Saturday, August 9, 2008

WWIII ? You decide.

From the NY Times this morning:
"The Russian defense ministry said 100 planeloads of airborne troops will be
brought to northern Russia and marched into the “zone of hostilities.” Georgian
officials said at least 2,500 Russian troops were already in the country. "
From the story copied below from a friend:
"In the summer of 1914, a Serbian terrorist shot and killed Archduke Franz
Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo. A series of interlocking alliances were
activated, resulting in an invasion of Western Europe by German and Austrian
armies, resulting in World War I, which resulted in 20 million deaths."

This was on my mind when I read reports this morning. I don't know enough to say if the parallel is a good one -- but Georgia (former Soviet state) presents an interesting confluence of factors:

  • Iran to southeast. Are we staging for an attack? Some evidence for it. A Russian attack would make a good distraction, and difficult for us to use Georgia as a base (if we are at all -- we have some military advisors there).
  • Iran to the southeast. How might they take advantage of the situation if we are drawn in?
  • Turkey to south. NATO ally, Devout muslim president who doesn't view the West so charitably. If NATO intevenes, does he allow use of Turkey for staging forces?
  • Oil. Not much in Georgia, but Russians are threatening a pipeline transiting Georgia. Press talks about it, but CIA Factbook description sounds minor.
  • NATO. Georgia seeks membership. Putin and his cronies hate the idea.
  • Ambition. Putin longs for the good old days of the Soviet empire.
  • Psychology: How much is Putin willing to risk to get it? My sense is a lot -- he wants power more than trade for profit.
  • Brinksmanship. If we blink, Putin will know what he can get away with. (Certainly he's encouraged in that view by Bush's flacid response to 9/11 and Iran)
  • Drama. The timing can't be ignored. While holding hands at the Beijing Olympics, Putin gooses Bush. It's like responding to a rude guest a large party: no one wants to say anything, or in this case, do anything to disrupt the festivities. Deer in the headlights syndrome.
  • China. If we helped Georgia and war escalated rapidly and moved beyond, drawing in Nato, etc, would China seize the opportunity to seize Taiwan? I wouldn't put it beyond them. Opporknockity tunes but once. Carpe diem. Or Taiwan.
  • Russian military. How good are they today? How good are their nukes and their ICBMs? (How many are still functioning?)

As Cyrano de Bergerac might say, "Then, as I end the refrain, thrust home!"

Reports this morning say the Russians are attacking deep within Georgia, including the Black Sea port of Poti. I think their intentions go beyond seizing South Ossetia (a small northern province of Georgia). I think Putin wants the entire state of the strongly pro-Western Georgia. The question is, will we stop him? Georgia has a small population of about 4 million -- there's no way they can hold off the Russians themselves, if they really want the place. But if we intervene, it becomes a big deal.

As I said, I'm no expert on this region, or even on a lot of the nuances of the geopolitics of who will support whom with what. It may be the West will rollover dead and let Putin take Georgia to avoid a bigger crisis. Maybe it's even likely. But I will make a general observation: years of U.S. foreign policy that has forestalled or needlessly diluted necessary military action to eliminate threats decisively and early around the world, or foreign policy that encourages the emergence of those threats in the first place, has encouraged no end of tin-pot dictators and irrational ideologies and religions of their opportunities for ascendency, and created a pressure-cooker situation belied by the cheery facade of the Beijing Olympics.

Whether it's Georgia or some other place, the cooker has got to eventually blow, unless something is done ASAP to shoot holes in the illusion these people have that they can achieve their agendas. I worry it may already be too late to prevent -- now in Georgia, or 5 to10 years from now, elsewhere. Where will an Obama presidency lead us? Surely more quickly down that road. Personally, I'd buy a helmet and prepare to duck. (CIA statistics on Georgia) ("1,500 Reported Killed in Georgia Battle")

-----Original Message-----

Russia invades Georgia: an Archduke Ferdinand moment?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Posted by John Keller

Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers rolled across the Georgian border yesterday in a fast-moving armored blitzkrieg in support of Georgian separatist rebels fighting in opposition to the democratic and Western-leaning established government of Georgia.

CNN is reporting that upwards of 1,000 Georgian civilians have been killed so far, and Russian warplanes have dropped bombs on at least one Georgian military air base.

This isn't a little border clash; these two countries are in an all-out war. No one has seen this kind of Russian incursion since the Soviet Union's invasions of Afghanistan in 1979, of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and of Hungary in 1956. Is this the beginning of a return to the bad old days?

Interesting that this comes the day before the Olympics open in Beijing, and the U.S. is in the heat of a presidential election. What better timing to ensure that nobody in the U.S. or the West cares much about this military invasion. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili says the Russian timing is no accident. I don't think it's any accident either.

Saakashvili made clear in an interview today that this incident represents a test of Western support for democratic governments, especially those established in the sphere of influence of the old Soviet Union, as Georgia certainly is.

Georgia has voiced its wish to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, better-known as NATO. Russia has said this would be unacceptable.

Russia has put its money and military might where its mouth is. The most fundamental geopolitical question in the world today is will the West do the same? Would it make sense for the U.S. to get involved in the Russian-Georgia War, which Russia will claim is an internal conflict and Georgia will claim is naked armed aggression against an independent democratic country?

The only thing between U.S. air bases in Iraq and the Georgian capital of T'bilisi is the country of Turkey. Would the Turks grant permission to U.S. planes to overfly its territory in support of Georgia? That's not clear. Would U.S. aircraft carriers -- they're not there already -- move into the Eastern Mediterranean -- or even into the Black Sea -- within striking distance of Georgia? We'll have to see.

The bigger question is would we want to do this? The answer is, we would if we would like the world to take the U.S. and its rhetoric supporting democratic movements and governments seriously.

Next question: COULD we get involved while U.S. forces are already stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan, and on the opening day of the Olympics? That would be ugly. We'll see if the Bush Administration has the stomach for it.

In the meantime, I'm reflecting on the history of the early 20th century. In the summer of 1914, a Serbian terrorist shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo. A series of interlocking alliances were activated, resulting in an invasion of Western Europe by German and Austrian armies, resulting in World War I, which resulted in 20 million deaths.

I wonder if the Russian invasion of Georgia is an Archduke Ferdinand moment. I hope it's not, but smaller things have resulted in global conflagrations. The risks and threats posed by the Russian invasion throughout the world are huge.

I'll be keeping a close eye.

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