Great column. Be sure to read the full thing. Here are some excerpts:
Most importantly, Putin and Medvedev have called the West’s bluff. We are sort of stuck in a time-warp of the 1990s, seemingly eons ago in which a once-earnest weak post-Soviet Russia sought Western economic help and political mentoring. But those days are long gone, and diplomacy hasn’t caught up with the new realities. Russia is flush with billions. It serves as a rallying point and arms supplier to thugs the world over that want leverage in their anti-Western agendas. For the last five years, its foreign policy can be reduced to “Whatever the United States is for, we are against.”
The geopolitical message is clear to both the West and the former Soviet Republics: don’t consider NATO membership (i.e., do the Georgians really think that, should they have been NATO members, any succor would have been forthcoming?).
Together with the dismal NATO performance in Afghanistan, the Georgian incursion reveals the weakness of the Atlantic Alliance. The tragic irony is unmistakable. NATO was given a gift in not having made Georgia a member, since otherwise an empty ritual of evoking Article V’s promise of mutual assistance in time of war would have effectively destroyed the Potemkin alliance.
The new reality is that a nuclear, cash-rich, and energy-blessed Russia doesn’t really worry too much whether its long-term future is bleak, given problems with Muslim minorities, poor life-expectancy rates, and a declining population. Instead, in the here and now, it has a window of opportunity to reclaim prestige and weaken its adversaries. So why hesitate?
Indeed, tired of European lectures, the Russians are now telling the world that soft power is, well, soft. Moscow doesn’t give a damn about the United Nations, the European Union, the World Court at the Hague, or any finger-pointing moralist from Geneva or London. Did anyone in Paris miss any sleep over the rubble of Grozny?
More likely, Putin & Co. figure that any popular rhetoric about justice will be trumped by European governments’ concern for energy. With just a few tanks and bombs, in one fell swoop, Russia has cowered its former republics, made them think twice about joining the West, and stopped NATO and maybe EU expansion in their tracks. After all, who wants to die for Tbilisi?
Russia does not need a global force-projection capacity; it has sufficient power to muscle its neighbors and thereby humiliate not merely its enemies, but their entire moral pretensions as well.
APOLOGISTS IN THE WEST
The Russians have sized up the moral bankruptcy of the Western Left. They know that half-a-million Europeans would turn out to damn their patron the United States for removing a dictator and fostering democracy, but not more than a half-dozen would do the same to criticize their long-time enemy from bombing a constitutional state.
The Russians rightly expect Westerners to turn on themselves, rather than Moscow — and they won’t be disappointed. Imagine the morally equivalent fodder for liberal lament: We were unilateral in Iraq, so we can’t say Russia can’t do the same to Georgia. (As if removing a genocidal dictator is the same as attacking a democracy). We accepted Kosovo’s independence, so why not Ossetia’s? (As if the recent history of Serbia is analogous to Georgia’s.) We are still captive to neo-con fantasies about democracy, and so encouraged Georgia’s efforts that provoked the otherwise reasonable Russians (As if the problem in Ossetia is our principled support for democracy rather than appeasement of Russian dictatorship).
From what the Russians learned of the Western reaction to Iraq, they expect their best apologists will be American politicians, pundits, professors, and essayists — and once more they will not be disappointed. We are a culture, after all, that after damning Iraqi democracy as too violent, broke, and disorganized, is now damning Iraqi democracy as too conniving, rich, and self-interested — the only common denominator being whatever we do, and whomever we help, cannot be good.
Military intervention is out of the question. Economic sanctions, given Russia’s oil and Europe’s need for it, are a pipe dream. Diplomatic ostracism and moral stricture won’t even save face.
Instead, Europe — both western and eastern — along with the United States and the concerned former Soviet Republics need to sit down, conference, and plot exactly how these new democracies are to maintain their independence and autonomy in the next decade. Hopefully, they will reach the Franklinesque conclusion that “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”