- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 13, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

OP-ED:

“It’s hard for us to understand what the Russian plan is,” said a senior U.S. official who briefed reporters over the weekend on the Russian invasion of Georgia. One must hope that the claimed bafflement at Russian intentions is merely one of those diplomatic lies that honorable statesmen are obliged to recite from time to time.

In fact, Russian intentions are quite clear. Georgia has cozied up to Uncle Sam as part of a now almost two-decades long effort by the United States to bring the former non-Russian Soviet republics and Eastern European formerly captive nations into the American-led sphere of influence - and out from under Russia’s historic suzerainty over the lands just beyond its border.

America’s aggressive diplomacy in this regard was heightened recently when, at the NATO summit in Bucharest this year, it pressed for Georgia and Ukraine’s membership of the alliance. Moreover, America (and Britain) have been providing military assistance to the Georgians in the form of arms and training. As the London Times has noted: “[That] support is aimed at encouraging the rise of Georgia as an independent, sovereign state.”

Did our government assume that we could continue to bait the Russian bear in his cave and not eventually get his claw thrashed against our face?

Since the commencement of Russian military hostilities, President Bush has been making loud and emphatic demands for Russia to cease and desist its military assault on Georgia. Of course, with: 1) the Russian Black Sea fleet cheerfully banging away at the Georgian coast with no U.S. naval opposition; 2) the Russian air force bombing Georgian cities with no air defense from the U.S.; and 3) Russian tanks rolling into little Georgia with no plausible U.S. Army forces available to even give Czar Putin a second thought, Mr. Bush’s words are worse than meaningless. They, in fact, mean that the weakened state of America - militarily, diplomatically, economically - and on the basis of our negative energy position has stripped an American president’s cautionary words of any power. Rather, they encourage others to ignore our threatening words. A nation that threatens without the perceived capacity to carry out the threat is a mockery of a great power.

John McCain, technically correct, noted that “Tensions and hostilities between Georgians and Ossetians are in no way justification for Russian troops crossing an internationally recognized border.” But, of course, Russia wasn’t looking for a justifiable and proportional act - it was looking to begin to regain power on its western and southern borders.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama stated that the military escalation resulted from the “lack of a neutral and effective peacekeeping force operating under an appropriate U.N. mandate.” This naive and legalistic assertion completely misses the point of international relations. Peacekeepers are not intended to fight Russian tanks. There is no peace to be kept.

Russia invaded because it could, and it saw it in its interest to do so. This wasn’t a mismanaged peacekeeping effort. This was a mismanaged foreign policy from Washington because it attempted to gain American influence against Russia without provisioning sufficient American power-military, economic and energy-based to sustain our policy when challenged by Russia - as surely we would be eventually, as in fact we now have been.

Three successive presidents (George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) have all followed Henry Kissinger’s early post-Soviet advice to push the line between the West and Russia as far east as possible. It is a sensible policy - so long as it is supported by adequate material means and executed with some diplomatic deftness. But each of those presidents has overseen - at the same time that they asserted our influence further east - the reduction in our fighting land, sea and air forces. And both Mr. Clinton and the current Mr. Bush have been anything but deft. Mr. Clinton, after all, went to war - bombing civilian Serbian cities for two months against Russia’s little Slavic brother. And Mr. Bush overplayed his weak hand in Bucharest when he called for Georgia and Ukraine’s admission into NATO (and got turned down even by our NATO allies).

None of this excuses Russia’s rude assertion of military power against little Georgia. But here in America, our condemnatory words will have little effect in Moscow. We can influence Moscow (and other restless aggressors) only by building our own nation’s strength back to the point where our words alone mean something internationally. And our words alone will then mean something because they will not be completely alone - they will be backed by our real, usable strength. In large part, that is what our presidential election ought to be about: How to strengthen our blessed land - with over-awing military strength, a bountiful and independent energy supply and a strong and prosperous free market.

Tony Blankley is a syndicated columnist.

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