Big Mistake Of ’08 (updated slightly)

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.

Georgia — ‘Oops My Bad

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.


  1. inquire says

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned that Georgia started the war during the opening of the Olympic games – could they have given Moscow a riper gift? Please, crush us with overwhelming power while the world is looking away… truly outstanding how the Georgians managed to promote Russia’s interests to the hour of the assault.

  2. Anon says

    Yesterday a good portion of CNN was dedicated to mulling the possibility or non-possibility of a Colin Powell endorsement of OBama – Based on a FOX story.

    We doubt the veracity of the FOX story – It sound like someone is trying to pre-spin Powell and either rain on his vanity parade or make his non endorsement seem like news.

    But it’s really irrelevent – that’s why our decadent news talks about it. re Blondikas – we’d like some more to replace dead weight like Jeanny Moos whose unfunny daily segment is a mystery.

    But back to Powell – what’s up with him being respectable still? Also, Why is conspiracy theorist who wrote that dumb bio about Cheney and the bogus book “The Connection” about Qaeda and Iraq on TV?

  3. Anon says

    re Talbottt – We think he has become hawkish, not because the stakes are high – but because they are lower. He thinks. Also, anti-communism was always somewhat socially embarassing – Especially when the communists were on the march.- So when some pink sweaty thick necked McCarthyite started screaming about Reds under his bed – Talbott and other bien pensant types recoiled like the rifles they never learned to fire.

    Talbott also was doing what many pundist in the mainstream do – They “bargain” (to borrow from Shelby Steele) with the neocons and hawks during times they think hawkisg views will just be lost in the wind and have no impact. In other words – Talbott knows the jig is up and the Russians won and everything being said is BS and hot air – So now is the time, in his mind, to sound hawkish and tough – Precisely because its irrelevent playacting.

    Later on, when he is responsible for something and wants to be reasonable – He can (he thinks) go on Hannity or before the Weekly Standard crowd and remind them how tough is was with Serbs and how strong he condemmed the Russians.

    Its all a dance.
    Kagan was unhappy though – Bob usually is the smiling one – He is the one with a pleasant demeanor to contrast with Freds dark D&D countenance.

    Simply – the Neocon/CNN domestic/Bush narrative is not gaining true traction abroad. Even Murdochs London Times is telling the truth

  4. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Your views are mine.

    That Kagan is still given a prominent platform at all just another sign of American decadence and profound historical illiteracy (historical as in just 5 years ago).

    We never thought Talbott could ever live up to his hype (external and internally driven). True, Khrushchev Remembers is a magnificent achievement. His other works detailing the in-fighting in the Reagan Administration are also top notch. Nonetheless, these amazing accomplishments do not guarantee a fine strategic mind. We think his tenure in government demonstrates this amply.

    As for CNN International vs CNN domestic, all to sadly correct. The corporate programmers indeed know their demographics. And missing blonde girls, shark attacks and disconnected factoids are what they believe retain eyeballs. That cold hearted assessment is possibly the most glaring pronouncement on America today.

    Certainly one could argue causality, particularly from a Continental (especially German tradition) point of view. But who among us thinks the NASCAR Nation embraces the PBS News Hour? Or BBC International?, etc. At best they tune into the blondikas with botox lips on Fox for the wink as FOX decries eroding public morals while showing endless clips of it — strippers, etc. etc. (to be distinguished from their ‘news anchors’ precisely how we’ve yet to discern).

    There are plenty of news sources out there. Frankly, Americans are not consumers. Networks go where they get the ratings to support advertising. Perhaps that web-based show with naked people delivering the news was prescient after all.

  5. Anon says

    Not only do we think Russia probably provokes Georgia into acting first – But we think you are spot on when you discuss the mixed signals Condi and Cheney and Bush sent to Georgia.

    That has to be investigated –

  6. Anon says

    Just a quick extra point – Kagan and the rest of the panel seemed to suggest that Russia just invaded Georgia and that started it – They were using the CNN domestic narrative.

    CNN International – (same company) Is reporting a complicated story that features Georgia starting it and Russia pouncing.\

    It seems CNN does not trust the US public enough to handle this more complicated narrative.

    This is not to excuse what Russia did – Indeed, we assume they tricked and provoked Saakashvilli into acting stupidly and rashly. Now they are gonna wrench Georgia away from the west. Indeed, we think they will also convince the Israelis and the French to stop arming Georgia.

    Alas – we also note the once dovish Strobe Talbott seemed pretty hawkish up there on the panel.

    He took exception to the comparison w/ Kosovo – But we think he slipped. Serbia was not enthically cleansing Kosovo they way Talbott suggested – Serbias ethnic cleansing was in Bosnias Serb Republic.

    The spector of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo (recall the alleged mass graves and missing 100000 men) was a propaganda gambit used by the Clinton admin to sell the war.

    It seems Talbott fell for the old problem of believing his own propaganda.

    Are we wrong Doc? Are we missing something?

    Lots of arrogance and denial at Brookings today –

  7. Anon says

    Bob Kagan was just on a panel at Brookings quoting a supposed high ranking French official that he said he cannot name.

    Call us cynical, but we doubt the existence of this mysterious Frenchman – who just happened to say something that re-inforced some arrogant Kagan talking point.

    But the irony was that this Frenchman – who probably does not actuallly exist – was correct when “he” told Bob that “we” cannot give “map” (Kagans insiderspeak for roadmap to NATO) to Georgia because Russia might invade Georgia.

    So Kagan’s point seemed to be that Russia invaded Georgia anyway – so Duh, the Frog was all wet. Then Kagan helpfully pointed out that we are still much stronger militarily than Russia despite being tied down in Iraq and Afgan. Kagan was clear that we should not be afraid to confront Russia militarily – otherwise the Baltic states will lose confidence that we will defend them.

    Maybe we are wrong and Kagan is right, Leo – Correct us if we are wrong. But we very much doubt that there is political will to confront Russia militarily over Georgia – especially when the public learns where this Georgia is.

    Kagans are tough guys – Granted. They always itch for a fight. Maybe we are being wusses – like that Frenchman (who probably does’t exist). But we think the Russians are gonna win this round and the fact that we did not give “map” to Georgia is a blessing – It allows us to backaway and save face.

    God help us if that hothead McCain was in there now.

  8. Anon says

    If we had to guess – we think Saakashvilli got mixed signals and then his advisors encouraged to be bold. But he is in big trouble now and is already hinting he feels betrayed.

    Will this help McCain politically? Maybe – though we think its just another good reason to keep the once jovial , but now angry warmonger far from any decision making authority.

    Bush is being carefull in fact (or after the fact), if silly with his words. McCain might have stumbled into war with Russia – A Crimea-type war of his own.

    Obama’s big political problem is not his vaction – That has kept him from making rash comments. Rather , it’s his divided base of advisors – some of them outside his inner circle who are crypto neocons re Georgia/NATO accession/ etc etc.

    They are harming his response options by conforming to Bush’s truncated narrative/

  9. Anon says

    Have been trying to take a break from politics, but as the Original Neocon might have said, “politics doesn’t want to take a break from us.”

    Anyway – It’s sort of funny, but re Georgia/Ossetia war is told in two different ways on CNN. CNN International is reporting a very different conflict than CNN domestic.

    Most of the details are the same but the casual viewer watching on CNN channel gets a very different narrative thrust than the casual viewer on the other channel.

    1. CNN International is Russo-skeptic – They describe a Georgia move against Ossetia that was later used as pretext for Russia to move against Georgia proper. There is specualtion about whether or not Bush gave the green light and/or Saakishvilli was naive and over reacher and fell into a trap. The Ossetian cause itself is not addressed and Russian concerns are not really considered.

    2. CNN presents a black and white story that features an irrational, brutal, and random Russian invasion occuring out of the blue, with a reponse from Bush, then McCain, and then Obama. US domestic politics is analyzed and , for the most part, the viewer is not told that Georgia seems to have been the first to act against Ossetia last Thursday. If CNNI is properly Russo-skeptic, CNN domestic seems Russo-phobic.
    CNN domestic gives zero context to Condi’s totally meaningless blather – Further, they just report Bush’s odd comments as if they have some sort of weight

    For our part – we really have no idea what happened – less now than the day before.

    Suspect that CNN is afraid to report the full context. Too much information – too many facts – is considered anti Bush bias. So instead lets hear Campbell Brown interview some bloggers.

  10. Anon says

    Good post – maybe Saakahvilli should step down and get together with Olmert when he is freed and open up a paintball camp where they could indulge in harmless adventure that doesn’t hurt anyone and may make money.

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