Skip to comments.Victor Davis Hanson: Moscow’s Sinister Brilliance. Who wants to die for Tbilisi?
Posted on 08/12/2008 5:48:45 AM PDT by Tolik
Hard power trumps soft power but power power trumps both
Lost amid all the controversies surrounding the Georgian tragedy is the sheer diabolic brilliance of the long-planned Russia invasion. Let us count the ways in which it is a win/win situation for Russia.
The Home Front
The long-suffering Russian people resent the loss of global influence and empire, but not necessarily the Soviet Union and its gulags that once ensured such stature. The invasion restores a sense of Russian nationalism and power to its populace without the stink of Stalinism, and is indeed cloaked as a sort of humanitarian intervention on behalf of beleaguered Ossetians.
There will be no Russian demonstrations about an illegal war, much less nonsense about blood for oil, but instead rejoicing at the payback of an uppity former province that felt its Western credentials somehow trumped Russian tanks. How ironic that the Western heartthrob, the old Marxist Mikhail Gorbachev, is now both lamenting Western encouragement of Georgian aggression, while simultaneously gloating over the return of Russian military daring.
Russias only worry is the United States, which currently has a lame-duck president with low approval ratings, and is exhausted after Afghanistan and Iraq. But more importantly, Americas attention is preoccupied with a presidential race, in which world citizen Barack Obama has mesmerized Europe as the presumptive new president and soon-to-be disciple of European soft power.
Better yet for Russia, instead of speaking with one voice, America is all over the map with three reactions from Bush, McCain, and Obama all of them mutually contradictory, at least initially. Meanwhile, the worlds televisions are turned toward the Olympics in Beijing. The autocratic Chinese, busy jailing reporters and dissidents, are not about to say an unkind word about Russian intervention. If anything, the pageantry at their grandiose stadiums provides welcome distractions for those embarrassed over the ease with which Russia smothered Georgia.
Most importantly, Putin and Medvedev have called the Wests bluff. We are sort of stuck in a time-warp of the 1990s, seemingly eons ago in which a once-earnest weak post-Soviet Russia sought Western economic help and political mentoring. But those days are long gone, and diplomacy hasnt caught up with the new realities. Russia is flush with billions. It serves as a rallying point and arms supplier to thugs the world over that want leverage in their anti-Western agendas. For the last five years, its foreign policy can be reduced to Whatever the United States is for, we are against.
The geopolitical message is clear to both the West and the former Soviet Republics: dont consider NATO membership (i.e., do the Georgians really think that, should they have been NATO members, any succor would have been forthcoming?).
Together with the dismal NATO performance in Afghanistan, the Georgian incursion reveals the weakness of the Atlantic Alliance. The tragic irony is unmistakable. NATO was given a gift in not having made Georgia a member, since otherwise an empty ritual of evoking Article Vs promise of mutual assistance in time of war would have effectively destroyed the Potemkin alliance.
The new reality is that a nuclear, cash-rich, and energy-blessed Russia doesnt really worry too much whether its long-term future is bleak, given problems with Muslim minorities, poor life-expectancy rates, and a declining population. Instead, in the here and now, it has a window of opportunity to reclaim prestige and weaken its adversaries. So why hesitate?
Indeed, tired of European lectures, the Russians are now telling the world that soft power is, well, soft. Moscow doesnt give a damn about the United Nations, the European Union, the World Court at the Hague, or any finger-pointing moralist from Geneva or London. Did anyone in Paris miss any sleep over the rubble of Grozny?
More likely, Putin & Co. figure that any popular rhetoric about justice will be trumped by European governments concern for energy. With just a few tanks and bombs, in one fell swoop, Russia has cowered its former republics, made them think twice about joining the West, and stopped NATO and maybe EU expansion in their tracks. After all, who wants to die for Tbilisi?
Russia does not need a global force-projection capacity; it has sufficient power to muscle its neighbors and thereby humiliate not merely its enemies, but their entire moral pretensions as well.
Apologists in the West
The Russians have sized up the moral bankruptcy of the Western Left. They know that half-a-million Europeans would turn out to damn their patron the United States for removing a dictator and fostering democracy, but not more than a half-dozen would do the same to criticize their long-time enemy from bombing a constitutional state.
The Russians rightly expect Westerners to turn on themselves, rather than Moscow and they wont be disappointed. Imagine the morally equivalent fodder for liberal lament: We were unilateral in Iraq, so we cant say Russia cant do the same to Georgia. (As if removing a genocidal dictator is the same as attacking a democracy). We accepted Kosovos independence, so why not Ossetias? (As if the recent history of Serbia is analogous to Georgias.) We are still captive to neo-con fantasies about democracy, and so encouraged Georgias efforts that provoked the otherwise reasonable Russians (As if the problem in Ossetia is our principled support for democracy rather than appeasement of Russian dictatorship).
From what the Russians learned of the Western reaction to Iraq, they expect their best apologists will be American politicians, pundits, professors, and essayists and once more they will not be disappointed. We are a culture, after all, that after damning Iraqi democracy as too violent, broke, and disorganized, is now damning Iraqi democracy as too conniving, rich, and self-interested the only common denominator being whatever we do, and whomever we help, cannot be good.
We talk endlessly about soft and hard power as if humanitarian jawboning, energized by economic incentives or sanctions, is the antithesis to mindless military power. In truth, there is soft power, hard power, and power-power the latter being the enormous advantages held by energy rich, oil-exporting states. Take away oil and Saudi Arabia would be the worlds rogue state, with its medieval practice of gender apartheid. Take away oil and Ahmadinejad is analogous to a run-of-the-mill central African thug. Take away oil, and Chavez is one of Ronald Reagans proverbial tinhorn dictators.
Russia understands that Europe needs its natural gas, that the U.S. not only must be aware of its own oil dependency, but, more importantly, the ripples of its military on the fragility of world oil supplies, especially the effects upon China, Europe, India, and Japan. When one factors in Russian oil and gas reserves, a pipeline through Georgia, the oil dependency of potential critics of Putin, and the cash garnered by oil exports, then we understand once again that power-power is beginning to trump both its hard and soft alternatives.
Military intervention is out of the question. Economic sanctions, given Russias oil and Europes need for it, are a pipe dream. Diplomatic ostracism and moral stricture wont even save face.
Instead, Europe both western and eastern along with the United States and the concerned former Soviet Republics need to sit down, conference, and plot exactly how these new democracies are to maintain their independence and autonomy in the next decade. Hopefully, they will reach the Franklinesque conclusion that We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.
Let me know if you want in or out.
Links: FR Index of his articles: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/keyword?k=victordavishanson
His website: http://victorhanson.com/
NRO archive: http://www.nationalreview.com/hanson/hanson-archive.asp
I respect this man greatly, and I hate it that he’s correct.
I’d rather hear, “The bombings begin in ten minutes...”
Where are all the liberals? Where are the liberal activist MSM types denouncing Russia? Oh, how they hate the U.S., and are silent when the bear crushes a democracy. They are fools unworthy of pity.
Gori is the birthplace of Josef Stalin. No wonder Putin wants it back...............
Or five :)
How very sad but true.
Oops! I compensated for the inflation on everything these days, LOL! ;)
Solid work by Hanson.
As I've said for years. A wounded bear is the most dangerous bear. They have nothing to lose at this point.
Outstanding article. We need to immediately convene NATO and grant membership to Ukraine. To show Putin that he may have won Georgia but he has lost Ukraine forever.
Let’s hope VDH is wrong and that we have a few more cards up our sleeve.
Nothing to lose, little to fear and everything to gain. Nicely planned operation by Putin and Co.
I agree. One standard view of how WWI started was a that a series of secret alliances helped a small fight in Serbia turn into a major Great Power conflagration. Georgia (sadly) is not in NATO. If western powers rush to defend Georgia as if it were a NATO member, then this is tantamount to a secet alliance (or a post facto alliance). That would be a bad choice.
On the other hand, pushing NATO membership of Ukraine is the opposite. Openly and enthusiaticly bring Ukraine under the umbrella of NATO and make it clear that Russian meddling will have massive consequences -- that's the way to teach Putin some manners.
i wonder when europe’s going to wake up?
angela merkel, the chancellor of germany, opposed georgia’s admission to nato last month, after president bush’s trip.
france had questions about the “balance of power” changing in europe if the ukraine and georgia were allowed to join nato.
so, there you are.
Right. Where are all the peaceniks? Anybody protesting at the Russian embassy?
There is no doubt that the American left are enemies of this nation and if successful will help foster the destruction of the world’s greatest super power — a house divided against itself cannot stand.
It really puts the Drill Here, Drill now issue in perspective.