Saturday, August 30, 2008

Kumbaya, Charlie Wilson

[by Mr.Hengist]

Former Democrat Representative Charles Wilson (an Obama supporter and the subject of the engaging film, “Charlie Wilson’s War") has penned an op-ed for the WaPo, “Charlie Wilson’s Peace”, and I’d like to take a stab at it.

Wilson warms up his refried Blame America First Kumbaya Liberalism by pointing out its relevancy to present day turmoil:
“Russia's invasion of Georgia has led to a more serious foreign policy discussion in the presidential campaign. As tensions rise in the Caucasus and violence once again erupts in Afghanistan, we should recall the lessons we learned from our response to earlier Russian adventurism. We must recognize now, as we learned years ago, that a strong military alone is not enough to ensure our long-term national security.”

It’s a bad start to a bad piece as Wilson characterizes the 1979 Russian invasion of Afghanistan as "adventurism" and the August 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia as a rising in tensions. Yes, I’ll bet those adventurous Russians are making tensions rise in a lot of Georgians these days. As disappointing as it is to read this softpedaling of ruthless Russian aggression against their former slave-state, it’s downright puzzling to read that violence has “once again” erupted in Afghanistan. Since the U.S. toppled the Taliban and rooted out Al-Qaeda there has not been a year gone by in which there hasn’t been substantial violence perpetrated by those fiends; prior to that the Taliban were sporadically warring against such internal competitors as the Northern Alliance for control of the country.

Wilson then belches forth a refrain often heard from Democrats for the last few years, that military power alone is not sufficient to resolve our national security problems in the world. It’s an artfully crafted meme which implies that warfighting is the only one “recognized,” implemented, by the Bush Administration, one echoed by Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and top Democrat leadership for the past couple of years. It’s a cartoonish characterization of Bush as the ham-fisted, club-wielding brute who thinks all problems are fixable with a whacking. Liberals use the Iraq war to illustrate the point – not withstanding the months-long diplomatic effort by the Bush Administration to disabuse them of this notion by exhausting the process of diplomacy in the run-up to war. Throughout the Summer, Fall, Winter, and into the Spring of 2003, POTUS Bush warned Iraq to abide by an array of modest-but-binding U.N. resolutions to verifiably abandon its WMD capabilities and development, to no avail. Wilson gives no indication as to whether he considers our war in Afghanistan as a further illustration of this meme, but neither does he account for the counterexamples, such as the peaceful resolution of the crisis when China accidentally downed an American EC-3 spyplane in April of 2001, the peaceful diplomatic negotiations pursued by the Bush administration in spite of North Korean threats and development of WMDs, the to-date peaceful diplomacy with Iran despite much the same, just to name a few. Even the Russian-Georgia crisis is being answered by Bush diplomatically, with humanitarian aid going to the Georgians as we’re strengthening the defenses of Russia’s potential victims, so it’s hard to understand why Wilson even brings it up at all.

Wilson then makes this remarkable statement:
“If we had done the right thing in Afghanistan then -- following up our military support with the necessary investments in diplomacy and development assistance -- we would have better secured our own country's future, as well as peace and stability in the region. […] instead of intensifying our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to help the Afghans meet their postwar challenges, we simply walked away -- leaving a destroyed country that lacked roads, schools, and any plan or hope for rebuilding.”

Had only we fixed what the Russians broke, no doubt by now unicorns would be pooping rainbow gumdrops on scampering fluffy bunnies across the lands. We did do the right thing in Afghanistan; we provided arms and assistance to them so they could kill their Russian occupiers, and then we left them to govern their own affairs. It’s not our fault that they were incapable of self-governance. Furthermore, it is highly speculative to state that developmental assistance would have been successful and could just as easily be mischaracterized as further examples of American hegemony.

I must confess that I’m unclear on what he means here by “investments in diplomacy,” but I suspect is has something to do with some kind of wealth redistribution rather than forming grand legions of State Department diplomats. Of course, we are now providing developmental assistance to Afghanistan, but for people like Wilson, the observation that problems still exist is sufficient to warrant the conclusion that it is so because we haven’t done enough.

Wilson makes an jawdropping coupling at this point:
"[...] the Afghans, with our weapons, had done nothing less than help precipitate the collapse of the Soviet Union.”
“[...] The lesson here is about more than the good manners of reciprocating a favor."

While the Afghan mujahideen did play a role in the collapse of the Soviet Union, Wilson is treading on thin ice in that the role of the mujahideen was marginal at best, but the concern I have is that his statement plays into the Al Queda retelling of this bit of history, in which they claim that their role was not only primary, but exclusive of any other. If we take his statement literally then, yes, they did nothing less than “help” – and nothing more, and it was of little consequence. The Soviet Union was bankrupt and facing both internal and external pressures, and had they never invaded Afghanistan the eventual collapse of that evil empire was not just inevitable but would have been little delayed.

What stuns me here is the statement that follows – that the mujahideen were somehow doing us a favor by fighting their Russian invaders. The reality is the inverse – it is the United States which did the Afghan people a favor, and no mistake. I would not argue that it was not in our best interests to aid their war – it was – but to characterize this as something that they did for us is gobsmackingly ahistorical if not outright revisionist, and Wilson knows better.

Wilson then doubles-down on his theme with this:
“It takes much more to make America safe than winning on the battlefield. Had we remained engaged in Afghanistan, investing in education, health and economic development, the world would be a very different place today.”

I would have accepted this as a matter of debatable speculation had Wilson made the case for it, but instead he states it as an unsupported fact. When we consider the many billions of dollars that we have been wasting in poverty-stricken third world hellholes over the past half-century, it’s hardly a given that all Afghanistan needed was for us to build their school system, build their healthcare system, build their industry – and presumably the infrastructure needed to support all this. From scratch, of course, as the Russians left little behind in their ignominious exit from that country.

Taking this one step further, Wilson goes on to say this:
“America is not immune to the problems of the very poorest countries. In today's world, any person's well-being -- whether he or she is in Kandahar, Kigali or Kansas -- is connected to the well-being of others. Yet, as we commit troops to the "war on terror," America's civilian institutions of diplomacy and development continue to be chronically undermanned and underfunded."

There we have it – Wilson has now connected the stingy warmongering of the United States to the resultant “war on terror” (complete with snicker-quotes). In the aftermath of the atrocities of 9/11 America asked itself, “Why do they hate us?” The political Left had a ready-made answer in the form of chastisement: They hate us because we’ve been bad to them, and because they are poverty-stricken and without hope for a better future. I profoundly disagree with these assertions and although the issue of our alleged transgressions against our enemies is a topic for another day, if there were a positive correlation between poverty and terrorism, or even hatred of America, then we would expect that terrorists would predominantly have been created in places like Africa, China, India, and the multitude of third- and fourth-world countries around the globe where people subsist on a dollar a month - like Kenya, where Barack Obama's brother is doing just that. Even then, it makes little sense that terrorists would target the West as opposed to their own kleptocratic rulers. See here, here, and here.

Wilson hawks up this goober because it tracks well with the Liberal/Left ideology of wealth distribution and the necessity of hobbling a vigorous American foreign policy in order to achieve their goals.

Wilson continues:
“We spend 1 percent of the federal budget on these critical elements of our foreign policy, compared with 22 percent on the military and weapons. While I have always believed in and fought for a strong defense, I know that we cannot rely on the military alone to keep us secure.”

The conclusion to which you are led is unstated but he’s drawn a dotted line for you: we should spend more on largess and less on defense. But don’t think he’s soft on defense! No sir. Yet Wilson lacks the courage to specify, even in general terms, what areas of defense should be cut, or how much he believes would be necessary to implement his vision of the United States as a sort of a Christmas morning Scrooge, tossing silver crowns down to the rest of the world that there may be a goose in every pot.

Wilson drives it home with this:
“[…] our future threats are likely to come from states that cannot meet the basic needs of their people. We can avoid the need to spend so much on our military -- and put so many of our soldiers in harm's way -- simply by investing more in saving lives, creating stable societies and building economic opportunity.”

The best way to accomplish these goals is not to throw money at them, but to give them the opportunities of freedom by overthrowing those kleptocratic thugocracies and replacing them with free democratic republics run under the rule of law, and implementing of open market economies in those freed states so that they may be prosperous as well. In other words, what we’re doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Several times in the piece, as here, Wilson brings up the crisis in Georgia:
“This strategy won't resolve the conflict in Georgia today, but it could help America prevent similar crises in the future.”

Quite frankly, I’m puzzled by these repeated references to Georgia in relation to his prescription for an American foreign policy. Russia is not, by any measure, a poverty-stricken country bereft of educational institutions, industry, healthcare, or infrastructure. Is there an implied, unspoken argument here, or has Wilson simply chucked this war into the “failure of American diplomacy bin” by default? It’s anyone’s guess. So let that be a lesson to us all: the next time an oppressive superpower collapses under the weight of its failed ideological fantasies and the shackled slaves under its domination break free, we should be sure to send their former oppressors lots of money. No worries, China – Charlie’s got ya covered!

Wilson start to wrap it up with this:
“This is not a partisan issue. From the Marshall Plan to the Peace Corps to the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, Americans of all political stripes have always joined together to build a better, safer world.”

Ah, yes, President Bush’s AIDS program, which could run up to $48 Billion American Dollars. This would be the same POTUS who, as Wilson told us at the top of the piece, hasn’t recognized that a strong military alone can’t ensure our national security. He seems to refute himself on this point, but I’d like to help him twist the knife in his own argument. Recall that this is the same POTUS Bush who sent a fleet of naval vessels to relieve the suffering and save the lives of the predominantly Muslim Indonesian earthquake victims in 2004 at a cost of hundreds of millions of American Dollars, a figure which dwarfed the contributions of every other nation.

Lastly, Wilson makes his parting fib:
“We cannot afford to aspire to anything less than defeating poverty, disease, ignorance and despair wherever they exist. It is a relatively small but incredibly effective investment that helps ensure our future national security and economic prosperity.”

Fixing our own crumbling domestic infrastructure would be a good start, I suppose, but for Liberals not content with the nationalization of our healthcare system we have his assurance that lifting the world up out of poverty will be cheap, and it’s much more effective than, y’know, actually killing our enemies.

Kumbaya to you and your fellow travelers, Charlie Wilson.

Northern Exposure?

In selecting Alaska Governor Sarah Palin for VPOTUS, the McCain campaign has made a bold and risky move. Ed Morrissey provides one of the better summaries of the relevant issues that I have found. Some quick thoughts:

For the GOP's socially conservative wing, she's pretty much all up-side. Can't say I'm overjoyed by this aspect of her portfolio, but it does shore up some pretty leaky hull plates on McCain's starboard beam. Still, I remain confident that a McCain/Palin Administration will be no more successful in bringing about the much-touted Theocratic Revolution than 8 years of Bush/Cheney were supposed to have visited upon us (even with long-standing majorities in congress which Mac and Palin are highly unlikely to enjoy). I am anything but a SoCon, yet I still can't bring myself to become terribly exercised about this, even as it leaves a rather acrid taste in my mouth.

I am very pleased indeed at the prospect of a woman rising to such a lofty height in our society, and much credit should go to McCain for so decisively putting to bed the Old White Guy monopoly on the top tier of the Executive Branch. Hillary came tantalizingly close, and while I think that having her as a President would have been a very unfortunate development for this nation, it would nonetheless have served as an inspiration for girls and women everywhere. Imagine the pressure that having a woman in such a high office would place on the retrograde patriarchal societies with which we must deal!

Palin's lack of experience on the National (let alone the International) stage can be seen as a genuine vulnerability. But, as many commentators have pointed out, that criticism cuts both ways; it would be awkward in the extreme for Obama supporters and surrogates to make too much of this matter of experience, given the degree to which they have strained to make this very weakness into a strength for their guy. Palin's resume is quite favorably comparable to that of Obama himself, only she brings to the table a level of executive experience (as mayor, then governor) which exceeds that of anyone else on either ticket (though it is a legitimate question whether McCain's military command experience serves as a suitable stand-in for executive credentials in government). Palin has a proven track record of working successfully for some very risky reforms within her home state, taking on the entrenched and corrupt bigwigs of her own party and scoring approval ratings which would be the envy of any governor in the Union.

Biden's much-vaunted experience, by contrast, inspires anything but confidence. He has been a deeply dug-in Washington Insider for decades, and has accumulated a very substantial body of work for us to examine. Therein lies his putative strength but also his greatest weakness. Imagine what mischief Saddam would have wrought if Biden's vote against Gulf War 1 had carried the day, and Kuwait had gone unliberated. Think also of what would have transpired if, having voted for the authorization for the use of force against a dangerously intransigent Saddam regime, he had then successfully de-funded the war effort. What would Iraq look like today if the US had adopted his breathtakingly ill-considered (and arrogant) scheme to partition that nation into separate sectarian regions, then pull out Coalition troops during the very throes of the AQI-ignited sectarian bloodbath, or if the troop surge in support of the spectacularly successful COIN strategy had been denied, as Biden voted. Biden seems an affable enough bloke, and I strongly suspect that he genuinely means well. But his track record is an albatross onto which Palin need only shine a steady light.

The steadiness of that light, however, is as yet an unknown quantity. While the great hubbub about the "bullying" of Hillary during the primaries will buy Palin a certain amount of slack in her VP debate and in her treatment by the press in general, that slack will be finite and she will be she should be. How she will hold up under the onslaught of a National campaign has yet to be determined, though timidity and indecisiveness have not been hallmarks of her political comportment thus far!

In any case, McCain's choice for his running mate is a fascinating one, and one which indicates that he is still someone who is willing and able to roll some great big dice and think way outside the box. It was a canny and courageous move which will make for an enormously entertaining race. Whatever the outcome, we will all owe the Big Mac at least that.

EDITED TO ADD: ...How Palin handles herself in matters of foreign policy is going to bear very close watching. Her socially conservative views, again, will have little bearing on the real (as opposed to histrionically predicted) policies enacted in the country, so long as there are veto-resistant Democratic majorities in both houses of congress (which is likely to be the case for a while). How she conceptualizes, articulates, and debates the key issues on the geopolitical front is going to have everything to do with my feelings on her selection. Foreign policy (especially as regards waging the Long War) is the crucial issue for me, since it bears on the fundamental role of the Federal Government: minding the security of the Nation's interests at home and abroad. If she's on-target there, I am wiling to overlook much.

My feeling on this is that she will acquit herself quite well in interviews, pressers, and the one debate (!) she'll have with her counterpart, and will swiftly ramp up to presidential levels of competence on the relevant issues; she strikes me as a quick study. But, as ever, I am prepared to be disappointed.

It will be amusing, though, to watch the MSM hop all over any perceived stumble by Sarah, after having given such a free pass to Obama's very public struggles up the learning curve.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Caucasus Belli

Today's post on Tigerhawk reminded me that I really need to read Michael Totten's postings more regularly. Totten has been in Tbilisi, Georgia, and his conversations with regional experts and with wounded Georgian soldiers call into serious question the dominant narrative that it was Georgian president Saakashvili who initiated hostilities in South Ossetia.

Instead, Totten's reporting suggests that Saakashvili's forces rolled into Tskhinvali en route to interdict a Russian incursion already in progress. This excerpt is from Totten's interview with two analysts (one hired by Georgia, but backed up by an independent --though admittedly anti-Kremlin-- colleague):

“On the evening of the 7th, the Ossetians launch an all-out barrage [ed. in some cases using illicit 120mm artillery] focused on Georgian villages, not on Georgian positions . Remember, these Georgian villages inside South Ossetia – the Georgians have mostly evacuated those villages, and three of them are completely pulverized. That evening, the 7th, the president gets information that a large Russian column is on the move. Later that evening, somebody sees those vehicles emerging from the Roki tunnel [into Georgia from Russia]. Then a little bit later, somebody else sees them. That's three confirmations. It was time to act.

“What they had in the area was peacekeeping stuff, not stuff for fighting a war. They had to stop that column, and they had to stop it for two reasons. It's a pretty steep valley. If they could stop the Russians there, they would be stuck in the tunnel and they couldn't send the rest of their army through. So they did two things. The first thing they did, and it happened at roughly the same time, they tried to get through [South Ossetian capital] Tskhinvali, and that's when everybody says Saakashvili started the war. It wasn't about taking Ossetia back, it was about fighting their way through that town to get onto that road to slow the Russian advance. The second thing they did, they dropped a team of paratroopers to destroy a bridge. They got wiped out, but first they managed to destroy the bridge and about 15 Russian vehicles.

The Ossetian villages had been previously evacuated and the illicit shelling of Georgian positions appears to have begun on August 6th, one day before the purported initiation of hostilities by Georgian forces which we have generally been told was the proximate cause of the conflagration which swiftly engulfed the area.

If the substance of this report turns out to be all that it appears, then it should serve as an even more stark wake-up call about the intentions and tactics of Moscow in the region than we had thought. I will be watching this story rather more carefully, to be sure. Meanwhile, it may have captured the attention of those who would not want it widely known, which leads me to hope most fervently that the estimable and indispensable Micheal Totten will keep a geiger counter with his tea service.

As ever, do please consider making a contribution to the efforts of independent journalists like Totten, who risk life and limb to keep the facts flowing (PayPal link at the bottom of his posts).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Draw-Down Drawn up, Not Drawn Out

The Long War Journal provides some much-needed context and clarity for the on-going negotiations between the US and Iraqi governments regarding the current and future status of Coalition Forces in Iraq. Rather than the typically histrionic treatment of these negotiations in the American press, what emerges is a deliberate, staged plan for the withdrawal of American combat forces which keeps pace with the Iraqi military's ability to assume an adequate level of autonomy in the internal and external defense of the Iraqi State.

As I have stated previously, it is not at all unexpected that Nouri al Maliki should act vigorously to dispel any perception of his government as a mere arm of Washington. It is, after all, an election year in Iraq as well. It is fitting and proper for Maliki to stand forth as a tough negotiator in the interests of Iraqi sovereignty, and to advocate for the interests of his constituents. We should expect no less of our own elected officials. If Maliki chooses cannily to portray his advocacy for a withdrawal timetable of US forces as being the result of his standing up to the stubborn Americans (while fully cognizant of the fact that such a plan is already largely in keeping with the American plan itself), then we should not begrudge him his intelligent reading of the mood among his people. After all, the most effective leaders have always been those who could position themselves at the vanguard of a movement which is already in progress.

It is in the interests of the Iraqi people for the Maliki government to grant US forces the room they need to accomplish their mission...the end stage of which is the transfer of full sovereign control to Iraqi security forces. If a bit of gamesmanship is what is required to reach that goal, then that merely means that Maliki is doing his job with style as well as substance.

The reader is encouraged to keep this in mind as the inevitable posturing in the election year wrangling within this nation seeks to make hay with the pronouncements coming out of Baghdad. Democrats will doubtless crow about how Maliki's negotiations vindicate their own ceaseless bleatings for fixed timetables for retreat (blithely glossing over the brilliant adaptation of strategy and tactics which created the conditions for an honorable and successful withdrawal [AKA victory], and which they initially opposed). Bear in mind that these same Democrats were advocating for withdrawal at a time when their plan would have unquestionably resulted in the collapse of the fledgling Iraqi experiment, and all manner of deadly headaches thereafter.

Voters in this high-stakes election should strive to look more deeply into the politics of Iraq and the US, and to decide which candidate represents their real interests.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Czar Trek: The Next Generation

Russia's invasion of Georgia has unmasked some hard realities about the nature of the Putin regime in particular, and has revealed ominous cracks in the very foundations of the nation-state in general. The rumblings of Russian tanks through the Roki Tunnel, I fear, were only the end of the long overture to a very dismal and protracted opera yet to come.

Last Tuesday's free Stratfor briefing (amply worth reading in its entirety, if for no other reason than the very instructive maps it includes) dealt with the history and implications of the Georgia affair. First, the Russian predicament:

From the Ukrainian experience [i.e., the "Orange Revolution"], the Russians became convinced that the United States was engaged in a plan of strategic encirclement and strangulation of Russia. From the Kosovo experience [see again, here], they concluded that the United States and Europe were not prepared to consider Russian wishes even in fairly minor affairs. That was the breaking point. If Russian desires could not be accommodated even in a minor matter like this, then clearly Russia and the West were in conflict. For the Russians, as we said, the question was how to respond. Having declined to respond in Kosovo, the Russians decided to respond where they had all the cards: in South Ossetia.

Let's not sugar-coat it: Russia had and still has some very legitimate concerns about the decline of its economic and geostrategic mojo following the breakup of the USSR, and about the US' role in abetting (or at least failing to help ameliorate) that decline. The Clinton administration utterly failed to recognize the dangerous short-sightedness of tacitly assuming that our new friend, non-Communist Russia would just go quietly into that good night. Clinton hitched his star way too tightly to an erratic and increasingly authoritarian Yeltsin. He almost entirely reneged on Bush/Gorbachev-era promises for massive infusions of economic aid and favorable trade status which might have staved off some of the worst of the grinding humiliation and Muscovite Mafia mayhem which blighted Russia during the Naughty Nineties. These blunders, as well as myriad mystifying missteps in mutual disarmament (to which the "Atlanticists" in the Russian foreign policy establishment had initially been very hearteningly receptive) will no doubt feature prominently among the very many squandered historical opportunities of those times. The brittle and pugnacious nationalism which arose out of what any sensible Russians could scarcely help but see as a determined effort to drive a holly stake through their hearts was as initially avoidable as it ultimately became lamentably inevitable. After all, "Paranoia is just reality on a finer scale."

That said, Vladimir Putin is a very nasty bit of business and no mistake. In the ostensibly post-historical world which so many Transnational Progressives insist that we occupy, the sheer reptilian purity of the calculations which informed Putin's choice to pull the trigger on Georgia must feel like rolling off an Alaskan dock during a sound sleep (at least for the twelve or thirteen of them who don't see it as Bush's Fault). He did it because he judged that he could, using the molecule-thin pretext of Georgia's military response to the agitations of pro-Moscow separatists in South Ossetia (and the degree to which that response may have been an overreaction is a legitimate and important one...which has virtually nothing to do with the situation before us right now). Per Ralph Peters:

As a former intelligence officer, I'm awestruck by the genius with which Putin assessed the strategic environment on the eve of his carefully scripted invasion of Georgia.

With his old KGB skills showing (he must've been a formidable operative), Putin not only sized up President Bush humiliatingly well, but precisely anticipated Europe's nonreaction - while taking a perfect-fit measure of Georgia's mercurial president.

Putin not only knew what he was doing - he knew exactly what others would do.

...Which was mostly falling off the bleachers in Beijing and saying "Whaaa?!"

For most of us in the West, the idea that one supposedly civilized sovereign nation would simply roll into another, based only on unvarnished self-interest and a cool appraisal of the unlikelihood of any meaningful opposition is chillingly alien (and please, spare me the facile comparisons with Operation Iraqi Freedom; there are a multitude of fundamental differences which I steadfastly refuse to get into in this post).

But the very notion of national sovereignty which has stood mostly intact since the Peace of Westphalia has been undergoing substantial strain for some time now.While laudable in its intent and serving as the occasion for some very inspiring rhetoric, the recognition of Kosovo's independence from Serbia was an especially clear example of this, and may have done far more harm than good:

The lesson separatists took from Kosovo is that any ethnic group has a right to secede from a sovereign nation simply by being different from their countrymen. As [LA Times columnists] Meany and Mylonas note, that could apply to almost every nation in the world, including the US, Canada, Great Britain, Spain, France, Germany, and so on. That precedent undermines the concept of sovereignty as understood since at least the Peace of Westphalia, and leads the world into dangerous territory, especially in an age of terrorism.

Russia had relatively recently achieved substantial success in brutally putting down the (at best equally brutal) Chechen separatist movement within what it unequivocally held to be its own borders. While drawing much well-earned opprobium for the tactics it employed, the essential concept that the sovereignty of the Russian State gave it the writ to resist separatist sentiments of its ethnically distinct but nationally constituent cantonments was not widely questioned. However, the explicit recognition by many nations (including, notably, the US) of Kosovo's independence from Russian-backed Serbia directly challenged not only Russia's sense of security and integrity (which it surely did), but the very underpinnings of the model which holds that national borders can legitimately contain and subsume a variety of sub-groups while still remaining intact. Even as it may have come from the best of intentions, and even as the much-abused Kosovars may have deserved a measure of autonomy given the all-too recent depredations of the Serbs against them, the ready international endorsement of their independence provided a powerful precedent for the aspirations of fractious factions within nations spanning the globe. It diluted the glue which holds nations together, and the bits that fly off of that long-standing edifice of sovereignty are apt to do much damage in the years to come. When any Basque or Québécois or Tamil can legitimately ask why the Kosovars got to break free when they don't, then national governments worldwide suddenly have a great deal more to worry about.

So, now that that genie is out of its bottle (withdrawing support for Kosovo, should Serbia make a play for re-annexation, would be the very worst sort of self-defeating realpolitik), what now?

One thing is quite clear: the example of Kosovo has provided the perfect pretext for cynical power vampires like Vlad I to impose their will and their might, and a potent narrative with which to slather a credulous international media with its own syrupy slurry of multicultural Kool Aid. For years, Russia had patiently seated the chisel within existing fracture lines in the South Ossetia region of Georgia, only waiting for the appointed moment for its precise hammer-strike. Emboldened by its undoubted success, no sane person would believe that Russia will content itself with having made its point and not strive to consolidate further its hegemonic aspirations for the region. Per Strategy Page:

The war in Georgia comes on the heels of threats (of violence) made to Ukraine. Before that, Russia cut off energy supplies to Ukraine to show who was really in charge. Russia makes more threats to the Baltic States and East European countries over membership in NATO and the construction of a U.S. anti-missile system. The bear is back in a fighting mood, and the world wonders how far this reassertion of empire will go.

If anything has been made clear from recent events, it is that the answer to that question is: "as far as it can." Russia has plainly thrown out the (already frayed and wormy) playbook of cautious diplomatic and economic action with due consideration for international opinion. It's declared that it will do whatever it chooses and realistically concludes that it will not be prevented from doing.

So, we need to do a lot of preventing.

First off, we must resist the impulse to lend our support to the secessionist aspirations of relatively homogeneous sub-groups within the borders of sovereign states. This may seem a bit cold-blooded at first glance, and may even cost us short-and mid-term advantages against rival states. Over the long haul, however, it will act to preserve the integrity of the nation-state itself, and so shore up the boundaries which constitute the very cell walls of the global political organism, and which act to check the opportunistic infections of expansionist regimes which will capitalize on any wobbliness of resolve to defend territorial borders against them.

Second, we must not allow Russia to go unpunished. By subduing Georgia, Moscow has both sent a warning and a delivered a probing thrust. The former is aimed squarely at the Eastern European and Baltic states which might dare to act at variance with the Kremlin's wishes. The latter is analogous to sending a platoon into an uncertain battlespace in order to draw fire and so determine the scope and configuration of resistance which the main unit is likely to face. That one was aimed at NATO, Western Europe, and the US.

That's our cue, folks.

That national treasure, John Bolton, wrote in an editorial for the Telegraph, that Russia has resumed its familiar Cold War strategy of striving to exert control within the states which lie within the "gap" between its own borders and the edges of NATO. As the history of the Cold War so clearly demonstrates, it will keep pushing until and unless something pushes back (I'll quote at length here, but it is well worth your time to read the whole thing):

By its actions in Georgia, Russia has made clear that its long-range objective is to fill that “gap” if we do not. That, as Western leaders like to say, is “unacceptable”. Accordingly, we should have a foreign-minister-level meeting of Nato to reverse the spring capitulation at Bucharest, and to decide that Georgia and Ukraine will be Nato’s next members. By drawing the line clearly, we are not provoking Russia, but doing just the opposite: letting them know that aggressive behaviour will result in costs that they will not want to bear, thus stabilising a critical seam between Russia and the West. In effect, we have already done this successfully with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Second, the United States needs some straight talk with our friends in Europe, which ideally should have taken place long before the assault on Georgia. To be sure, American inaction gave French President Sarkozy and the EU the chance to seize the diplomatic initiative. However, Russia did not invade Georgia with diplomats or roubles, but with tanks. This is a security threat, and the proper forum for discussing security threats on the border of a Nato member – yes, Europe, this means Turkey – is Nato.

Saying this may cause angst in Europe’s capitals, but now is the time to find out if Nato can withstand a potential renewed confrontation with Moscow, or whether Europe will cause Nato to wilt. Far better to discover this sooner rather than later, when the stakes may be considerably higher. If there were ever a moment since the fall of the Berlin Wall when Europe should be worried, this is it. If Europeans are not willing to engage through Nato, that tells us everything we need to know about the true state of health of what is, after all, supposedly a “North Atlantic” alliance.

Finally, the most important step will take place right here in the United States. With a Presidential election on November 4, Americans have an opportunity to take our own national pulse, given the widely differing reactions to Russia’s blitzkrieg from Senator McCain and (at least initially) Senator Obama. First reactions, before the campaigns’ pollsters and consultants get involved, are always the best indicators of a candidate’s real views. McCain at once grasped the larger, geostrategic significance of Russia’s attack, and the need for a strong response, whereas Obama at first sounded as timorous and tentative as the Bush Administration. Ironically, Obama later moved closer to McCain’s more robust approach, followed only belatedly by Bush.

In any event, let us have a full general election debate over the implications of Russia’s march through Georgia. Even before this incident, McCain had suggested expelling Russia from the G8; others have proposed blocking Russia’s application to join the World Trade Organisation or imposing economic sanctions as long as Russian troops remain in Georgia. Obama has assiduously avoided specifics in foreign policy – other than withdrawing speedily from Iraq – but that luxury should no longer be available to him. We need to know if Obama’s reprise of George McGovern’s 1972 campaign theme, “Come home, America”, is really what our voters want, or if we remain willing to persevere in difficult circumstances, as McCain has consistently advocated. Querulous Europe should hope, for its own sake, that America makes the latter choice.

Vladimir Putin has shown us that he is willing "to boldly go" wherever he thinks we will let him. Flush with energy revenue and with the carefully cultivated grievances of the Russian people (which are all the more powerful for not being entirely off the mark), he could go very far indeed.

And he would very definitely pick his pointy, blood-stained teeth with a rookie like Obama.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Russia invades Georgia: Blame America First

[by Mr.Hengist]

When there’s trouble in the world, Western Liberals are usually sure of one thing: Somehow, America is to blame. Whether it’s war, famine, pestilence, or just a fly in your soup, it must be the result of some fault of the United States. We did the wrong thing - or nothing, we did too much - or too little, we started it - or didn’t stop it. At best, all other actors on this stage are reacting in response to us; at worst, they are like mindless forces of nature or animals acting on an instinctual level, unaccountable to their own actions.

Russia’s war of aggression on Georgia provides clear examples of this mindset. Yesterday, two senior Clinton Administration officials wrote an op-ed for the WaPo in which they said, in passing, “The West, and especially the United States, could have prevented this war.” No explanation is provided other than the magic Liberal pixie dust of Diplomacy and "transatlantic unity" as the preventative medicine which would have kept the peace, nor is any other needed for the Liberal readers of the Liberal MSM because for them it rings true. I'll refrain from speculation on what they might have had in mind and let the insubstantiation of their accusation speak for itself. Read this otherwise stinging piece, if only for the unintentional humor of their disdain when noting that Russia "hardly demonstrates its commitment to Olympic ideals."

Today the NYTimes published an article entitled, “After Mixed U.S. Messages, a War Erupted in Georgia", from which we can deduce that we are to blame for a war that “erupted” - almost like a natural disaster. War? It just sort of happens, like a tornado; the only thinking actor represented in this headline is the United States, and we are, of course, to blame. What’s remarkable is that there’s nothing in this article about mixed messages from the United States to suggest that our messages were mixed at all. Over and over, in the clearest possible terms, the article quotes Bush Administration officials as having warned the Georgian government not to succumb to the provocations of the Russians and their proxies, even as it makes the unsubstantiated assertion that “Georgia may have been under the mistaken impression that in a one-on-one fight with Russia, Georgia would have more concrete American support.”

As for the Russians, the NYTimes tells us that we provoked them. We provoked them by starting work on an anti-missile shield for Western Europe against missiles from Iran and Syria, friendly client-states of Russia, in the former Soviet slave-state of Poland. Self-defense, and the defense of our friends, is no excuse when it comes to thwarting the ambitions of our enemies, according to Liberals. We are also told we provoked them by recognizing the independence of a free Kosovo; the Russians are now citing this as analogous to their invading the Abkhazia and South Ossetia provinces of Georgia. Of course, we didn’t so much invade Kosovo as save them from the ethnic cleansing of the Serbs, also a friendly client-state of Russia.

Lest you think that Liberals believe that action in defense of the free or helpless is tantamount to aggression in the Liberal world of universal moral equivalence, I refer you to the ethnic cleansings in Rwanda and Darfur, where America has once again been cast into the role of being the world's only policeman only to be castigated for failure kiss the world's boo-boo's and make it all better. It might seem contradictory, but it’s not when you remember that for Liberals, what the U.S. does is wrong – and whatever we don't do, that’s wrong too.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Georgia On My Mind (UPDATED)

Richard Fernandez of The Belmont Club offers an excellent roundup of the background and unfolding events in Georgia and its would-be breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The history is a typically tangled affair of little-known, bitterly contested patches of land, each with its panoply of grievances and claims. Don't fail to click through to Ralph Peters' caustic indictment of Russian scheming and perfidy in the region. I'm currently blazing through his picaresque and gripping accounts of his travels though the Caucasus and other former Soviet serfdoms. His trenchant analysis of the short-sightedness of the Elder Bush and Clinton Administrations in their dealings with the twitching corpse of the USSR, and how the stage was thus set for the pugnacious Putin, lend much weight to Peters' assessment of Russia's role in fomenting the furball which is flailing toward full-on war at this time.

Things are apt to get a whole lot worse over there before they get any better, and the fates of some young, embattled democracies hang in the balance. Georgia in particular has been a staunchly pro-Western enclave, whose aspirations to NATO membership lie close to the heart of the chaos which a recalcitrant Russia seems hell-bent on stoking. With the independence of Kosovo earlier this year, Russia warned of then-unspecified "steps" which would be taken to punish the West for supporting ethnic Albanian Kosovars in their bid for self-rule. I suppose part of what we are seeing here is sour grapes, Russian style. To be fair, Russia had fallen far during the 90s, and the emergence of a Putin, who leverages nationalistic outrage and the newfound power of petroleum and gas revenues to regain some geopolitical clout, is an understandable development. Russia needs to be contained, but not overly shamed, or the wheel will simply turn faster, crushing many beneath its treads.

Unfortunately, as the Bush Administration runs out the clock, and the nature of the Administration to come remains in play, Russia can be expected to try and consolidate as much of its former glory as it can wrest from situations like this, while Europe wrings its hands. We do need very carefully to watch the actions of Ukraine, Poland, and other former Soviet satellites in the days to come. Will they rush to the aid of Georgia, and present a credible deterrent to Moscow's machinations? Will they sit this out, lest they inflame the ire of their own separatist movements?

This is not going to be pretty.

UPDATE: 8/11/2008

As expected/hoped, Ukraine has sent a signal that it will not simply roll over in this matter. By denying Russian warships access to Ukrainian port facilities on the Black Sea, Kiev has markedly complicated the logistics of the Kremlin's Georgian adventure, and issued an unambiguous warning that its ambitions will not be without non-trivial diplomatic cost. More of this sort of thing would be better.

Also, Georgian president Saakashvili has penned an editorial for the WSJ which vividly and poignantly lays out the variables and stakes in this conflict. It presents all-too familiar themes of appeasement versus confrontation in dealing with aggressive actors, and should give due pause to all those who believe that making good-faith concessions and sitting down for earnest deliberations will automatically result in reasoned, peaceful resolutions of all geopolitical conundra. The pen may be mightier than the sword in the end, but it makes a lousy defensive weapon once the duel is on.

Oh, and it appears that I inadvertently mirrored Richard Fernandez' Ray Charles reference in titling this piece. Oops. Sorry, Wretchard; parallel evolution, not plagiarism, I assure you.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Asteroid Hunting Satellite Readies for Launch

The Canadian Space Agency is preparing a tiny satellite for a mission of potentially huge significance. The Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite, or NEOSSat, is described as a suitcase-sized satellite, equipped with a six-inch telescope and sun-shade, which will be launched into a Sun-synchronous polar orbit in 2010. It will scan the skies (including those in the perilous sunward blind spot) for near earth asteroids and comets which could pose a threat to the surface of the Earth.

While it would be an exaggeration to say that I lose any sleep over this, it only takes me a few moments' thought to get up a decent head of nervous steam about the issue of how woefully underfunded the search for potential Earth impactors has been to date. Recently, we marked the 100th anniversary of the Tunguska blast, which occurred when an object approximately 500 feet in diameter (with a wide margin of error) slammed into the atmosphere over a remote region of Siberia, and exploded before striking the ground, flattening millions of trees and creating atmospheric effects on a global scale, but outrageously fortunately causing no confirmed human fatalities. Had this event taken place a bit under 5 hours later, it would have completely obliterated St. Petersburg. The Chicxulub impact around 65 million years ago precipitated a global catastrophe which has been implicated in the extinction of a great many species, notably the dinosaurs. While rare, such impacts do happen. And with the wide distribution and population density of the human species at the present time, it is unlikely that we will get off as easy as we did in 1908. Indeed, it really is only a matter of time.

Costing a mere $11.5 million (chump change in satellite world), the NEOSSat will be unfettered by weather, and when not hunting for ravening rocks will monitor human-made space debris which could pose a threat to orbiting assets. It's a win-win, really, and I would love to see a small flotilla of such devices both in near-Earth orbit, and possibly even at one or more of the Lagrange points, which could be undertaken at relatively modest cost (compared to the immense cost of letting even one of these objects strike us unawares). Such a project would supplement the yeoman's work already being done worldwide by amateur astronomers who dutifully scan the skies for humanity's sword of Damocles, many of them under the auspices of organizations like the Spaceguard Foundation. Funding for this sort of work is chronically light (and therein lies one of my more esoteric lottery fantasies), which is a crying shame considering how powerfully silly the mass of humanity will feel if there is in fact an afterlife and we all show up at around the same time.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sadr Day's Gone; Sunny Days Ahead?

Birthdays tend to make me pensive in all the usual ways. Will this lap round the Sun bring better days? Has the trip thus far yielded the sorts of fruits I would want on my table? Have my ponderings on personal and world affairs been more or less on target? As usual, a mixed bag. People turn out to be better and worse than we expect, prompting sometimes painful revisiting and revision of cherished anchors of thought and feeling, lettings-go and holdings-on. Nothing especially remarkable here, and, on balance, the good outweighs the bad. Thankfully, the pages keep turning.

Today's WSJ Opinion Page offers another ray of hope peeking through the acrid smoke which had hung for so long over the Land of the Two Rivers. It seems that Moqtada al Sadr has decided that the "Lesser Jihad" of the sword has not worked out so well after all:

Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr plans to announce Friday that he will disarm his Mahdi Army, which was raining mortars on Baghdad's Green Zone as recently as April. Coupled with the near-total defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq, this means the U.S. no longer faces any significant organized military foe in the country. It also marks a major setback for Iran, which had used the Mahdi Army as one of its primary vehicles for extending its influence in Iraq.

I have no illusions that Sadr's decision to turn inward to spiritual studies and disarm his militia constitutes anything but a pragmatic calculation of his chances for success. That's kind of the point; his Mahdi Army has faced nothing but ignominious defeat whenever it has tried to stage a frontal assault on Coalition and Iraqi National forces, and, like any 'decent' politician, he has opted to make a virtue of a necessity.

Now, this is not to say that he might not simply be keeping his powder dry against some future opportunity to resume his thuggish power grabs. Indeed, that's also the point; he has tipped his hand with the Iraqi people, who have shown that they have no stomach for the constant mayhem which is all that Sunni and Shiite Islamists have to offer. If Sadr is banking that the withdrawal of Coalition forces over the next few years will open up a power vacuum into which he can try and inject himself, then I hope he has diversified his portfolio. There are increasingly strong indications that the schismatic sectarianism with which he butters his bread may have gone irrevocably rancid in the mouths of his countrymen, who, more and more, are seeing themselves --first and foremost-- as Iraqis.

Nationalism has a mixed history, to be sure. It has often been pressed into the service of some very nasty memes indeed. However, in this context it has the potential to serve as an organizing principle for the energies of populations whose loyalties have been tapped into fractious and centrifugal vectors for far too long. If the Nation of Iraq can serve as a sort of 'meta-tribe' to which these assorted groups can lend their allegiance, then much more blood may stay safely in the veins of countless mother's sons and daughters. One may even dare to hope that others in the region will look to the shores of the Tigris and Euphrates for a model --imperfect and evolving as it may be-- for their own lands.

Years hence, Iraqis may look to these days and see a kind of birthday of their own, a point of departure on a journey whose way-points will be marked with blood and tears and songs and celebrations. They should have that chance, and we should not shirk our responsibility to see them through these formative times, having come this far.

Who knows. There might even be cake.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Meanwhile, Across the Road

Al Qaeda played chicken with the US in Iraq.

It appears that it is we who did it right.

Just keeping you, my dear reader(s), abreast of current events in the battered country of Iraq.