Tuesday, August 12, 2008

They All Sigh And Want To Die

A few thoughts on the Russian invasion of Georgia:

- Early last December when I was in Moscow I was able to dine at a fine Georgian restaurant. The food was delicious and the atmosphere delightful. My Russian host had to explain that although the wine from Georgia was quite good it wasn't available because the government had banned imports from Georgia due to the strained relations between the countries. It would have been improbable at the time to imagine that eight months later they would be in the middle of a shooting war.

- While I sympathize with the Georgian people and share the thoughts that we should do as much as reasonably possible to help a loyal ally, I find myself more closely aligned with the views of Mr. Douthat and Mr. Day than with others who are pushing for a more aggressive response. To me, this is more of a payback for Kosovo than a replay of Sudetenland. While we should not excuse the Russian aggression, we need to step back and consider the broader geopolitical implications. Making enemies of the Russians will come back to haunt us in ways and places that we can't even imagine today. Sending surface to air missiles to Georgia or even US troops to act as a "tripwire" (both proposals floated by Hugh Hewitt on his show last night) are dangerous ideas that would undoubtedly prove extremely counter-productive to long-term US interests in the region and the world for that matter.

- Those in the West should harbor no illusions about their ability to influence Russian public opinion by criticizing the invasion, boycotting Russian goods (other than vodka what is there?) or cancelling planned trips. The combination of rising nationalism, a reluctance to truthfully address the country's history, and a sense of not being properly respected on the international stage make for a potent and dangerous brew in Russia today (and to a lesser extent in China). Putin has masterfully exploited this in the past and it continues today with the way the Russian media is playing the story of the invasion. As Victor Davis Hanson explains:

The long-suffering Russian people resent the loss of global influence and empire, but not necessarily the Soviet Union and its gulags that once ensured such stature. The invasion restores a sense of Russian nationalism and power to its populace without the stink of Stalinism, and is indeed cloaked as a sort of humanitarian intervention on behalf of beleaguered Ossetians.

There will be no Russian demonstrations about an "illegal war," much less nonsense about "blood for oil," but instead rejoicing at the payback of an uppity former province that felt its Western credentials somehow trumped Russian tanks.

The more the West is seen as ganging up and unfairly attacking the Russian action, the more the average Russian is going to support it. This is not to say that the Western response should in any way be muted. We should just be realistic about what it can really achieve.

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