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.
Everyone has. In fact, an oppressive oligarchy of thugs and tin-horn dictators, living in splendor--themselves, of course--is the Leftist Dream. Moral highmindedness is their camoflage, bread and circuses their handouts to the peasantry, but their moral bankruptcy is obvious to all but the delusional and the stupid.
On this I agree, and it should include several brigades from the US and capable allies... oops. The US.
Europe is ready for a new dictator given Sarkozy’s comments. The French sound ready to F’ING surrender already.
I would love to imagine he’s wrong, but I don’t see how. I pray he’s wrong.
Well yes, about 80 years ago.
Another bunch have sized it up too: Muslims. Here's a snip from "The Role of Islam in North Ossetia" by Mikhail Roshchin:
"While the majority of Ossetians are Christian, according to official estimates, 15-30 percent of the population is Muslim. The Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz houses the central mosque, built in the beginning of the 20th century. Money for the construction of the mosque came from Azeri oil magnate Murtuza Mukhtarov, who married an Ossetian woman named Tuganova. (The mosque was built in the Egyptian style and has no architectural analogies in the North Caucasus.) But it was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union that a massive religious revival occurred. Islam began to be practiced more openly, with many Muslims adopting so-called Wahhabism, which is what fundamentalism is referred to in the North Caucasus."
Full commentary at www.jamestown.org/terrorism/news/article.php?articleid=2372087
As long as this conflict is framed in terms of Christians killing Christians, and a toddling democracy being mowed down by an undead and flesh-eating Soviet empire, Muslims will be reinforced, especially in their opinions of the moral bankruptcy of the West, its ruling left, plus its right and center.
Yep, he nails it.
If we do nothing then Poland, Ukraine, the Baltics, the stans, and just about every former soviet republic and satellite will look at us and see the choppers leaving the roof of the embassy in Saigon. Putin will be on the way to restoring what Reagan, John Paul II, and Maggie Thatcher destroyed. I would not wish to be George Bush today.
I agree that this is the right thing to do but I doubt that the spineless Europeans will agree.
This is the opening round of Russia’s march to reclaim their empire. Sorta reminds me of Germany circa 1930s. The West will wring their hands and beg for peace until it’s too late. All the Russians need to complete their conquests is President Obama.
With great and painful reluctance, I am forced to agree with the author.
I missed Sarkozy’s comments. What did he say?
From your post I guess it was a cave...which surprises me. I thought he was a tough guy and a defender of the West.
“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.”
Absolutely excellent post. From your fingertips to God’s ear.
Except that the "NATO umbrella" is a fraud, and Putin knows it.
Bringing Ukraine into NATO is provocative, and, since the provocation has nothing backing it up except hot air, it's a dangerous provocation.
The eastern europeans have a clearer eye when it comes to the Russians. Germany & some of the other original NATO countries are rather crudely (pardon the pun) being manipulated by Putin. Maybe we shout just scap NATO & create a BALTIC alliance? Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, the US (and any other NATO country that cares to do some heavy-lifting... you get the idea.
I say: bring Ukraine into NATO. If NATO shows itself to be a fraud, then dissolve NATO. I certainly think we should dissolve the UN -- they showed themselves to be frauds a long time ago.
The world cannot move toward real solutions as long as we have some expectation that these ridiculous organizations have roles to play. Sweep the table clean and face the situations clearly.
Brilliant essay, God I wish it weren't so true. The West's "civilized" ways may lead to the end of Western civilization. We assume that others will play by our rules but the world is run by force in the end, and I would prefer that force to be in the hands of people who love freedom rather than ruthless power-hungry dictators.
MOSCOW (AFP)—French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday it was “normal” for Moscow to defend Russian-speaking people beyond its borders, but added that Georgia’s territorial integrity had to be respected.
“It’s perfectly normal that Russia would want to defend the interests both of Russians in Russia and Russian speakers outside Russia,” Sarkozy said.
Sarkozy went on to ask which camp Brother Putin would like the French Jews and Gypsies and Homosexuals sent. It’s only the normal course of business in the EUrinal EUtopia.
One thing VDH does not mention as a possible reprisal is us exercising again the “Afghan” option. Would it be possible for Vlad to learn the meaning of “Sin in Haste, Repent at leisure”?