I don’t blog much about politics here, but the new war in Georgia is so scary that I have to vent a bit about it. In the first place, Russia’s continuing incursion into Georgian territory is so nakedly aggressive as to defy belief. It’s a callous attempt by Putin – already revealing himself to be, as everyone knew, the real ruler of Russia – to exploit the Olympic moment, to wage war during the two weeks every four years when the world is at least willing to entertain the fantasy of peace. Putin himself left the Games on Saturday and flew directly to a Russian city near Georgia to oversee the military operations – practically shitting on the Olympic flag.
But Putin isn’t only taking advantage of the Olympic moment here. He is also capitalizing on the incredible weakness of the U.S., which – thanks to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the quieter deployment of American troops everywhere from Colombia and the Philippines to the Horn of Africa – can do no more than fuss like (off the top of my head) a two-year-old on her unwilling way to bed. Bush today said that the Russian invasion is “unacceptable in the 21st century,” which is of course as ludicrously hypocritical a statement as one could imagine. He’s the foremost 21st century practitioner of the war of choice, and is now only seeing others take advantage of the precedent set by the Bush-Cheney cabal. Quoth the veep: “Russian aggression must not go unanswered;… its continuation would have serious consequences for its relations with the United States, as well as the broader international community.” Oooh. I’m sure that will scare the Russian leadership straight.
The Iraq-Afghanistan debacles are tied into the evolving mess in Georgia in more ways than bald analogy and presidential rhetoric. Since our invasion of Iraq, world oil prices have steadily increased (though, of course, prices went up for many reasons besides the invasion’s effects on Iraqi oil production). The runup in oil has phenomenally enriched the Russian state, literally and figuratively fueling a resurgence in Russian military, political, and economic power. This power has recently been used to suppress the separatists in Chechnya, where Russia has successfully concluded its long, bloody war against Muslim extremists – and learned some valuable lessons about how conduct war in the Caucasus.
Russia isn’t the only emboldened combatant here, though. Georgia, too, has used Iraq to strengthen itself and now to learn that its reach has exceeded its grasp. The Times explains that, having found an eager new ally in Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili,
the United States did not merely encourage Georgia’s young democracy, it helped militarize the weak Georgian state… Mr. Saakashvili’s rise coincided neatly with a swelling American need for political support and foreign soldiers in Iraq. His offer of troops was matched with a Pentagon effort to overhaul Georgia’s forces from bottom to top. At senior levels, the United States helped rewrite Georgian military doctrine and train its commanders and staff officers. At the squad level, American marines and soldiers trained Georgian soldiers in the fundamentals of battle. Georgia, meanwhile, began re-equipping its forces with Israeli and American firearms, reconnaissance drones, communications and battlefield-management equipment, new convoys of vehicles and stockpiles of ammunition. The public goal was to nudge Georgia toward NATO military standards. Privately, Georgian officials welcomed the martial coaching and buildup, and they made clear that they considered participation in Iraq as a sure way to prepare the Georgian military for “national reunification” — the local euphemism of choice for restoring Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgian control.
This is scary as hell, and depressing as hell, too. Because, inevitably, it’s the Georgians who are suffering most. These are people who adored Bush: just three years ago, 105,000 Georgians came out for the Decider when he visited Tblisi, a city that has a George W. Bush Street. Now they’re feeling a little bit burned by the man, who is utterly powerless to halt the Russian attack. In that sense, they’re only just coming around to what a lot of Americans have learned since 2000. It’s crushingly sad that so many are suffering and dying in learning this lesson.