The pattern repeats Posted by: McQ
on Friday, August 22, 2008
Ralph Peters takes a look at the Russo-Georgian confrontation and points out that in reality, this is nothing new. Russia, observing what has been going on with Iran and the West, did what it was sure it could get away with:
The result? Russia won this war, energetically integrating the various elements of governmental power-military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic and informational-in the manner that Western doctrine preaches, but to a degree that Western powers have yet to achieve anywhere. While frightened Poland immediately agreed to participate in a new American anti-missile program and terrified Ukraine asked to be included, as well, the cocktail-reception anger elsewhere on the continent will dissipate rapidly. And the United States can do little in the Georgia case without determined European support. "Reason" will prevail, and Russia will suffer no meaningful penalties. Putin will, literally, get away with murder.
He'll murder again, as a consequence. We've seen this pattern played out in the United States, when, in the 1990s, the Clinton administration refused to take Islamist terrorism seriously: al Qaeda was supposed to fade away because we wanted it to fade away. But al Qaeda wasn't interested in our wishes. Likewise, Western European states that have enjoyed the richest, longest stretch of peace in their history don't want the party to end and so make excuses for Russia.
But the party always ends. Vladimir Putin just put Europe on notice that time's up and the catering bills are due. Nonetheless, Western Europe will continue its efforts to duck out on its strategic creditors: The continent's oldest democracies will have to be cornered miserably before they accept the new, brutal reality created by Russia's new czar. In the short term, Putin will continue to terrorize Georgia. In the mid-term, his diplomats will placate Europe with promises. In the long-term, he'll do whatever he damn well pleases. For all his savagery, it's impossible not to admire Putin's Kampfgeist. He may well be the giant of our age.
That said, this latest burst of Russian imperialism will end badly for Russia-eventually. Russia's patterns are deeply ingrained, and Putin is the quintessential Russian in his ambitions (if not in his tee-totaling). Russia always overreaches, and Putin will, too. But the longer he is left unchecked, the grimmer and costlier the ultimate confrontation is going to be.
The latter point is true as well - remember Afghanistan. It was the "bridge too far" for the old USSR. It broke its army, broke its bank and eventually broke down the wall.
Peter's other point is equally as true - the longer Russia is left unchecked, the cheekier it will get and the costlier the eventual confrontation will be. And although Peters isn't particularly impressed with the US's reaction to the crisis, unfortunately addressing it firmly now ultimately depends on the fortitude of our European allies.
As for our European allies, Peters and Putin seem to have them figured out pretty well too:
The Putin regime was perfectly willing to let Monsieur le President return to Paris with a signed piece of paper. The Russians have drawn the lesson from Western efforts to negotiate with Iran and other rogue states that Europe can be narcotized with empty agreements and nebulous promises and that Europe has become a continent of bureaucrats who much prefer paperwork to reality. And there are no penalties when the agreements prove worthless. The Russian government was reasonably polite, but did not take Sarkozy seriously. Even as he presumed to speak for the European Union, he had no practical leverage with the Kremlin.
And, that's just a fact.
Stopping Russia, and stopping Russia from repeating what it did in Georgia, is going to take more than diplomacy and signed agreements. Europe, of all places, should realize that better than anyone. The Eastern European countries certainly do. However they don't drive the EU/NATO train unfortunately.
Like the old commercial said, "you can pay me now, or you can pay me later". As everyone knows, the later payment is always, always much higher than the earlier one.
With all due respect to Ralph Peters, there are a number of things going on with this Georgia-Russia tempest. I don’t mean, as some suggest, that it’s oil pipelines or, as Peters suggests, European fecklessness (though there certainly is a pipeline and the Europeans are indeed feckless).
First, Russia is "coming out of" (in parens because they’re not really coming out of it) a long post-Cold War humiliation. This Georgia thing, carried out with Russia’s usual delicate touch, is similar in some respects to our post-Vietnam military burp in Grenada and Thatcher’s post-everything-British-in-the-world escapade in the Falklands. (Both great morale boosters, I’m sure.)
Russia is a "great power," you know. It sits permanently on the Hew-Nited Nations Seecurity Council. It has half its former population. (Whoops. How’d that get in there.)
And Georgia has not only been a stone in Russia’s shoe. To mix metaphors, Georgia has also poked its stick into the Russian hornets nest. That’s not a good idea when you’re already a stone in the Russian shoe.
But let’s leave poor little Georgia out of this for a moment. It’s not to blame for its unfortunate location on the world map.
Russia is a corpse in armor, to borrow again Toynbee’s phrase, which I believed he first applied to the ancient Assyrians. The Russians have an immense nuclear arsenal, don’t you know. And their novelists! Their great novelists!
So, they can still blow up the world, and take over small countries on their borders. That’s quite a mix of capabilities.
Perhaps, if they are really feeling their oats, they can be convinced to take back the Afghanistan portfolio and have another crack at that place, though this time in the new light of the war on terror. I sense that they wouldn’t be interested.
Finally, who is the real threat to Russia? The Europeans with their loving integrative embrace of their once-upon-a-time social*st mentor? The United States with its benign mission as guarantor of strategic peace?
Or is it China, with a billion and a half people looking over a huge border at all that depopulated real estate in Russia’s east end?
Who is this show really being put on for? In the deepest recesses of one V. Putin’s mind? What is the real future that Russia faces?