The Tanks of August

Three events in the first decade of the 21st century will be remembered as epic turning points in world geopolitics:  9/11; the Iraq War and the Russian invasion of Georgia in August, 2008.  However convulsive the consequences of the first two events, what is transpiring currently in Georgia may be more damaging to international stability than anything that has occurred since 1939.  While Communism bears responsibility for an infinite catalogue of crimes, Russia's actions this month resemble what the Nazis did in starting World War 2, i.e., destroying/absorbing smaller countries on the basis of assertions of oppression of kinsmen or allegations that the attacked country initiated hostilities.                           

There has been a sobering degree of assent to the profound unease expressed in my article last week about Russian actions and Western inaction, as well as unprecedented recirculation of what I wrote.  This is the first time since American Thinker opened its pages to me  that I have written consecutive pieces on the same topic.  I would not ordinarily endorse the views of Zbiegnew Brzezinski, national security adviser to Jimmy Carter and possibly to Barack Obama, because he gravely harmed our country by facilitating the mullahs' power grab in Iran and  then not reacting forcefully to the kidnapping of our diplomats.  Perhaps Brzezinski is becoming smarter with age. Focusing on Putin's "justification" for dismembering Georgia,B rzezinski told the Left-wing Huffington Post:    

"At stake is what kind of role Russia will play in the new international system.  Putin is putting Russia on a course that is ominously similar to Stalin's and Hitler's in the 1930s...It is important that Russia  be stopped now by mobilizing a concerted, global effort to oppose and condemn the Russian invasion.  Ultimately, that could lead to economic and financial sanctions."

Soft Power Will Not Stop Russian Aggression

Thoughtful scholars are expressing accord with our observation last week that unless European Union powers are cured of their  fixation with "soft power,"  Russia will be encouraged to act against the Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states. Noted military strategist Edward Luttwak of the Washington Centre for Strategic and International Studies wrote in the London Telegraph:

"Tanks once again decide what happens.  'Soft power,' on which so many hopes had been pinned, has just been exposed as irrelevant...The decision on whether to confront Russia is an enormously tough one.  But that decision will have to be made.  Europe's holiday from serious geopolitics is over."                                 

Casting blame on the Georgian president for provoking Putin, as the international press has reported, may not be correct. An American executive who has worked closely with Georgia blamed the crisis in large part on Saakashvili's inexperience, but added that "Russia is a bully" which should be  given "a bloody nose, i.e.,  make it pay a price." But my knowledgeable source on the ground in Tbilisi-former U.S. Ambassador David J. Smith, director of the Georgian Security Analysis Center-insists it is wrong to blame Saakashvili because "Moscow had planned its attack and massed its forces for weeks."  Trying to find the truth is the reason I will go to Georgia next month.  Meanwhile, Russian promises of withdrawal of forces pursuant to the cease-fire, arranged by President Sarkozy and Secretary Rice, are belied by facts on the ground. The Russian stranglehold on a key road, ports and the economy remains intact.  Russian destruction of a vital railroad bridge was military vandalism.  Horrific tales of razing and looting of Georgian villages are confirmed, though Ossetians make similar claims of ethnic cleansing.  The objectives of the Russians remain as we reported last week:  (1) Deposing President Saakashvili; (2) Destroying Georgia's economy and infrastructure,  and (3)  Monopolizing Caspian energy supply.


No Coherent Western Response Yet

Western nations have yet to develop a coherent response to these outrages.  The U.N. Security Council is as helpless as when confronted with Iranian defiance of its Resolutions.  Faced with a Russian veto, the Council is still "discussing" the situation.  Anyone who witnessed the televised remarks of Russian Ambassador Churkin, denouncing all descriptions of Russian actions as "propaganda", would have thought the Cold War had returned.   None could dare call his crude belligerence "diplomacy."  Compelling the Russians to veto a strong  Security Council resolution, with the assistance of France (current E.U. President) remains a good idea.  More important is mustering will among European powers to consider NATO membership for border states menaced  by Russia.  As another indication of returning Cold War mentality, The Nation,  a venerable leftist magazine which held that Stalin did not threaten American interests, strongly objected to NATO membership for Ukraine and Poland.  If NATO can not reverse its current malaise and restore itself as an alliance in which political reach is matched by military muscle, it will become as ineffectual as the European Union in international crises.  Change now comes swiftly.  A couple of years ago, I delivered a paper at an Istanbul conference on Black Sea security in which I noted that the  juxtaposition of the end of the Cold War with the Iraq War transformed Turkey into the country most unfriendly to the U.S. on the Black Sea.  Now Russia again bears that distinction, although our troubles with Turkey's Islamist government are not over.

Accepting that there is no quick counter to Russian aggression against Georgia, a page from Karl Marx's book-i.e., the primacy of economics-provides a possible key to restraining Russian expansionism.  Russia's Central Bank announced last week a massive drop in foreign currency reserves.  Investor's Business Daily commented:  "Investors are fed up with rampant militaristic nationalism, red tape, corruption, and anti-investor sentiment in Putin's Russia.  Some have decided to head for the door and take their money with them." 

Russia's population is declining by over 500,000 per year due to alcoholism and poor health care.  Per capita GDP is up just 2% above where it was in 1989, meaning virtually no growth for 20 years.  Despite the enormous personal wealth of Putin and his cabal, as Investor's concluded: "Putin is likely to discover, no matter what he does, he's still going to be too far behind the  U.S., both militarily and economically, to challenge us."  But none of that cures the immediate  agony of  Georgia. 

August Remains a Wicked Month

August  is a "wicked month," as Edna O'Brien titled  her tragic 1965 novel. World War 1--that calamity which gave rise to all the evils of the last century -- began in August.  Historian Barbara Tuchman wrote memorably of the "Guns of August."  Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who died this month, wrote his epic "August 1914" in an anti-Tolstoyan mode to show that human blunders can cause tragic consequences, e.g,  destruction of the central Russian army leading to Communist rule.  It looks as if the tanks of August 2008  will cause this month to be remembered, in infamy, as an enduringly wicked August. 

Joel J. Sprayregen is a Chicago lawyer and writer on international security matters.  He has travelled in Georgia  and expects to return there next month before attending a conference on regional security matters in Azerbaijan. 
Three events in the first decade of the 21st century will be remembered as epic turning points in world geopolitics:  9/11; the Iraq War and the Russian invasion of Georgia in August, 2008.  However convulsive the consequences of the first two events, what is transpiring currently in Georgia may be more damaging to international stability than anything that has occurred since 1939.  While Communism bears responsibility for an infinite catalogue of crimes, Russia's actions this month resemble what the Nazis did in starting World War 2, i.e., destroying/absorbing smaller countries on the basis of assertions of oppression of kinsmen or allegations that the attacked country initiated hostilities.                           

There has been a sobering degree of assent to the profound unease expressed in my article last week about Russian actions and Western inaction, as well as unprecedented recirculation of what I wrote.  This is the first time since American Thinker opened its pages to me  that I have written consecutive pieces on the same topic.  I would not ordinarily endorse the views of Zbiegnew Brzezinski, national security adviser to Jimmy Carter and possibly to Barack Obama, because he gravely harmed our country by facilitating the mullahs' power grab in Iran and  then not reacting forcefully to the kidnapping of our diplomats.  Perhaps Brzezinski is becoming smarter with age. Focusing on Putin's "justification" for dismembering Georgia,B rzezinski told the Left-wing Huffington Post:    

"At stake is what kind of role Russia will play in the new international system.  Putin is putting Russia on a course that is ominously similar to Stalin's and Hitler's in the 1930s...It is important that Russia  be stopped now by mobilizing a concerted, global effort to oppose and condemn the Russian invasion.  Ultimately, that could lead to economic and financial sanctions."

Soft Power Will Not Stop Russian Aggression

Thoughtful scholars are expressing accord with our observation last week that unless European Union powers are cured of their  fixation with "soft power,"  Russia will be encouraged to act against the Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states. Noted military strategist Edward Luttwak of the Washington Centre for Strategic and International Studies wrote in the London Telegraph:

"Tanks once again decide what happens.  'Soft power,' on which so many hopes had been pinned, has just been exposed as irrelevant...The decision on whether to confront Russia is an enormously tough one.  But that decision will have to be made.  Europe's holiday from serious geopolitics is over."                                 

Casting blame on the Georgian president for provoking Putin, as the international press has reported, may not be correct. An American executive who has worked closely with Georgia blamed the crisis in large part on Saakashvili's inexperience, but added that "Russia is a bully" which should be  given "a bloody nose, i.e.,  make it pay a price." But my knowledgeable source on the ground in Tbilisi-former U.S. Ambassador David J. Smith, director of the Georgian Security Analysis Center-insists it is wrong to blame Saakashvili because "Moscow had planned its attack and massed its forces for weeks."  Trying to find the truth is the reason I will go to Georgia next month.  Meanwhile, Russian promises of withdrawal of forces pursuant to the cease-fire, arranged by President Sarkozy and Secretary Rice, are belied by facts on the ground. The Russian stranglehold on a key road, ports and the economy remains intact.  Russian destruction of a vital railroad bridge was military vandalism.  Horrific tales of razing and looting of Georgian villages are confirmed, though Ossetians make similar claims of ethnic cleansing.  The objectives of the Russians remain as we reported last week:  (1) Deposing President Saakashvili; (2) Destroying Georgia's economy and infrastructure,  and (3)  Monopolizing Caspian energy supply.


No Coherent Western Response Yet

Western nations have yet to develop a coherent response to these outrages.  The U.N. Security Council is as helpless as when confronted with Iranian defiance of its Resolutions.  Faced with a Russian veto, the Council is still "discussing" the situation.  Anyone who witnessed the televised remarks of Russian Ambassador Churkin, denouncing all descriptions of Russian actions as "propaganda", would have thought the Cold War had returned.   None could dare call his crude belligerence "diplomacy."  Compelling the Russians to veto a strong  Security Council resolution, with the assistance of France (current E.U. President) remains a good idea.  More important is mustering will among European powers to consider NATO membership for border states menaced  by Russia.  As another indication of returning Cold War mentality, The Nation,  a venerable leftist magazine which held that Stalin did not threaten American interests, strongly objected to NATO membership for Ukraine and Poland.  If NATO can not reverse its current malaise and restore itself as an alliance in which political reach is matched by military muscle, it will become as ineffectual as the European Union in international crises.  Change now comes swiftly.  A couple of years ago, I delivered a paper at an Istanbul conference on Black Sea security in which I noted that the  juxtaposition of the end of the Cold War with the Iraq War transformed Turkey into the country most unfriendly to the U.S. on the Black Sea.  Now Russia again bears that distinction, although our troubles with Turkey's Islamist government are not over.

Accepting that there is no quick counter to Russian aggression against Georgia, a page from Karl Marx's book-i.e., the primacy of economics-provides a possible key to restraining Russian expansionism.  Russia's Central Bank announced last week a massive drop in foreign currency reserves.  Investor's Business Daily commented:  "Investors are fed up with rampant militaristic nationalism, red tape, corruption, and anti-investor sentiment in Putin's Russia.  Some have decided to head for the door and take their money with them." 

Russia's population is declining by over 500,000 per year due to alcoholism and poor health care.  Per capita GDP is up just 2% above where it was in 1989, meaning virtually no growth for 20 years.  Despite the enormous personal wealth of Putin and his cabal, as Investor's concluded: "Putin is likely to discover, no matter what he does, he's still going to be too far behind the  U.S., both militarily and economically, to challenge us."  But none of that cures the immediate  agony of  Georgia. 

August Remains a Wicked Month

August  is a "wicked month," as Edna O'Brien titled  her tragic 1965 novel. World War 1--that calamity which gave rise to all the evils of the last century -- began in August.  Historian Barbara Tuchman wrote memorably of the "Guns of August."  Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who died this month, wrote his epic "August 1914" in an anti-Tolstoyan mode to show that human blunders can cause tragic consequences, e.g,  destruction of the central Russian army leading to Communist rule.  It looks as if the tanks of August 2008  will cause this month to be remembered, in infamy, as an enduringly wicked August. 

Joel J. Sprayregen is a Chicago lawyer and writer on international security matters.  He has travelled in Georgia  and expects to return there next month before attending a conference on regional security matters in Azerbaijan.