15 December 2008|
The real reason for the August conflict in the Caucasus
I’ve figured it out! I had long suspected it but now I’m sure of it. The war between Russia and Georgia was over none other than the Prometheus Institute.
Well, let me explain. In Greek mythology Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to the people - i.e. giving knowledge to the people.....Just like us! When Zeus and the other gods discovered his treachery Prometheus was bound in chains in the area now known as the Caucasus Mountains - near modern day Georgia (the one by Russia, not the one by Florida). I’m guessing that those megalomaniacal Russkies realized how dangerous it was that we here at the Prometheus Institute are providing so much knowledge on free markets and individual liberty to the people from all the publicity PI gained being recognized by the Stevens Institute and winning a Templeton Award. They must have figured a war with the Georgians would offer them an opportunity to extinguish our inspirational fire.
Sound a little far fetched....or perhaps a bit of a stretch in attempting to shamelessly plug our organization’s recent recognition?
Well, this explanation is absolutely ridiculous in attempting to explain Russia’s “invasion” of Georgia this August, but the explanations offered by American politicians and media personalities as to how the Russians wished to reconstitute its lost empire or that Russia was commencing a campaign to attack democracy itself amounted to, in light of recent reports, something only slightly less farcical.
“It’s time for the West to realize that Mikheil Saakashvili is no saint and that Georgia is not quite an innocent victim,” was the advice given by Charles King in an article that appeared in Foreign Policy last month. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, other European Union monitors, and several Nongovernmental Organizations have determined that Georgia had fired the first shots, a fact that was widely speculated by many in the days following the initiation of hostilities. King concludes,
“Unfortunately, President Saakashvili’s unquestioning supporters in Washington are still guilty of the same simplistic thinking that helped cause the war. These supporters tend to think of Georgia’s interests solely in the context of Russia’s nefarious gambits on Eurasia’s strategic chessboard.”
While both sides traded baseless accusations of genocide and human rights violations Amnesty International condemned both governments for failing to protect civilian populations. There is little doubt that the Russian response to Georgia’s attack on the renegade province of South Ossetia - as well as Georgia’s initial targeting of Russian troops stationed in South Ossetia - was disproportional but, to be fair, so was the response that was heard from the U.S. political establishment and punditocracy.
Outside of being an example of lack of self-awareness on a colossal scale, and having been repeated by both Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice and John McCain, the admonishment of President Bush that “In the 21st Century, nations don’t invade other nations,” rang sort of hollow. And, as sentimental as it may have been for John McCain to mimic a French newspaper’s act of solidarity with America when its September 12, 2001 headline declared “We Are All Americans Now," his personal declaration that “We are all Georgians now” did not seem as appropriate considering his solidarity was being pledged to the country that did the attacking. Humanitarian aid, delivered by U.S. warships in the Black Sea and escorted by U.S. troops, provided a convenient way to increase the U.S. military presence in Georgia that had recently been reduced, but this would only serve to increase the probability that the U.S. could be drawn into the conflict if a mistake were to initiate fighting between ostensible “peacekeepers” on both sides.
These recent revelations into the case of who shot first have done little to change current U.S. policy in the region - and, unfortunately, a change to a new administration has not offered any alternative. But beyond not offering alternatives to Bush Administration policies the incoming Obama Administration is embracing the integration of Georgia, and Ukraine, into NATO. Vice President-elect Joe Biden immediately proposed and had approved, through his position as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, $1 billion in aid to Georgia - which was to be just a starting point.
This should not be seen as a vindication of Russia’s obviously disproportionate response to the Georgian attack on South Ossetia. A resurgent Russia will obviously give headaches to some in Washington, but, while not defending any particular Russian policy when dealing with its neighbors, U.S. policy-makers must take note of the affect the policies they push have on an international stage.
In the aftermath of its brief war this summer Russia became the first state to recognize the independence of South Ossetia - the renegade province of Georgia that, along with Abkahzia, at the center of the conflict. This followed the precedent established by the U.S. and others in recognizing the independence of Kosovo in February of 2008. The recognition of Kosovo may have seemed like a no-brainer after the Clinton Administration bombed Serbia for seventy-two days in the spring of 1999 in an attempt to aid the breakaway province populated by ethnic Albanian Muslims and a minority population of Serbs. The Russian recognition of South Ossetia’s independence - as well as that of Abkahzia - has not sat well with the U.S. But, in the same vain, U.S. recognition of Kosovo strained already worsening relations with its former superpower rival. Large segments of the international community have not yet recognized the sovereignty of either South Ossetia or Abkahzia; while newly independent Kosovo is still administered by the United Nations.
Meanwhile, American politicians and media personalities continue to reflexively support Saakashvili because of his “democratic” credentials, while portraying Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as Stalin Redux. Saakashvili’s reckless and aggressive action against South Ossetia - which included the shelling of civilian areas in the provincial capital, Tskhinvali - would have been much worse for the U.S. had President Bush reached his goal of Georgian, as well as Ukranian, admission into NATO. As a primarily military alliance, NATO, articulated in article five of its charter, would have had to respond militarily to a Russian incursion into Georgia. It is curious, though, to see what type of reaction NATO would have offered had the real story been told initially.
Currently the United States offers war guarantees to over fifty countries - including those along Russia’s border, such as Poland, the Czech Republic, and even Estonia. Two questions should be asked immediately by members of the U.S. foreign policy apparatus:
1). Does it enhance U.S. security to enter into further military alliances - specifically with countries that border Russia and with which Russia has historical antagonisms?
2). What will be the Russian perception of further NATO expansion - particularly when that expansion moves the world’s most powerful military alliance right up to Russia’s doorstep?
The answer to first question is a fairly obvious NO. In fact, some alliances do not enhance U.S. security. NATO, which outlived its usefulness in 1991, was a temporary alliance meant to protect against aggression by the Soviet Union. Adding additional members, particularly ones like Georgia and Ukraine, will offer greater risk as new interests will need defending - often interests that serve no purpose for the American people. It was this notion of “foreign entanglements” that George Washington spoke of in his farewell address to the American people when he said,
“So, likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.”
The second question, on the other hand, is more difficult to answer but is necessary. This does not mean that the Russian perspective should be the arbiter of whether a policy should be implemented or not, but it does mean that Russia has interests and security concerns of its own and may act to protect those interests if it feels threatened - as is the logical reaction when a formerly hostile military alliance is expanded to its borders despite previous assurances against such a policy, Couple this expansion with the station of an Anti-Ballistic Missile system based in Poland and it becomes more likely that Russia will respond to what it may perceive as provocations from a former adversary. Russia has already stationed missiles near its border with Poland and participated in military exercises with China, and more recently, in the Western Hemisphere with Venezuela. While there are those who would, perhaps rightfully, condemn these Russian actions, it is important to understand that they did not occur in a vacuum and that there are consequences to U.S. policies even if benign in intention.