Russia’s five-day blitzkrieg in the former Soviet republic of Georgia did a lot more than wreck Georgian pipe-dreams of joining NATO: it destroyed a mountain of latte-sipping, virtual reality, laptop–wisdom-dispensing fantasies about the End of History, the superiority of free market pacifism, the obsolescence of the nation-state, and the idea that the relentless tide of democracy will sweep all before it
The Bush administration was totally taken by surprise by the Russian attack, even though the Russian media has been clearly signaling its inevitability since the start of this year. At United Press International, we have been routinely citing these reports. Nobody in the White House, the National Security Council, the State Department, nor any, it seems of the 1,500 analysts employed at such generous salaries by the Pentagon had any clue it was coming. What on earth do we pay these clowns their fat-cat salaries for?
Also, the armchair heroes who imagine they rather than Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II , the mujahedin in Afghanistan and the gallant Polish shipyard workers of Gdansk brought down the Evil Empire had better wake up and shake off their prejudices. Not only is the Russian army back, it is competent again. For the first time in 19 years since the Red Army took the Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, overnight in 1979 a Russian military offensive has worked like clockwork the first time around.
NATO and the United States have been pouring military aid into Georgia quietly for more than a year. The aid was designed to give the Georgian armed forces the ability to defend themselves against the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia that have been sustained by Russia ever since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Last Thursday, the Georgians showed they had enough muscle to liquidate the South Ossetian enclave. But the very next day, the 58th Russian Army of the North Caucasus Military District thundered into South Ossetia, backed by the formidable 76th Airborne “Pskov” Division and liquidated the Georgian armed forces.
Nor did they stop at the end of South Ossetian territory. The Russian troops took the town of Gori and effectively cut the Georgian capital Tbilisi off from most of the rest of the country. Now they’ve stopped and are sitting tight. They aren’t going to leave soon.
The speed, daring and skill of the Russian drive should serve as a wake-up call to Americans in general, and to liberals in particular, from a lot of pathetic, ludicrous dreams they have indulged in for decades.
First, throw Tom Friedman and his books out of the window. The world isn’t flat and the olive tree always trumps the Lexis. The Pentagon needs to roll up its fashionable “New Map“ that it pays all those hundreds of thousands of dollars in consulting fees for and paste back up its old map. Hard armed force exerted by lots of aircraft, artillery and Main Battle Tanks still trumps all. Hard power crushes soft power, which really isn’t power at all.
As the great English poet Rudyard Kipling memorably said, “iron, cold iron, is (still) master of all.” You won’t hear that in any of Sen. Obama’s "uplifting" perorations.
Second, through the neo-cons and Francis Fukiyama’s hackneyed old Hegelian fantasy of “The End of History” (you can prove anything you want from Hegel and even make Niagara Falls flow backwards if you want) and replace him with the tough, relentless wisdom of Zbigniew Brzezinski. After Fukiyama’s career-launching book of nonsense (which he has since prudently backed away from) came out, I asked Zbig what would happen after Fukiyama proclaimed “end of history.” He replied, “More history.”
That, of course, is exactly what we saw in Georgia over the past week — more history. The Russian bear is back – and he’s sharpened his claws.
There’s a third myth bites the dust, that the Russian army is a shambles and a joke – and that it doesn’t have to be taken seriously. It’s amazing how many people in Washington, especially in the Pentagon and the State Department, believe this nonsense. In fact, the Russians did well in Georgia. They brushed the Georgian armed forces aside as easily as our army swept aside the Iraqi army in 2003.
Myth Number Four: Some desperate conservatives are already fantasizing that Georgia will be Russia’s new Afghanistan, or at least Chechnya. But the Afghan mujahedin and the Chechen secessionists were tough-as-nails, Muslim tribal warriors. The Georgians are Orthodox Christians who are excellent merchants, grow magnificent orchards and produce many over-rated wines. They are neither the muj nor Mafia. They are more like the Keystone Kops dreaming they’re the Mafia. (Although it’s been many years since I was last there, I have at least been to Georgia and seen it and its conflicts at first hand, which is more than any of the armchair warriors and pontificators have.)
Any high-tech U.S aid that is sent now to the Georgians, especially signals intelligence or anti-aircraft missiles, will soon be a gift to the Russian army.
Iraq has a population of 28 million and the United States has to project power half way round the world to make it effective there. Georgia has a population of only 4.4 million on the borders of Russia. The Russians can project as much power there as easily as they want as long as they want. And Afghanistan it’s not.
The events of the past week should also teach American conservatives and U.S. policymakers about the dangers of strategic over-extension. Don’t make security guarantees to countries that you can’t keep. Right now, 150,000 American troops are still committed to an insurgency war they’ve been fighting with notable success in Iraq over the past year and a half. Another 36,000 are bogged down in Afghanistan in a war we and our NATO allies are losing. The entire United States, the European Union, Canada and Australia together with a combined population of 850 million people can hardly scrape together 50,000 soldiers to hold the line against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. How can anyone imagine they will pour in the troops Georgia will need to credibly defend itself against the Russian army?
Some of the best military advice ever given was offered by that famous strategist Jesus in the Gospel of St. Luke (14:31) "What king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?” Wise words indeed: The Russians have a lot more than 20,000 troops committed to Georgia. Is President Bush willing, or even able to put as many as 10,000 against them? Will a President Obama even send 10?
The United States should not take the Russian invasion of Georgia lying down: But its leaders and pundits have to start asking and answering the hard questions. Who are they willing to defend and how far are they are going to go to defend them? What troops do we have to spare? How many more do we need? How can we raise the credit to arm and pay them? And what are the limits of our capabilities, and of the American people’s willingness to use them?
President Bush and his successors have to realize that simply talking tough unsupported by a determination to protect allies will only invite derision, disaster and more Georgias. And so do America’s armchair pundits. Spewing out blogosphere wisdom to the latte sippers of the world won’t cut the mustard.