The latest topic of national outrage is Russia’s invasion of the former Soviet Republic, and now independent nation of Georgia. For some reason, folks are forgetting how we helped engineer this little fiasco that has so far cost thousands of lives as Russia reasserts their hegemony over the areas that were formerly within their sphere of influence. When Bill Clinton thought it would be a good idea to commit American military forces to facilitate various Yugoslavian provinces breaking away from Serbian-controlled Yugoslavia, we set the precedent that re-drawing nations for the benefit of concentrations of minority populations was a good idea. Now that Russia is following the same example in South Ossetia that we set in Kosovo there’s a big sense of outrage. We ought to own up to the mess we created, and start looking at these kinds of issues with a broader view, and with an understanding of what the consequences of the exercise of our military power really are.
I agree that Russia’s military action is a bad thing, and it’s very worthy of condemnation. This dispute could have been handled much better, and it is an outrage that Russia decided that the solution here was to invade Georgia. Our response here has so far ignored what we ourselves set in motion when we decided that American forces needed to intervene in the 90’s where we had no national interest whatsoever, which gives Russia a strong opportunity to simply ignore our weak protests.
Bill Clinton failed to realize that in a world full of tragedies, many with long historical roots, we cannot repair them by lobbing JDAM’s at some country in judgment of whom has treated whom more badly. Were we to apply that concept globally, American forces would be engaged across the globe rendering our terrible verdict on one side or the other of countless historical disputes. It’s a completely untenable prospect, but something we’ve committed ourselves to to some degree. If we can act on this policy, others should be able to do this as well, and that includes Russia.
Now we’ve got a strong ally who is getting pummeled by Russia because a portion of their nation would rather be a part of Russia than Georgia. Despite the “Partnership for Peace” junior membership in NATO, Georgia isn’t going to get American military assistance as it gets ground under the heel of a Russian military effort that seems a lot more capable than what tried and largely failed to bring Chechnya under control, so this isn’t an easy fix. With us pretty committed in Iraq and Afganistan, there’s little ability for us to come to the assistance of Georgia (not to mention the political will to take on Russia) and our security committments in the former Soviet Republics are now worth pretty much nothing. We just threw away decades of diplomatic effort, and Russia is now re-invigorated in a way that’s really difficult to address while our efforts to expand NATO have been gutted.
We’ve got a crappy long-term hand that Bill Clinton dealt us by trying to solve the historical problems of the world, and it’s going to be a real challenge to put the strategic pieces back together without a demonstration of at least some American military power. Georgia might not lose just South Ossetia in this action, but their entire nation. We’re not in much of a position to prevent this, and that will signal to every nation in the former Soviet sphere that America cannot be counted on when the chips are down. On top of that, the moral justification Russia is offering is the exact same justification we applied in Kosovo, so international support is not likely to materialize. There’s not much reason for it, despite the terrible humanitarian crisis that is unfolding.
All this was supposed to bring peace. That fell a little short of the mark. Let’s learn from it, this time, OK?
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