Listening to various news sources and commentators discuss the war in Georgia has, as is often the case, surprised me this week, as I am often unable to follow the logic of the statements one hears so often in the press.
So, in no particular order, a few comments on the current crisis and on the associated policies:
- Georgia’s behavior towards Russia, and its military moves towards South Ossetia, represent central national security issues for the Russians, whereas they do not for America. Russia would have moved on Georgia whether America’s forces were deployed overseas or at home in the States. This is reinforced by the fact that, if the current ceasefire holds, the Russians have shown they could deliver their intended message before the Americans ever could have mobilized their forces, assuming for a moment that the US ever would have done so.
- The United States has no stomach for militarily engaging Russia. We stood aside while the Russians rolled into Czechoslovakia and Hungary, and there is no chance of our entering the fray now. I have a hard time imagining the Georgians seriously anticipating any other outcome. The chances for escalation are simply too great, and if America is upset about the loss of thousands of troops over five years in Iraq, imagine the shock if some of our divisions met the Russians head on in full mechanized combat? Unthinkable.
- Russia’s freedom of action is guaranteed far more by our dependence on them in Iran than our lack of military options. If we were really determined to hinder or stop the Russian move on Georgia, we could have had our bombers in the air in less than a day, striking the vanguard of the Soviet assault. The limit here is not lack of military options, but rather the need to keep Russia from wreaking havoc in Iran, whether that be diplomatically in the UN or in terms of arming the Iranians.
- I imagine the Poles and the Czechs must be feeling a little lonely at the moment watching the familiar specter of Russian armor imposing Moscow’s will on a Warsaw Pact nation.
- The Russian attacks on the Georgian pipeline seem to me to be more of an effort to unsettle the world’s oil market than an actual attempt to sever this oil artery. A fixed target like this should be easy pickings for aerial attack. If the Russians attacked it in earnest and were truly unable to hit it, it says powerful things about the state of their air force’s precision attack capabilities.
- It is less than a month since the Russians threatened the return of its nuclear bombers to Cuba. The Russians know full well the historical impact of nuclear forces in Cuba, and yet I cannot help but imagine they were dismayed by the lack of attention that announcement received. I do not think it is coincidence that the Russians decided if the West would not listen to their rattling sabers, it was time to make their point with the tip of the blade.
- One last point – a mental exercise for those who blame Bush and his Iraq adventures for permitting Russia the latitude to attack as they have. Imagine President Kerry had ‘solved’ Iraq in 2005 and 2006, and had begun troop withdrawals in 2007, concluding in June 2008 with the departure of the last American combat units. In such a scenario, once Putin’s tanks rolled across the border into Georgia, does anyone imagine Kerry (or Gore or any other realistic presidential occupant) committing his air force to ground strikes, his ships to missile attacks, and reinforcing the Georgians with troops? Moves like that would be met with Soviet-style threats from the GIUK gap to Japan. Given how reluctant I think Americans would be to honor their NATO commitments to Germany if Russia threatened it, the idea we would support a major ground war against Russia over Georgia is, to me, preposterous. (More on this point here.)
Phew. I have grown so tired of muttering at the TV and the Pravda the NYT that I had to put some of that down. I welcome anyone’s own interpretations, be they aligned with the thoughts above or counter.