Quote of the Day

The appropriate personification for Russia circa 2008 is not an oil-fueled Genghis Khan, threatening to surge once more across Eurasia … no, it is more like a drunk with a knife unable to admit they have terminal liver disease .. a vodka-fueled Genghis Khan’t if you will.
Surely a policy of political containment is really all that is needed while nature, rust and liver sclerosis on a Biblical scale do the rest.

Perry de Havilland

18 thoughts on “Quote of the Day”

  1. It’s important to oppose aggression vigorously from the start, because otherwise aggression is rewarded and parties that might have stood against the aggressor become timid. This is as true for countries as it is for individuals. It’s a mistake to be complacent on grounds that an aggressor is currently weak. Weak aggressors who are not made to bear an adequately large price for their actions tend to aggress again and cause greater damage. Some of them evolve into powerful aggressors.

    Russia should be made to pay a substantial price for its aggression against Georgia. How we should impose that price is a separate question, but impose it we should.

    Russia’s societal weakness does not necessarily work in our favor. Russia has substantial military assets including nuclear and perhaps other WMD. Also, Russia’s leadership is willing to use force when many of its opponents are not. This fact alone gives Russia a strategic edge.

  2. “It’s important to oppose aggression vigorously from the start …”

    It is written passively. What you seem to mean is that the USA should do this. No. That is not some kind of general rule. We are not the world’s policeman. If Chad invades Niger, or Thailand attacked Burma, for example, it is sad but irrelevant. Every act of aggression everywhere does not require a US response. Most people, most places in the world, who are suffering aggression or oppression, are and should be on their own.

  3. We should vigorously oppose from the start aggression against our allies.

    Good points about avoiding passive writing, and about irrelevance to our interests of Chad vs. Niger. However, my assertion holds.

  4. Georgia is not an ally. At best it is a client. If accepting some token commitment by Georgia to our Iraq effort means that we are obliged to fight Russia on Georgia’s behalf, we should have told them to stay home. Georgia brings nothing to the table as an ally, only liabilities.

  5. Too late. We defined Georgia as an ally or client (the distinction doesn’t matter now) and got called on it. If we don’t respond effectively we will lose — i.e., Russia will repeat its aggression against other countries and eventually it will cost us, directly, big-time.

    We are not obliged to fight Russia on Georgia’s behalf (and anyway direct military confrontation makes little sense here, because it’s the realm of action in which we are at greatest disadvantage). However, I think it’s in our interest to use our considerable economic, technological and indeed diplomatic leverage to impose a price on Russia for its aggression.

    It’s also in our interest not to be seen by other countries as an even more unreliable ally than we already are. Realpolitik rationalizations of our non-response to the rape of Georgia may get the Administration off the hook domestically, but will cut little ice in Europe or the Middle East, where people are ever-alert for another great cynical abandonment a la 1956, 1978 or 1991. (Thomas Sowell’s recent column on this topic is quite good.)

  6. Lex, can you count percentage to population what “token” Georgian deployment of 2000 troups means, in comparison to US?

    For some reason our government didn’t think 2000 was such insignificunt peanuts when they accepted the offer; not that there WERE many other offers.

  7. “We defined Georgia as an ally or client (the distinction doesn’t matter now) and got called on it.”

    We should cut our losses. Make verbal gestures and bug out. We have enough problems. What happens to Georgia may be sad, but it is irrelevant to the USA. Doubling up on a bad bet is a mistake. Puke out of the position and learn from it.

  8. Lexington Green,

    We should cut our losses.

    Financial analogies are dangerous when applied to conflict theory. You assume that our abandonment of Georgia will have no effect on the planning of future actions by our opponents and allies alike.

    In reality, people watch closely what we do. If we do not attempt to come to the aid of Georgia, the opponents and allies will rightly assume we will not come to the aid of others. Opponents will believe they push in other circumstances and allies will defect.

    You and I might understand that some bright line exist across which we would not tolerate aggression but our opponents seldom see that same line. That is how they blunder into war with us. They keep pushing and pushing until they miscalculate.

  9. “… assume we will not come to the aid of others.”

    The flipside is that people will think we have written them a blank check. We had to signal to Taiwan that we will not protect them if they declare independence, for example. If we had engaged in serious discussions with Georgia, we may well have said, “welcome to the big boys’ club. You may not send the army into your breakaway provinces since that will lead to fighting the Russians. Too much is at stake. We will work with you on this.” Nothing like that ever happened, obviously. Of if it did, Georgia’s leadership blew us off.

    We should be clear about who we will and will not help.

    We have treaties with NATO, Japan, Australia, various others. Those commitments have the force of law, and had to be approved by Congress. They are unambiguous. We should not make such commitments lightly. Nor should anyone assume they have such a commitment unless we have been unambiguous about it. For example, Poland is now part of NATO. That is an unambiguous commitment, with bilateral obligations.

    There is a smart way and a stupid way to go about these things. We have been too haphazard for too long about planting the flag in all kinds of places, without thinking through the go-to-Hell scenarios and whether it makes sense.

  10. Lexinton Green,

    We should be clear about who we will and will not help.

    Nice in the hypothetical but difficult to do in the real world. We would either end up with a small circle of friends with the rest of world prey to which ever of the big players wanted to pick the off or we would have hard treaties with everyone and their dog drawing us in to every little squabble.

    Your idea also presumes that we and our partners can predict likely sources of trouble months or years in advance. I doubt this is possible.

  11. I think Lex, you (as in the USA) have cut your losses, haven’t you? As has NATO and nobody expected anything else from the EU. As I wrote on EUREf a few days ago when the Georgians were wondering what happened to their friends: “Get used to it – if Russia bullies anyone, the West keeps schtumm. Georgia will get no help any more than the Balts did, or Poland, or Hungary or Czechoslovakia.” No need to go on discussing it. After all, what is 2,000 real Georgian troops – a mere token, n’est ce pas – as against Russia saying that we need them to fight Iran (whom they have been arming) and terrorists in general?

  12. Isn’t all of this simply a rehash of the old “Who want’s to die for Danzig?”, argument? We know what the world’s answer to that was in the short run, and we all know how well that short-run
    reaction worked out in the long run, don’t we? Or, to move up the time-line a few years, let’s revisit the “Better Red Than Dead” argument. Another winner. Or the associated “Who wants to trade NYC for Hamburg” argument. How are we going to coin the phrase this time?

  13. “How are we going to coin the phrase this time?”

    This way: What happens to Georgia is no business of the USA and we should stay out of it.

    Russia is not Nazi Germany. Everything is not Munich. Not fighting does not always make you Neville Chamberlain.

  14. We’ve already made it our business. Should we walk away after accepting Georgia’s help in Iraq? The Georgians see themselves as being broadly on our side. Perhaps they know something.

    Or are you saying that we shouldn’t get involved in Georgia militarily, but that our nonmilitary efforts to impose costs on Russia for its behavior are acceptable? I don’t think anyone here is arguing for our direct military intervention in Georgia.

    Your argument for abandoning an ally might make sense from the POV of a powerful country that can afford to burn bridges because it will never need other countries’ help. However, I suggest that in the long run such behavior has cost us more than it has gained.

    Russia is probably not Nazi Germany, but 1) there are threats at lower levels than that posed by the Nazis that it’s in our interest to oppose, and 2) Nazi Germany became a major threat in large degree because other countries didn’t confront it earlier.

  15. Yes, and Munich was not the worst betrayal in history by a long chalk; and Neville Chamberlain was not the most evil character in the twentieth century but a decent and capable politician who had to decide whether to commit British troops (and it was a question of military intervention that time) on behalf of a country that was not prepared to fight for its own territory, despite being well equipped to do so. In 1938 the prime ministers of Australia, Canada and New Zealand made it clear that they would not support Britain and it would have been very difficult to call on the Empire. France was not in a state to fight and did not want to guarantee even Poland. The alternative was to gain time and carry on with rearmament and building up with RAF. The fact that under both Baldwin and Chamberlain these were going on indicates that Hitler’s assurances were being taken with a pinch of salt. Sorry, this is really OT but I do get tired of all the blather about Munich and Chamberlain.

    Churchill wrote the first version of events and he, as he himself said, was not likely to be objective. And, of course, there was the totally disgraceful “guilty men” Labour election campaign in 1945. Somehow they forgot to mention that the Labour Party had opposed rearmament tooth and nail in the thirties and the unions tried to sabotage all efforts. Aargh, OT again. Never mind. Last time. :(

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