish to go; and an international discussion of the political status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

As a reporter for France’s Liberation noted, by agreeing to the document France abandoned the basic premise that Georgia’s territorial integrity should be respected by Russia. Moreover, by leaving Russian forces in the country and giving them the right to deploy wherever they deem necessary, Sarkozy accepted Russian control of Georgia. By grounding Georgian forces in their garrisons, (or what is left of them after most of Georgia’s major military bases were either destroyed or occupied by Russian forces), Sarkozy’s document denies Georgia the right to defend itself from future Russian aggression.

In their appearances on Wednesday, both Bush and Rice praised Sarkozy’s efforts and Rice explained that the U.S. wants France to continue its efforts to mediate between Russia and Georgia. Although both American leaders insisted that Georgia’s territorial integrity must be respected, neither offered any sense of how that is to be accomplished. Neither explained how that aim aligns with the French-mediated cease-fire agreement that gives international backing to Russia’s occupation of the country.

The West’s response tells us three basic things about the nature of world affairs. First, it teaches us that “international legitimacy” is determined neither by a state’s adherence to international law nor by a state’s alliances with great powers. Rather, international legitimacy is determined by the number of divisions a state possesses.

After Russia illegally invaded Georgia, European and American officials as well as Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama hinted that Russia had a legitimate right to invade, when they wrongly referred to South Ossetia as “disputed territory.”

While South Ossetia and Abkhazia are separatist provinces, their sovereignty is not in dispute. They are part of Georgia. Georgia acted legally when it tried to protect its territory from separatist violence last Friday. Russia acted illegally when it invaded. Yet aside from the Georgian government itself, no one has noticed this basic distinction.

“We don’t have time now to get into long discussions on blame,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Tuesday.

“We shouldn’t make any moral judgments on this war. Stopping the war, that’s what we’re interested in,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner explained, adding, “Don’t ask us who’s good and who’s bad here.”

Then there is the fact that Georgia has gone out of its way to liberalize and democratize its society and political system and to be a loyal ally to the U.S. It sent significant forces to Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo. Far from returning the favor, in Georgia’s hour of need, all the U.S. agreed to do was give Georgian forces a free plane ride home from Iraq. That the administration has no intention of defending its loyal ally was made clear Wednesday afternoon when the Pentagon sharply denied Georgian claims that the U.S. would defend Georgian airports and seaports from Russian aggression.

The Pentagon’s blunt denial of any plan to restore Georgian sovereignty was one of the first truly credible statements issued by the U.S. Defense Department on the conflict. It took the U.S. four days to acknowledge Russian aggression beyond South Ossetia. Even as convoys of journalists were shelled, civilian homes were bombed, and Georgian military bases were destroyed by Russian forces in Gori, a Defense Department official said, “We don’t see anything that supports [the Russians] are in Gori. I don’t know why the Georgians are saying that.”

The general lesson that emerges from Washington’s claims of ignorance is that reality itself is of no concern to policy-makers bent on ignoring it. Through its obvious lies, Washington was able to justify taking no action of any sort against Russia and not speaking out in defense of Georgia until after Russia forced Georgia to surrender its sovereignty through the French mediators.

The U.S. and European willingness to let Georgia fall despite its strategic importance, despite the fact that it has operated strictly within the bounds of international law, and despite its obvious ideological affinity and loyalty to them will have enormous repercussions for the West’s relations with Ukraine, the Baltic States, Poland and the Czech Republic. But its aftershocks will not be limited to Europe. They will reverberate in the Middle East as well. And Israel, for one, should take note of what has transpired.

In Israel’s early years, with the memory of the Holocaust still fresh in its leaders’ minds, Israel founded its strategic posture on an acceptance of the fact that the soft power of international legitimacy, peace treaties, alliances and common interests only matters in the presence of the hard power of military force. People such as David Ben-Gurion realized that what was unique about the Holocaust was not the Allies’ willingness to sit by and watch an atrocity unfold but the magnitude of the atrocity they did nothing to stop. Doing nothing to prevent an innocent nation from being destroyed has always been the normal practice of nations.

Yet over time, and particularly after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, that fundamental acceptance of the world as it is was lost. It was first mitigated by Israel’s own shock in discovering its power. And it was further obfuscated in the aftermath of the war when the Soviets and the Arabs began promulgating the myth of Israeli aggression. In recent years, the understanding that the only guarantor of Israel’s survival is Israel’s ability to defeat all of its enemies decisively has been forgotten altogether by most of the country’s leaders and members of its intellectual classes.

Since 1979 and with increasing intensity since 1993, Israeli leaders bent on appeasing everyone from the Egyptians to the Palestinians to the Syrians to the Lebanese have called for Israel’s inclusion in NATO, or the deployment of Western forces to its borders or lobbied Washington for a formal strategic alliance. They have claimed that such forces and such treaties will unburden the country of the need to protect itself in the event that our neighbors attack us after we give them the territories necessary to wage war against us.

It has never made any difference to any of these leaders that none of the myriad international forces deployed along our borders has ever protected us. The fact that instead of protecting Israel, they have served as shields behind which our enemies rebuild their forces and then attack us has made no impression. Instead, our leaders have argued that once we figure out the proper form of appeasement everyone will rise to defend us.

If nothing else comes of it, the West’s response to the rape of Georgia should end that delusion. Georgia did almost everything right. And for its actions Georgia was celebrated in the West with platitudes of enduring friendship and empty promises of alliances that were discarded the moment Russia invaded.

Georgia only made one mistake, and for that mistake it will pay an enormous price. As it steadily built alliances, it forgot to build an army. Israel has an army. It has just forgotten why its survival depends on our willingness to use it.

If we are unwilling to use our military to defeat our enemies, we will lose everything. This is the basic, enduring truth of international affairs that we have ignored at our peril. No matter what we do, it will always be the case. For this is the nature of world affairs, and the nature of man.

 

“THE WORLD COULD USE A DEMOCRATIC SUPER-COP. RIGHT NOW, WE DON’T HAVE ONE”

Georgia and the American cowboy
By Claudia Rosett
The National Review
August 12, 2008

With Russia’s military blasting its way into neighboring Georgia, this sure seems like a moment when the world could use a democratic super-cop.

Good luck. Right now, we don’t have one.

America effectively resigned from the much-reviled role of lone superpower five years ago, after toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2002, and defying the Oil-for-Food devotees at the United Nations to overthrow the tyranny of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003. Since then, President Bush, to his credit, has stuck with the fight in Afghanistan and Iraq – a display of determination and firepower which goes far to explain why almost seven years have passed since September 11 without another major attack on U.S. shores.

But in dealing with other major threats to the free world, the White House has hung up its spurs, turned in its badge, and handed over the remaining items in the global-security portfolio to the soft-power ministrations of our globe-trotting diplomats. According to the State Department’s website, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice since opening up this diplomatic campaign full throttle in 2005 has made 76 trips to 79 countries, spending 2,017 hours on the road, in the air – whatever. Diplomacy has become a marathon end in itself. The resulting disconnects from reality were neatly summed up Monday on the State Department’s own website. While Russia’s military was smashing its way toward the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, the “Top Story” as tagged by State, was an interview with Rice, captioned “Iran: Staying on the Diplomatic Track.”

This is the soft-power mindset that seeks peace via a heap of Six-Party concessions to the grotesque thug-regime of North Korea; via fatuous U.N. resolutions ceding precious time to nuclear-wannabe Iran; via chit-chat with the terror-loving tyranny of Syria; via the feckless U.N. deal that officially brought a false end to Hizbullah’s 2006 war out of Lebanon against Israel (while allowing Hizbullah to re-arm, and without holding to account Hizbullah’s big backers in Damascus and Tehran). In this soft-power universe, peace is a process to be served by endless palaver over, de facto tolerance of, and European aid to a mini-state in Gaza run by the terrorists of Hamas.

In these misty realms, it’s diplomacy – not the overthrow of Saddam – that gets the credit for persuading Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi to hand over his nuclear kit to the U.S. For this, Gadhafi has been rewarded with a full diplomatic makeover. Not only is Libya out from under sanctions, but with U.S. assent Libya now holds a seat on the U.N. Security Council – presumably as an enticement for other despots to surrender their WMD factories. Never mind the many signs that Gadhafi surrendered his nuclear operations in late 2003 not as a diplomatic courtesy, but out of raw fear. Saddam’s overthrow was then still fresh in the news.

Since it became clear that the U.S., post-Saddam, has gone out of the regime-change business, no other nuclear-inclined terror-based government – North Korea or Iran, for instance – has even allowed inspectors an unfettered tour. In Syria, which but for an Israeli air strike last year would right now be firing up an illicit nuclear reactor built in cahoots with North Korea, the Baathist regime is currently refusing to allow U.N. inspectors so much as a second look at the site.

And, to bring this back to the current crisis over Russia’s invasion of Georgia, under the grand global tent of go-along get-along diplomacy, the U.S. and its long-winded European pals have for years politely issued one free pass after another to Moscow, despite the increasingly blatant KGB character of the modern Kremlin. Generously aided, bailed out and installed without justification in the 1990s as a member of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations, thus turning the G-7 into the G-8, Russia has crossed one forbidden line after another – with no real price paid.

The free world never plumbed suspicions of Russian involvement in the near-fatal poisoning of Ukraine’s Viktor Yushchenko as he campaigned in 2004 to become president. There has been no serious accounting for the fatal polonium-210 poisoning in London in 2006 of Russian agent-turned-dissident Alexander Litvinenko (the same year in which Russia chaired the G-8). There has been no great outcry over the bullying and murders of Russian democrats at home, including the jailing for five days last year of chess-champion turned democracy-advocate, Garry Kasparov. There has been not a single penalty paid for Russia’s flagrant, high-level, well-documented and highly profitable violations of UN sanctions on Saddam’s Iraq. There has been no serious resistance to Russian weapons deals, nuclear aid and broad support for Iran’s terrorist-sponsoring regime.

Vladimir Putin, first as Russia’s president, now as prime minister, has evidently observed all this soft power in action, and seen it as a series of green lights to start reclaiming the old Soviet dominions. He has drawn the logical inference that Russia may by now with impunity cross not only the lines of veiled misconduct, but the borders meant to separate it from neighboring sovereign states. Russian ructions in post-Soviet Georgia go back to the days just after the Soviet collapse, when even in the early 1990s the weak new Russia under the late President Boris Yeltsin scraped together the resources to stir up conflict in the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. For today’s Russia, with a far stronger central government, fueled by oil and gas income and emboldened by a world in which the American cowboy has holstered his guns, the same flashpoints have become pretexts for an all-out Russian invasion of Georgia.

If Washington’s diplomacy with Russia should have had one thing going for it, it is that Bush has an expert on the job. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is a Soviet (a.k.a. Russia) specialist from way back. But so busy has Rice been with global diplomacy that she appears to have dropped the ball entirely on Georgia. Or so one might infer from the past few days in which President Bush appeared caught by surprise, tied up watching Olympic basketball and swimming in Beijing, while Russia got down to the business of bombing and shooting its way into Georgia – a U.S. ally which not so long ago Bush was praising for its Rose Revolution, thanking for its troop contributions in Iraq, and trying to usher into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

For the democratic world, there will be no easy recovery from the chilling spectacle of Georgia’s 2,000 or so troops pulling out of Iraq to go join their own country’s desperate defense. The message so far is that America will ferry them home, but while Georgia rallied to the defense of freedom in Iraq, none of Georgia’s erstwhile allies will risk taking up arms to help the Georgians against a Russian onslaught.

The damage in many dimensions is already enormous. As historian and former State Department official Robert Kagan wrote in an incisive article in Monday’s Washington Post, “Historians will come to view August 8, 2008, as a turning point no less significant than Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell” – though for far less promising reasons. Kagan notes, correctly, that the issue is not how, exactly, this war in Georgia began, but that the true mistake of Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili, “was to be president of a small, mostly democratic and adamantly pro-Western nation on the border of Putin’s Russia.”

China’s Communist rulers, while basking in the glow of their Olympics bash, are surely checking the tea leaves for what this might presage about U.S. support for another U.S. ally: the democratic Republic of China on Taiwan. If the U.S. will not stand up to North Korea, will not stand up to Iran, will not stand up to Russia, then where will the U.S. stand up? What are the real rules of this New World Order?

Apart from Afghanistan and Iraq, the main rule right now seems to be that while anti-democratic bullies do the shooting, everyone else does a lot of talking and resolving. The UN Security Council meets, repeatedly. The European parliament ponders. Presumptive Republic nominee John McCain at least has the gumption and insight to point out that Russia’s actions threaten not only Georgia, but some of Russia’s other neighbors, such as Ukraine, “for choosing to associate with the West and adhering to Western political and economic values.” Presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama calls for more diplomacy, aid, and not just a U.N. resolution but also a U.N. mediator – despite the massive evidence that U.N. mediators can’t even protect the dissident monks of Burma or the opposition in Zimbabwe, let alone a small country trying to fight off single-handed an invasion by the Russian army.

President Bush, lapsed cowboy and former global top cop, dispatches his envoys to talk, and talk – and talk about talking some more. America’s ambassador to the U.N., Zalmay Khalilzad told the U.N. Security Council on Sunday that Russia’s Ambassador Vitaly Churkin had told Secretary of State Rice that Georgia’s elected President Mikhail Saakasvhivili “must go.” Khalilzad informed the Security Council that this is “unacceptable” and “this Council must act decisively to reaffirm the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia.” This is a phrase that satisfies the U.N. brand of etiquette, but it stops no bombs or bullets.

Bush, upon his return from Beijing to Washington, having failed to stop the Russian invasion of Georgia by declaring himself “deeply concerned,” issued a tougher statement in the Rose Garden: That by invading a neighboring state and threatening to overthrow its elected government, Russia has committed an action that is “unacceptable in the 21st century.”

Oh really? While declaring this invasion “unacceptable,” the global community of the 21st century seems prepared to accept it in spades. While Russian guns close in on Tbilisi, even the basic diplomatic penalties are not yet fully on the table, for whatever they might be worth. By all means, let’s see the G-8 expel Russia, if the will can be found to do even that much. By all means, let the U.N. Security Council engage in the farce of discussing reprimands and maybe even sanctions for Russia – which happens to be both a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, and one of the world’s most adept and experienced sanctions violators.

Diplomacy and soft power have their place. The U.S. cannot and should not go to war with every nasty regime on the planet. But when too many thugs cross too many lines and get away with it, the rules of the entire global game start to shift. The diplomacy that has been billed by the administration as such a prudent and successful means these past few years to deal with threats from North Korea, from Syria, from Palestinian terrorists, from Iran, as well as ugly moves from Russia itself, has paved the way for this Russian invasion of Georgia. If, with the exceptions of Afghanistan and Iraq, America no longer dares to unholster its guns to face down real threats, expect to see a lot more shooting, and a lot more casualties on our side.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.