Should the alleged cease fire hold in Ossetia (which as of this writing appears to be breaking down) the Georgian decision to start this conflict must surely rank as one of the most serious regional miscalculations in recent memory. As we all too painfully know, Americans drunk on Neocon Kool-Aid and ‘Freedom’ have never really bothered with details of regional and ethnic histories. Expanding NATO eastwards has always been one of the most provocative yet empty initiatives undertaken — this time not just by Americans but the geopolitically feeble EU as well. Who among us really thinks the U.S. would (or could) go to war over Ukraine? Poland? Let alone Georgia. Sarkozy’s six point agreement with the Russians is about the limit of EU willingness to intervene.
This may be the debacle’s only silver lining; American ill-considered interference in the Russian Near Abroad is not without consequences. Georgia’s misfortune starkly illuminates the consequences of American commitments and pledges of American power — made under both Democratic and Republican Administrations. One can not escape the reality: geopolitical overextensions become hollow very quickly. With real consequences. America was and remains essentially an amphibious geopolitical construct. Throughout history, amphibian power has never successfully penetrated the Eurasian World Island — of which Russia is the heart. Sustained amphibian power — not just ephemeral JDAM strikes — when historically successful, is limited to the World Island’s littorals with clear geopolitically limited (usually defensive) and ultimately temporary presences.
Attempts otherwise did not fare well. India, contrary to British then-contemporary thought (think Victoria’s 1887 Jubilee) , was a net drain on British power, economic viability and ultimately signaled the end of Empire. Crossing the Yalu to engage China in the center of the World Island? In face of signals to the contrary? You know what happened. Even the catastrophic German drag nach osten is essentially a littoral/fringe power seeking to subdue the World Island. Vietnam? Iraq? And so on.
Capitals across the entire the Eurasian World Island — not just Moscow and immediate vicinity — can not but be reminded of this essential geopolitical reality. And see that rollback of American amphibian influence even on the littoral. Around the entire periphery. When the inevitable withdrawal from Iraq — timetable or no — is televised and burned into the global retina with imagery, this will be a fact tattooed onto world memory. Moreover, American financial capacity to mount another ‘expeditionary’ blunder is exhausted today for all to see. (This only underscores the strategically ill-considered attempt to encircle China and Russia in Central Asia while simultaneously pursuing without prioritization every initiative conceivable).
Georgia blundered badly starting their war. Yet they did over the years receive these mixed signals — Condi’s recent visit — as well as their assumption that joining “Operation Iraqi Excellent Adventure” would provide tangible returns. The Americans also extended many semi-official indications (including from the vaunted International Republican Institute). These representatives were unsupervised and often wildly exceeded official policy in euphoric if not deliberate manner. It is no real surprise for the Georgians to believe possibly (but not definitively) that they were de facto, if not de jure, under some kind of strategic American umbrella. The Israeli and others’ role in the conflict and lead up is also tangible but the extent still unclear.
How Georgia begins the process of rebuilding now is extraordinarily problematic. Any interpreted ‘interference’ in Georgia now via moderate Western economic aid is fraught with complicated implications. The entire range of facts are not in. But should there be any American, Israeli or other fingerprints on this disaster (through a green light or deliberate turn of the head away) we are morally obligated to negotiate a way to repair wounds. Even without complicity, American diplomatic efforts (such as they are) should pursue this course regardless of EU reluctance — while recognizing the limits noted above.
There are other conclusions we are more loathe to put in writing at this time. Our prayers, like to those whose lives have been lost in Iraq, go out to those souls who paid the price for others’ reckless folly.