In response to the movement of Russian troops into Georgia this morning, State Department spokesperson Amanda Harper announced to the German press: “We support Georgia’s territorial integrity and we call for an immediate ceasefire.” Senator McCain was even more forceful, demanding, “Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory.”
Both statements are not only reckless but they reveal the total obliviousness of most American foreign-policy makers to the consequences of Washington’s actions since the end of the Cold War”a characterization that holds equally well for the supposed diplomats and realists in Foggy Bottom as for the neocons rallying to McCain.
During the fall of the Soviet Empire, George H. W. Bush assured Mikhail Gorbachev that no further expansion of NATO would take place”a promise that’s been broken rather brazenly by Bush’s two successors who”ve sought to bring most of the U.S.S.R.’s former colonies into the alliance and push NATO to the borders of Russia. Most on the left and right viewed this development as generally benign, NATO expansion being synonymous with the spread of “democracy” or at least the enlarging of the circle of nations friendly to the U.S.
But at the end of the day, NATO is a military alliance that requires the U.S. to go to war on behalf of a member state if it were attacked. Regardless of all the good feelings involved, military pacts have consequences.
Dubya didn’t quite fulfill his dream of bringing Georgia into NATO, but what if he had. Is anyone in Washington, including McCain and the most rabid neocons, really prepared to declare war on Russia? Would any president be able to articulate to the American public why soldiers should die to secure Georgia (the one in the Caucuses, not one neighboring Alabama)? With wars on in Iraq and Afghanistan, is the U.S. military even capable of involving itself in a full-fledged campaign against Russia?
The answer to all these questions is, of course, No, and most everyone is well aware of this. Thus Spokesman Halper and Senator McCain are ultimately sending the worst possible message to our allies and adversaries””we”re bluffing,” “we”re don”t really mean it,” “we”re not sure what we actually want.”
Moreover, the santimonous statements of Halper and McCain indicate that that think Russia is making a play at territorial conquest. Unfortunately, things are far more complicated. The struggle in Georgia revolves around the region of South Ossetia, which contains an ethnically distinct population that since the collapse of the U.S.S.R., has had a kind of instable, unofficial independence from the Georgian state. (Unlike Slovakia and Crotiatia, South Ossetia seems to have missed its chance at full autonomy.) Since his election in 2004, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has sought to gain control of the separatist region, and with the world’s eyes on the Olympics, he seems to be pushing towards an end game. Moscow is justifying its own incursion in South Ossetia on the fact that Georgia’s actions has set off a flow of refugees into Russia and that Russian peace-keepers have been murdered in the region’s capital of Tskhinvali.
This is simply not a case of “good vs. evil,” nor is it the kind of conflict Washington is in any position to resolve. Being that no national interest is at stake, I don”t see any reason to come out for or against any one side.
There’s the further irony that for all of the State Department’s talk of protecting Georgia’s sovereignty, Washington’s policy over the past 15 years has been to support ethno-separatist movements much like the one in South Ossetia”the best example being our military campaign on behalf of the KLA, culminating in George Bush’s official recognition of the Islamo-Mafia cesspool known as “Kosovo.” Spain notably didn”t follow Bush in legitimizing “Kosovo,” as it worried that this might encourage Basque separatists within its own borders. I wonder if President Saakashvili is wondering whether the incoherent foreign policy of his American patron might have done much to inspire the South Ossetia rebels who are now such a pain in his side.
It’s still dangerous to be allied with Uncle Sam, for when Washington seeks to manage the world, unintended consequences begin to multiply.