When Nazi Germany seized control of a big chunk of Czechoslovakia in 1938, appeaser extraordinaire Neville Chamberlain referred to it as "a faraway country of which we know little."
The Nazi invasion was based on the simple and reasonable enough-sounding pretext that ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland wanted to be annexed to the Fatherland. Hitler’s invasion of that small, seemingly insignificant country led, of course, to total war in Europe and a global conflict that cost 100 million lives. All because the Western democracies didn’t see — or didn’t want to see — the insatiable appetites of an expansionist power led by a coldly calculating mass murderer.
Here we go again.
Russia has used the pretext that ethnic Russians living in a part of the independent republic of Georgia want to be folded into Russia. The Georgians, they say, are doing "ethnic cleansing" of the Russians there, requiring Russia to intervene to defend them.
Of course, this requires Russian tanks, fighter jets, and ground troops to sweep into Georgia proper, killing thousands while they begin to occupy the country (despite their “agreement” to a “ceasefire.”)
To many Americans, Georgia is a "faraway land of which we know little." Nor do we much care: we’ve got Michael Phelps to cheer on and summer barbeques to attend to.
But as history has demonstrated time and time again, it’s the seemingly small crises that blow up into big ones.
This is one of those times.
The Cold War never ended. The Russians are behind every major state-based threat we face: Iran, North Korea (through China), Venezuela, Syria, the list goes on. They are creating new spheres of influence while re-establishing their old, Soviet-era ones. They extort Eastern Europe on its oil supply. They have blown up part of the oil pipeline that runs through Georgia and Turkey (a NATO member). They are authoritarian at home and expansionist abroad.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had this invasion planned for weeks, if not months. Before ordering the bombs to fall and the tanks to roll, he didn’t rush to the UN seeking international approval. He didn’t seek sanctions or resolutions. He just marched in with a full-on invasion. (If the United States had done this, holy hell would be breaking loose in the hallowed halls of the UN. We wouldn’t be able to count the official condemnations of "America’s reckless, unauthorized breach of international law." With the Russians, we get a big yawn and a shrug of powerlessness.)
Georgia is a pro-Western, fragile new democracy. It has had 2000 troops in Iraq, making it the third biggest contributor to coalition forces there after the United States and Great Britain. It is struggling to establish its democratic, free market independence in Russia’s long shadow. The Russians didn’t like all of the progress Georgia had been making, nor did it appreciate Georgia’s application to NATO. So the Russians rolled.
Barack Obama hopes to spread his smiley face of "hope" and "change" around the world. His initial statement on the crisis was painful in its naivete and dangerous in its moral equivalence. "Now is the time for Georgia and Russia to show restraint and to avoid an escalation to full-scale war," he said.
Gales of laughter in Moscow. Eye-rolling in Tbilisi. Obama recommends that peace is better than war. A true profile in courage.
The idiocy of this must have dawned on someone in Team Obama, because shortly thereafter, he began to firm up his rhetoric and actually put the blame for the Russian invasion of tiny, democratic Georgia on Russia. Going out on a limb there, Barack.
This week, Obama began a public statement on the crisis by greeting the press corps with a jaunty, "Hi guys!" Schmoozing with the journalists remains paramount, even in the face of an international blow-up.
More importantly, Obama’s utter lack of experience and even interest in Russia and its "near abroad" has surfaced in two ways.
First, he took a trip to Russia in 2005 in order to talk to Vladimir Putin about decommissioning Russian nuclear weapons. The Kremlin is still laughing at that one. Of course, that doesn’t stop Obama from wanting to decommission much of America’s nuclear arsenal. To set an example, of course. More laughter from Moscow.
Second, for the past year and a half, Obama has been the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on European Affairs. And guess what? He’s never held a policy hearing. No meetings, no witnesses, no testimony, no nothing. This is why Obama himself is a "know-nothing" on what is turning out to be a central issue for the United States, our allies, and for the campaign. But Senator Clueless never bothered to take an interest in Europe or Russia. He just wants your kids to speak Spanish and for you to refrain from visiting Europe to keep our "ugly American" quotient down.
Obama is woefully unprepared to deal with a crisis of this magnitude. He’s in so far over his head that McCain doesn’t even need to point it out. It’s abundantly obvious to anyone watching Obama speak on the subject. It’s most certainly obvious to the Kremlin.
It’s incredible that the western democracies seem impotent to stop this invasion of a democracy and reverse it. Short of military action, we could strip Russia of its G-8 membership, levy economic sanctions, and stop its membership to the World Trade Organization. Forget about going to the UN: Russia will veto everything.
The western democracies need to show a backbone. What would Reagan do? What would Thatcher do? For heaven’s sake, what would George H. W. Bush do? (Even he went to war to reverse an invasion of the petrocracy, Kuwait. Georgia may not be sitting on a ton of oil, but it’s the transit point for a tremendous amount of it.)
This is one of those moments when we will wonder why the good guys were paralyzed while the bad guys marched. It’s one of those moments on which the future of freedom hangs. It’s one of those moments when the bad guys test the good guys. And so far, the good guys are contemplating their navels while the bad guys scorch the ground of liberty.