We are all Georgians

Georgia became independent during the break-up of the USSR in 1991. Ever since, Russia, regretting this, has been making mischief. Russia — even while violently opposing the concept of secessionism with respect to Chechnya — instigated and supported the secession of two provinces of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia says it has a lot of its citizens in South Ossetia. It does only because it has connived at South Ossetia’s secession, put its troops in South Ossetia as so-called “peacekeepers” and given Russian passports to the inhabitants. All of this is utterly disgraceful on Russia’s part.
Recently Georgia’s democratically elected President Saakashvili — whom Putin loathes because Saakashvili is in fact legitimately elected — tried to reassert Georgian sovereignty in South Ossetia which, again, is within its borders. Russia has used this as a pretext to not only invade South Ossetia, but to go much farther, bombing and destroying way beyond South Ossetia, its clear aim being to just give Georgia and Saakashvili a bloody nose, to destabilize the country, to get rid of Saakashvili, and teach the lesson that it’s a bully who’d better be accommodated in whatever it wants.
This is totally unacceptable. And the response of the West has been pathetically limp. Barack Obama talks about diplomacy, and going to the UN Security Council. Perhaps he has forgotten that Russia has a veto in the Security Council. In cases like this, the UN is simply not available to provide any remedy. John McCain had previously proposed creating a league of democratic nations, outside the UN system, to provide a kind of legitimacy for the good guys to take needed action without having to get the permission of the bad guys. It’s a pity this proposal had not been adopted earlier; it might have been quite good to have such an organization in this Georgia crisis.
In any case, it is urgent that we get our act together and make clear to Russia that there is a price to be paid for this kind of bloody behavior. We must make Russia pay a price even if that entails accepting costs to ourselves in doing so. It’s worth the cost.

On Tuesday August 19, at noon, at the Albany Public Library on Washington Avenue, I will be presenting a review of Robert Kagan’s book, The Return of History and the End of Dreams. Kagan’s book is obviously intended as a riposte to Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book, The End Of History and the Last Man. Fukuyama had argued in essence not that historical events are over, but that the broad process of history, in terms of Man’s search for a societal model, had reached a conclusion: that liberal democracy and free market economics is the final model, that satisfies Man’s primordial hunger for what he called “thymos,” a word derived from Plato, roughly translated as “spiritedness,” and entailing the quest for recognition as beings of dignity and worth. Kagan, however, maintains that geopolitical competition among nations has not gone away, that the world is still divided between democracies and autocracies, and that the latter are behaving in accordance with the ancient model of power politics.
The other day Kagan commented on the radio that the Georgia situation confirms his thesis: history is back. However, Kagan’s book is not as pessimistic as you might think. In fact, his ultimate conclusion is merely that there was too much optimism at the end of the Cold War, and today there is actually too much pessimism. While democracy does not prevail by grace of some ineluctable force, it can prevail by our efforts on its behalf. We must not complacently shirk those efforts.
While it is true that we confront the same bad old Russia, operating in a Nineteenth Century manner, the terrain in which it operates has completely changed, with most of the rest of the world having moved on to the Twenty-first century. And even with the Western response as pusillanimous as it’s been, nevertheless Russia has been obliged to halt its Georgia invasion. In today’s world, Russia cannot simply annex Georgia — as it had in fact done in the past. It is indeed a different world now.

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6 Responses to “We are all Georgians”

  1. Drona K Says:

    Does Georgia have oil or any other resource that we need? It is certainly a thorn in the side of our traditional enemy so we should probably support it anyway! 🙂

    FSR COMMENT: Georgia is not resource rich (well, except for wine), but is geopolitically important because a big energy pipeline between the Caspian and the Mediterranean runs through it. But we should support Georgia because it’s right to do so — it is a small democratic country that is being beaten up by a big nasty bully (Putin’s Russia). And I hate to make an overdone analogy, but this truly is a case of the 1930s all over again. If Russia finds it can get away with stomping Georgia, with no penalty, there is no end to the further mischief it can be emboldened to make.

  2. Inga Says:

    I do not think McCain said anything wrong when he said we are “all Georgian” today. This is a symbolic expression. Last year when Russia deported non-Russian Georgian citzens, raided schools to suspend children of non-citizen Georgians, and after skinheads killed people speaking Georgian, many Russian citizens wore a badge “I am a Georgian” to show solidarity. Even people who attended Ana Politkovskaya’s funeral (Journalist who was killed the day her book “Putin’s Russia” was published in Russia.) wore the same badge “I am a Georgian.” So please do not make this a political expression I believe this was dedicated to people who died in Georgia past five days.

  3. Tamara Says:

    How come US rushed to aid Albanians in Kosovo, but completely ignored the genocide of Ossetians in Georgia? Are we to understand that as long as a country is an “ally” of US, it can massacre whoever & whenever it pleases? i have Ossetian blood in me & it is very painful to see how Georgians are presented as “innocent victims” & Russians are the occupants & have invaded Georgia… South Ossetia has declared independance just like Kosovo did. Why don’t WE matter & why is Saakashvilli not treated like Slobodan Milocevich or Saddam Houssein, when his actions are identical to their actions of genocide?

    FSR COMMENT: With sincere respect to Tamara: I really don’t think there is any comparability between Kosovo and South Ossetia. The Russian claim of Georgian “genocide” in S. Ossetia is a complete and transparent lie. The South Ossetia secession was not a genuine indigenous movement in response to any oppression by Georgia (there was no such oppression, Georgia being a democratic country, unlike in the case of Serbia and Kosovo). Instead the South Ossetia secession was instigated in the first place by trouble-making Russia. We intervened in Kosovo because huge numbers of Albanian Kosovars had already been chased out of their homes by Serbs in ethnic cleansing, a gigantic humanitarian crime. There was absolutely no such Georgian crime against South Ossetia.
    (Later) An e-mail from Inga, and my reply:

    On Aug 13, 2008, at 9:30 PM, Inga Gabadze wrote:

    Please read what HRW has documented so far.
    http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2008/08/13/georgi19607.htm

    Inga,
    Yes, exactly: “South Ossetian militias that were moving along the road looted the Georgian villages and set them on fire. Human Rights Watch saw numerous vehicles carrying South Ossetian militia members, as well as Russian military transports moving in the direction of Tskhinvali.”

    Who are these “South Ossetian Militias” wreaking so much havoc? Are they creatures of the government of Georgia? No! They are creatures of the Russian meddling, travelling with and working with the Russian forces. It is Russia that is responsible for all this criminality — not Georgia.

    Frank

  4. Drona K Says:

    When Saddam Hussein was an ally of the US during his war against Iran, it was ok for him to gas the Kurds. Pakistan allows Taliban/Al Qaeda/Kashmiri terrorists to train and seek refuge from allied forces in the NWFP – particularly in South Waziristan. Since Musharaff and his military machine are (according to GWB) our greatest allies in the War on Terror they can apparently act in such a duplicitous manner without repercussions (This is really unbelievable!) So, yes, it is ok for our allies to misbehave.

    What makes this democracy different? Our foreign policy often ignored and undermined if not directly or indirectly overthrew democracies (Mossadegh’s iran, Haiti over and over again).

    Frank, you are correct, we should support Georgia because it is the right thing to do. BUT, doing the right thing is not always what we do. Our foreign policy has been to support measures that seem to be in our short term best interest. I believe that we have overextended our military resources and we have soured the world to our “diplomatic” resources. We also cannot state the “right thing to do is for Russia to pull out in this illegal action” as we are in iraq and this would be hypocritical. Thankfully, Russia and Georgia have come to an accord in the past 24 hours and hopefully this will last for a while. Ultimately, this will happen again as the Russians have traditionally been ruthlessly hegemonistic in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe. And we have traditionally allowed the Russians these “spheres of influence!”

  5. Robert Leslie Fisher Says:

    Russia overplayed its hand in Georgia and it is already paying a price. Poland will now have a sizable missile shield and numerous other nervous former satellites and client states of the old USSR will be seeking similar weapons and security guarantees against Russia’s aggression. I doubt if Putin were as bright as his sycophants claim he would be happy to have debstabilized his borders by acting so brazenly against Georgia. Were he as clever as he needed to be, he would have called for an independent investigation of claims of genocide in the breakaway provinces. But everyone sees through he pathetic disinformation campaign. In fact the Russians are now whining about the Georgian disinformation campaign to make them out as bullies (they are) and aggressors.
    If I were a Russian security planner I would be wondering if perhaps we need new leadership. Putin made a big mistake. He should have copied the Chinese who, outside of Tibet, generally like to reassure everyone they are lovable Panda bears who scrupulously avoid interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. That policy has helped them smooth testy relations with Japan with whom they signed an agreement resolving some of their outstanding territorial disputes. It is not nearly so successful in Sudan where the corrupt and brutal government is committing genocide in Darfur or in Burma where an equally corrupt govenment is permitting its own people to starve to death. But no country has been especially good at dealing with the brutality and corruption of its allies. Look at how we turn a blind eye to Egypt’s corruption or the problems in Pakistan under Musharrif or the narcostate we support in Afghanistan etc.

  6. Drona K Says:

    We have forgiven Pakistan $3 BILLION worth of debts and given them more money, favorable loan agreements, weapons deals and other incentives to support our WOT. Meanwhile, the Pakistani’s ISI continues to train terrorists in their madrassas, and allow terrorists safety in the NWFP and FATA. Our troops battle these terrorists in Afghanistan and they run across the border to safety in Pakistan. Our troops are not allowed by the Pakistanis to pursue across the border. So the terrorists cross the border after killing our troops and taunt us with “nah nah nah poo poo…” We can’t even pay the Pakistanis enough after BILLIONS of dollars to help us – even though they are our BEST FRIENDS in the WOT. SO, how could we control any of our allies?

    The people of breakaway republics the former Soviet Union are often wild and difficult to tame as they have been brutally repressed for a century or more and only know violence. They have also been stripped of their nationalism. Now, they want their own republics – which is understandable but impractical. The Caucasus region is full of pockets of “Caucasians,” Indo-Iranians, Turkic, and Slavic peoples. Dividing this region based on all these differences would result in tiny little South Ossetia sized states that could not survive in the real world. So, the US and the Russians can now play the proxy game again – just like the cold war!

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