Saturday, August 16, 2008

Prepare for Round Two

The ceasefire that Georgia and Russia have agreed to is surely imperfect but I think acceptable as a base to move on and deal with the new reality that Russia had revealed to the world.

What has Georgia lost? Georgia was not going to gain their separatist regions in the face of Russian opposition. This is all that Russia gained from their war. Georgia remains free. If Georgia remains calm, they can rebuild their military and focus on being able to defend their core territory. And as I argued, the Russians are not ten feet tall. Russia's military performance was hardly impressive. This author repeats what I argued:

From this we can infer what most experts already know--that the Russian army, though still numerically large, has relatively few competent, deployable formations--there are the airborne divisions and the air assault brigades, and a few tank and motor-rifle divisions, but not much else. Similarly, the Russian air force doesn't have very many fully operational aircraft or deep reserves of fuel, spare parts and munitions. This invasion has probably eaten deeply into Russian operations and maintenance funding, to say nothing of its war reserve stockpiles of ordnance and equipment. Russia must have bet on a short and fairly bloodless war, because it cannot afford--militarily or politically--a protracted slog. Not only doesn't it have the equipment to do so, but it doesn't have enough highly trained troops to sustain heavy casualties.

And the author notes the potential of infantry armed with anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons to really hurt the Russians.

Russia won nothing that they didn't already have--unless we just panic and fold in the face of a military assault by an inferior military with little depth on their bench.

And outside of Georgia, Russia may lose much. Already, Eastern Europe is reminded of Russian designs. Poland is now online for our missile defenses. And if we have no interest in making Russia an enemy, Russia has even less interest in making America their enemy. President Bush noted:

"The Cold War is over. The days of satellite states and spheres of influence are behind us," Bush said at the White House, before a vacation delayed by the crisis. "A contentious relationship with Russia is not in America's interest, and a contentious relationship with America is not in Russia's interest."

Rice said the time had come "to begin a discussion of the consequences of what Russia has done. This calls into question what role Russia really plans to play in international politics."

This isn't just about Georgia. This is about Russia. Don't be fooled by apologists for Putin who like to say that Georgia started this. This was a Russian initiated operation even if the Georgians were foolish enough to take the bait:

This conflict is about more than the two separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or displacing Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s hot-headed president. It is about Russia, resurgent and nationalistic, pushing its way back into the Caucasus and chasing others out, and reversing the losses Russia feels it has suffered since the end of the cold war.

Nor, as too many Americans who always seem to hate America argue, is Russia just doing what we've done in the past (so the war is our fault):

It ought not to be necessary to point out the differences between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Mr Saakashvili's Georgia, but for those blinded by moral relativism, here goes - Georgia did not invade its neighbours or use chemical weapons on their people. Georgia did not torture and murder hundreds of thousands of its own citizens. Georgia did not defy international demands for a decade and ignore 18 UN Security Council resolutions to come clean about its weapons programmes.

And unlike Iraq under Saddam, Georgia is led by a democratically elected president who has pushed this once dank backwater of the Soviet Union, birthplace of Stalin and Beria, towards liberal democracy and international engagement.

The Kosovo analogy has a more resonant ring of plausibility to it and has been heavily exploited by the Russians in defence of their actions. But it too is specious. It is true that South Ossetia and Abkhazia, like Kosovo within Serbia, are ethnic-minority-majority regions within a state that they dislike. But that's where the parallel ends.

Unlike Serbia, Georgia has not been conducting a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against the people of these provinces. In the 1990s Serbia had firmly established its aggressive intentions towards its minorities with ugly genocidal wars against Croatia and Bosnia. And in any case the two Georgian enclaves have been patrolled by Russian “peacekeepers” for the past 15 years.

We need to be morally clear about what is going on in Georgia. Perhaps Mr. Saakashvili was a little reckless in seeking to stamp out the separatist guerrillas. But to suggest that he somehow got what he deserved is tantamount to saying that a woman who dresses in a miniskirt and high heels and gets drunk in a bar one night is asking to be raped.

And because of what Russia is doing, Georgia is gaining a lot of friends among nations who have been reminded that there but for the grace of NATO membership (and hence American friendship), go them.

Russia has not won anything but a little dose of false self-esteem based on Russian propaganda and Westerners eager to absolve Russia of guilt and responsibility. Unless we just let them win by doing nothing, of course.

So rebuild the Georgians to withstand round two against a faux superpower. And rebuild the West to keep the Russians from using their relatively miniscule power to make gains in a vacuum of Western lack of resolve.