As Russia sees it, Bill Clinton turned the American Air Force into air support for an Islamic revolution against the Orthodox world. The attack against the Serbian homeland was an exercise of naiveté equivalent to bombing Vatican City then wondering why Roman Catholics might be upset and stay upset. Then George Bush decided it would be a good idea to place a missile defense system in Poland, disregard Russia's advice and invade Iraq and further insult and encircle the heart of the Eastern Orthodox world.
It takes a special breed of a-historical American president who is steeped in the Protestant idea of denominationalism; wherein Methodists, Presbyterians, Southern Baptists etc., all do their thing and somehow get along, to so thoroughly misunderstand the fact that Russia is reemerging first and foremost as a country reconnecting with its Orthodox historical imperial roots. We just have no concept of blood ties, soil and holy tradition in America. Since we don't take tradition seriously we can't believe that anyone else does.
For us the bottom line is always expediency and "what works." But in other parts of the world national pride is tied to a continuity of historic tradition (as was just demonstrated so beautifully in the opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics steeped as they were in Confucianism, and imperial history.)
In Russia's case its public humiliation at the hands of the United States, following the Cold War, could not have been designed better to have produced the invasion of Georgia. What's going on is the slow-motion counterattack of the Orthodox world against the West's latest crusade. Georgia is just a symbol for the counter-punch to the modern version of the West's sack of Constantinople in 1204.
Bill Clinton bombed Russia's closest and oldest Orthodox ally into submission and did so to send a half-baked and ill-conceived (utterly useless) message to the Islamic world that while we might favor Israel 99% of the time, once in a while we would throw the Muslim world a scrap. Note: America's actions in Serbia never were about halting ethnic cleansing. If that had been our motivation the same president that was bombing bridges in heart of Orthodox Europe while taking sides in a civil war, would have bombed Rwanda then (and we'd be in Darfur now) and have stopped those actual genocides. And now Russia is sending a message too, by attacking the pro-Western Georgia. And, yes, Georgia is also an Orthodox country, but it too is being used to send a message: we will hit back.
Europe may see itself as wholly secular these days but George Bush is your typical American Protestant evangelical exporting his version of Jesus as the Lord-Of-Consumerism and "democracy" to the world. In defense of his war on Iraq, Bush said that he believed that God wanted all people to be free. His idea of freedom is the interdenominational Protestant/American version.
President Bush was willing to impose this vision by brutal force of arms. Clinton and Bush both bought into the idea that America is specially called by God to "civilize" the world by imposing our version of Protestant/Western norms and/or to use an Orthodox country as cannon fodder to "send a message" with. Bush also wanted to send a message by attacking Iraq. Sure, they had nothing to do with 9/11 but hey, lets beat up an Arab, any Arab will do.
The United States and the West have been busy insulting and humiliating the Orthodox world since the end of the Cold War. We have missed every opportunity to show magnanimity as victors of the Cold War. American evangelicals invaded Russia with missionaries, because they said the Orthodox aren't "real Christians." We bombed Serbia. We treated the other global nuclear power as a younger dumber cousin. We attacked their friends. We lectured them.
Now we expect Russia to be logical about these matters and do what is good for business. But we have forgotten that not everyone in this world is ready to forgo their heritage for a fast buck. We also failed to discipline our energy consumption, and decided to have fun instead of going green while the cheep gas lasted. Thus we've been empowering Russia and all the oil states, by transferring our wealth to them in order to fuel our weekend junkets to Vegas and Disneyland.
We have forgotten that ties of faith and history have not been overwhelmed by modernity elsewhere, as they have been in America. The world is not a melting pot. Nor is every culture as frivolous and forgetful as ours.
We shop for church experiences as we shop for everything else folding religion into our consumer culture. The average American (who is religious) changes churches six or seven times during a lifetime, even changes religions. (Disclosure: I was raised in the evangelical right wing, left and in 1990, converted to the Greek Orthodox Church and also changed from a lifelong Republican to an Independent voter, who is an Obama supporter.) No wonder that Bush and Clinton just didn't get it. Religion is a game we play.
As Russia flexes her muscles we're reminded that history and religion are serious matters for some people, not just products to try then discard. We are also learning (again) that we had better know what we're doing before we interject ourselves into other cultures, say by bombing Serbia, or invading Iraq, or putting missiles in former Eastern Europe.
Apparently we still don't get it. All we can come up with is hand wringing and/or more bellicose smart ass -- "All I see is KGB in his eyes" -- posturing by the discredited likes of John McCain. Idiots like McCain have amused themselves by posturing about Russia, as if we are in any position to "do something" about a country with more nuclear weapons than we have when we can't even "fix" pitiful ragtag little Iraq in 6 years and still can't find bin Laden.
McCain is talking tough on Russia as is his mentor Bush. And these are the same men who have led the way in starting the wrong war in Iraq thus stretching our military so thin that we probably couldn't repel an attack by Canada these days. And they want to talk tough?
So why is Russia invading? It's payback thumb-in-your-eye time. Clinton attacked Serbia. Bush and NATO have humiliated the resurgent Orthodox Russia. The West has further humiliated the Orthodox world by recognizing the breakaway Muslim state of Kosovo.
America bombed Serbia and invaded Iraq using weaponry developed for the Cold War. Now Russia has taken its tanks out of mothballs and is doing the same thing on its doorstep. Someone said, "if you live by the sword you will die by the sword." Instead of more hot air McCain-style, what we need is to admit we have been very stupid about dealing with post-Soviet Orthodox Russia, and look for ways to repair the damage that Clinton and Bush have done and that McCain promises to exponentially increase.
Frank Schaeffer is coauthor of HOW FREE PEOPLE MOVE MOUNTAINS-A Male Christian Conservative and a Female Jewish Liberal On A Quest For Common Purpose and Meaning. He is also author of CRAZY FOR GOD-How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back