The pundits and the press have been sounding off lately about Georgia and "Russian aggression."
French president Sarkhozy has just visited Georgia and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the supposed expert on Soviet and Russian affairs who accompanied President Reagan during h negotiations with Gorbachev, makes stern warnings to Moscow. There is talk of a new Cold War. Indeed, during the presidential debate between John McCain and Barack Obama, both candidates spoke forcefully in defense of Georgia and agreed with each other on the need to punish Russia.
So why is Georgia, one of the smallest and poorest nations on earth, so important to the United States? President Bush, like most Americans, could not have located Georgia on a map or named its capital city before this crisis. (He probably still can't). And now we have one Sarah Palin, who would presume to be a heartbeat away from the presidency and who does not know what the Bush Doctrine is, as well as Senator John McCain, who would presume to be Commander-in-Chief and still refers to the Czech Republic as Czechoslovakia, advocating NATO membership for remote Georgia. What this means, my fellow Americans, is that the United States would be treaty-bound to go to war with Russia in the event of Georgia/Russia hostilities. Read the last sentence again and let it sink in.
As we speak, the United States military is overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army is now recruiting men in their early 40s as well as high school dropouts and convicted felons in a desperate bid to fill the ranks while those already in Iraq are unable to come home even after three and four tours of duty. So, how might our intervention in Georgia turn out?
Russia's overwhelming numeric and territorial advantage in the Caucasas guarantees a humiliating defeat for any opposing army. This has been true for centuries. Hitler and Naploean found this out the hard way.
Much more importantly, Russia has thousands of nuclear weapons at its disposal. Worried about North Korea building a primitive nuke? Russia, heir to the Soviet Union's military power, is the only country in the world with SLBMs (submarine launched ballistic missiles) capable of striking targets in the United States. This puts Russia in a class by itself.
What is at stake here? The Georgia that Ray Charles sang about or the Georgia that gave birth to Ioseb Dzugashvilli, better known as Stalin? Whose Georgia is it? Is America prepared to fight a nuclear war over Josef Stalin's birthplace?
A brief read of Georgian history reveals an association with Russia that is over 200 years old. In fact, the last time Georgia was a sovereign nation for any appreciable length of time was in the Middle Ages. In 1805 Russia went to war with Persia (Iran) for control of Georgia and by 1810 had brought the various principalities and kingdoms of Georgia together under the Russian Crown. For the next 107 years Georgia was a part of the Russian Empire. After a brief period of independence from Moscow in the aftermath of World War I and the Russian Revolution, Georgia was forced into the Soviet Union in 1922 and remained a Soviet Republic, i.e. ruled from Moscow, until December 25, 1991. As in other former Soviet republics, independence has breathed new life into explosive territorial and ethnic conflicts going back centuries. Adding fuel to the fire, American oil companies spent 10 years and $4 billion dollars building an 1100 mile oil pipeline through Georgia (the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhar) in a deliberate attempt to undercut Russia and the Bush administration openly supported the "Rose Revolution" in 2003 to install an anti-Russian/ pro-American government in Georgia, making a U.S./Russia confrontation only a matter of time. This government remains in power to this day and gambled that it could send its troops into South Ossetia while the world watched the Olympics in Beijing. It went for broke and lost everything. President Bush and Dick Cheney think the U.S. taxpayer should clean up the mess.
As if one mess weren't enough, now the Bush/Cheney/McCain/Palin crowd wants to entice Ukraine into NATO as well and station the US Sixth Fleet with its arsenal of nuclear bombs at Sevastopol, the current home of Russia's Black Sea Fleet.... Clearly, no Russian government with an ounce of dignity or self-respect would allow such a brazen encroachment of its national security and sphere of influence. Only a buffoon and a drunkard like Boris Yeltsin would acquiesce to having a gun put to Russia's head like this. Even Mikhail Gorbachev, that darling of the West, has spoken out in defense of the Russian government .
And speaking of Mikhail Gorbachev, the United States has broken all of its promises not to expand NATO into the former Warsaw Pact countries. When President Bush the First negotiated the unification of East and West Germany with Soviet President Gorbachev in 1989, the United States pledged not to expand NATO into former Warsaw Pact countries. Today, Poland and the Czech Republic are NATO members and the United States is building extremely provocative anti-missile batteries in these countries over the strenuous objections of the Russian government. Ironically, the Bush administration uses bogeyman Iran and its non-existent missile threat to Europe as an excuse to encircle Russia while demanding that Russia back UN sanctions against Iran.
Result of Bush's Policies
The Persian and Russian empires were at odds with each other for centuries. Modern Islamic fundamentalist Iran and post-Soviet Orthodox Russia should have few interests in common. Russia has had major problems with Muslim Afghanistan and Chechnya in recent years and Islamic terrorism is a major concern of the Russian government. But the Bush administration has given Iran and Russia a common mortal enemy and very good reason to cooperate with each other on energy and military affairs.
But it gets more serious. Two Russian Tu-160 nuclear "Blackjack" bombers paid a visit to Venezuela last week after Hugo Chavez declared the American ambassador "persona non grata" and stated he would not seek diplomatic relations with the United States again until a new administration takes over in January. Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, also expelled the American ambassador to that country and invited the Russians to assist in counter insurgency and narcotics operations, replacing the Americans.
While the United States has been preoccupied with the occupation of Iraq, the world's largest oil and natural gas exporters: Russia, Iran, Venezuela and Bolivia have now come together in common cause against the United States. When President Bush took office in 2001, these nations had normal relations with the U.S. and oil was comfortably under $20 a barrel. Today, tensions are boiling and oil is firmly above $100. So much for "Mission Accomplished." Thanks, president Bush.
What to Do Now
In the 1830's Alexis de Tocqueville predicted that both the United States and Russia would become superpowers and square off against each other. He was right. Since then, humanity has entered the nuclear age. Now more than ever, the acme of military power lies in its non-use. We cannot tolerate political parties and leaders who lie to us and invade sovereign nations (Iraq), sing songs about bombing others (Iran) and talk glibly about military alliances that they don't understand ( NATO). John McCain, Dick Cheney and co. are incorrigible Cold Warrior Russiaphobes out of place in the 21st century. Sarah Palin is unqualified to teach an introductory course on international affairs, let alone shape US foreign policy. The contrast between her and vice presidential candidate Joe Biden couldn't be more stark. (Please see Steven Fox's excellent September 25 article contrasting the two candidates in the Huffington Post.)
The Obama administration will need to completely overhaul US foreign policy to include de facto recognition of Russia's legitimate security needs and recognition of Russia's sphere of influence, including South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia. Only this way can America's own security be assured. The profligate Bush administration has pledged $1 billion to help Georgia recover from its ill-advised invasion of South Ossetia and consequent beating by the Russian army. This arrogant interference of ours will only enrage the Russians and inflame anti-Americanism. It is not in our interest to confront Russia and set off a new arms race costing billions of dollars that we will have to borrow from abroad while increased geopolitical tensions keep energy prices sky high. The only way to meet America's national security needs is to work with Russia to create a neutral, demilitarized buffer zone around the Russian border. Enormous oceans to the east and the west and docile neighbors to the north and south act as America's buffer zone. Helping Russia achieve peace of mind about its security and true American intentions will reap untold benefits for the United States.
The offensive missile batteries in Poland and the Czech Republic need to be withdrawn immediately. The Russians will be more than amenable to a tit-for-tat withdraw of their armed forces from the Western Hemisphere. We need Russian cooperation at the United Nations on a host of issues from nonproliferation to global warming and terrorism. It is not in the interests of the United States to alienate this large and powerful country while sticking up for every thorn in its side. Current American policies towards Russia betray a haughty ignorance of her history and contempt for her people, who approve of Vladimir Putin and the Georgia war.
The United States risks military confrontation with Russia at its peril.
I heard president-to-be Barack Obama say that he has Jay-Z and Ludacris in his iPod. May I suggest a little Shostakovich, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky for a glimpse into the Russian psyche and then a meeting with president Medvedev to set this crucial relationship straight.
OffTheBus is publishing a variety of stories that cover the policy differences between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. If you have a policy expertise and would like to participate, please see Calling All Policy Gurus.