Everyone is distracted by the Olympics. The squabbling here on the
campaign trail consumes the media. Two presidential candidates and a
lame-duck president all are weighing in on foreign policy. No wonder Vladimir Putin thought it was a good time to invade Georgia.
Apparently the Russian prime minister knew exactly what he was doing but assumed no one in the West did. And he was right.
Our pundits and politicians are all over the map as Mr. Putin is
variously portrayed as villain, victim, patriot, tyrant - and more
The neoconservatives: We must make Russia
pay a terrible price for subverting a democracy. Our policy of
promoting liberal governments among the former Soviet republics, with
integration into Europe and relations with NATO, was sound, and it
cannot be allowed to be aborted by Mr. Putin.
Bottom line: Form a ring of democracies around Russia until it sees the light and likewise evolves into a constitutional state.
The paleoconservatives: Mr. Putin is only protecting his rightful
national interests in his own backyard, which don't really conflict
with ours. You have to admire the old brute for taking care of
business. Neocons - and no doubt Israelis in the background - provoked
that Georgian loudmouthed dandy Mikhail Saakashvili to stick his head
in a noose, so he deserved the hanging he got.
Bottom line: We should cut a deal with our natural ally Vladimir
Putin to keep out of each other's proper sphere of influence - and let
each deal as it wishes with these miserable little third-party
The realists: Don't poke sticks at the Bear. We should define our
strategic interests in the region. Maybe we can protect Eastern Europe,
the Baltic States and Ukraine - but only if we accept that Georgia just
isn't part of the equation. We need to back out of the saloon with
drawn pistols, and save as much face as we can.
This is a reminder that we forgot the role of honor and fear in
international relations when we encouraged weak former Soviet republics
merrily to join the West and gratuitously humiliate Russia.
Bottom line: Don't get caught again issuing promises that we can't keep!
The left wing: Mr. Putin's unilateral pre-emption was just like our own
in Iraq. His recognition of South Ossetia's independence was no
different from our own in breakaway Kosovo. So America is just as bad.
Russia's attack is the moral equivalent of America arbitrarily removing
the tyrant Saddam Hussein. It's all about Big Oil and pipelines anyway
- along with George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Halliburton et al.
Bottom line: Another long overdue comeuppance for the American Empire.
The liberal mainstream: Both sides are at fault. We understand
Georgia's plight, but also Russia's dilemma. We should consult the
United Nations, involve the European Union and encourage European
diplomacy. We can learn from the multilateral NATO teamwork in
Bottom line: Make sure that international institutions don't confuse an empathetic America with cowboy George Bush.
The Europeans: Prioritize! (1) Don't jeopardize gas supplies from,
and trade with, Russia; (2) avoid any confrontation in any form; (3)
make sure Mr. Bush does not do something stupid to draw us too far in,
but at least does something to avoid leaving us too far out.
Bottom line: Luckily, Tbilisi is still a long way from Berlin and Paris!
The rest of America: My lord, Mr. Putin is acting just like Leonid
Brezhnev! But they told us he just wanted to democratize and reform
Russia, integrate with NATO and the European Union, and help fight
radical Islam! So why did he get angry with Georgia when it just wanted
to do the same things he was supposed to be doing? That backstabber
wasn't honest with us!
Bottom line: Now what?
The more Russia promises to leave Georgia, the more it seems to stay
put. One reason may be that Mr. Putin keeps counting on us either to be
confused, contradictory or angrier at ourselves than at Russia over his
latest aggression. And given our inability to speak with one voice, he
seems to be absolutely right.