Tuesday, August 12, 2008

One of Those Hot Georgia Summers

By: Michael Akerman

Well, the world is finally heating back up in a way that is of interest to me. With recent years being dominated by Middle Eastern politics and preposterous single-party domestic politics (effectively. Where were the major bills that suffer endless debate these last few years? My high school days were much more dynamic), I've had a difficult time getting motivated to really think about politics. The Middle East, after all, is a ridiculously complex mess where many of the issues are already caused by our own missteps. The best I can hope to say on this blog without enrolling in a couple of years of Middle East history (you'd think Smith would have been more active, speaking of) is "We should probably do that, I guess." And what is politics without interparty conflict? Tedious interparty bickering, is what. So my motivation has been low, and this is even without considering the remarkable... let's call it "rigor" of the chemical engineering curriculum, but I'm done with that for at least a year, so, onward!

The end of my more-difficult undergraduate education is serendipitous, it seems. The world is heating up in much more traditional ways! The Olympic Games are taking place in a country no one really wants to talk about directly, and the great ancestral enemy in the East is stirring in Georgia. While I have serious qualms with the Chinese government and the decision of the Olympic committee to hold the games there, I'd not be saying anything you couldn't read elsewhere. With Russia, though, I get to put on my Hawk Hat against a country that should be used to conflict with ours.

Let's discuss Russia's tack over the last few years then, shall we? With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Cold War was over in the minds of the people of the US, at least for all but those fantastic fellows who claimed the Russians were coming any day now. And it was true: the weakening of Russia through the seventies and eighties due to their increasingly untenable economic position and the furnace of internal conflict brewing in the Soviet states has neutralized Russia as any more than a hypothetical threat to the United States. However, as is clear from the current leader of Russia, the Cold War did not end in the minds of everybody. While the victors were happy to go off and "focus on domestic affairs" (that is to say, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq again, and possibly Iran), the brewing mind of the crazy bear who stands now atop the ruins of the Soviet empire seems to have gotten stuck. When the country should have given up its anti-Western inclinations and joined in trade with Europe in the US to share in our prosperity (see the Theory of Comparative Advantage), Mr. Putin has retained his dedication to nibbling at the heels of the West. This is clear from the recent events involving Georgia!

Let me provide you with a quick summary to prove my point: The 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest hints that Georgia may soon be able to join the pseudo-alliance of the West in December, after a review of their application. Russia, invited as a guest to the meeting, opposes Georgia's membership bid. This happens in April. In August, Georgia, claiming that separatists in the Georgian territory of South Ossetia shelled Georgian territory (violating a cease-fire), respond with a military offensive. The necessity of this action is not important here. At this point, at any rate, a military situation that is completely a Georgian internal affair is set off.

Russia, claiming that South Ossetia is dependent on their neighbor to the north, moves military forces into South Ossetia and begins airstrikes against Georgian territory. The rest is fairly boilerplate war, which, though interesting, is not important here. Additional detail can, of course, be found on the Wikipedia.

What, then, does this have to do with the West? The key lies in the NATO Summit and Georgia's membership bid. Russia had no reason to "assist" South Ossetia in this territorial conflict except to send a message, and send one they did. With stereotypical Russian obvious-evasiveness, several Russian officials have made it a point to criticize Georgia and claim that it is unfit for NATO membership. Yuri Popov, a Russian envoy, stated that NATO could not trust Georgia, saying "Georgia's step is absolutely incomprehensible and shows the Georgian leadership has zero credit of trust." He went on to call Georgia treacherous. (Reuters)

These statements and Russia's opposition at the Bucharest Summit make it clear that the true motivation for the war is as an example: should the states in Russia's former sphere of control seek to ally with the West, the Russian government cannot be held responsible for its actions. Which leads to the only obvious conclusion: the Russian government must be held responsible for its actions.

This is the difficult part, though. There was a time when the US military would intervene, setting up shop in Asia to fight the Russians through a proxy war (see Vietnam, Korea, etc.), and certainly, that is a possibility now. However, our military is stretched thin, based in Iraq and Afghanistan, of course, but also in Japan, Germany, South Korea, Spain, Ecuador, Guam, Cuba, the Philippines and other former hotspots (see this site) where we, for some reason, see it as fitting to shore up the local economy by leaving soldiers hanging around there. I've complained about this before. Getting into a "shooting war" with Russia would not be the wisest move unless we committed to redeploying our bored soldiers overseas (which ain't going to happen).

But then, if we must do something, which we must if we want to protect freedom of action for Eastern European governments and prevent a second Cold War (or a continuation of the first, I suppose), what can we do? The answer lies, like so many things, in the history of the Middle East (sorry).

Between 1948 and the 1970s, Israel became locked repeatedly in military conflict with its Arab neighbors. The country was in a remarkable position: a tiny strip of land attacking and defending against much larger neighbors, all of which were swift to ally with each other. The most striking example of this was the "Six-Day War" in which Israel, in the course of, oh, about six days, swept through the forces of Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt to take the Sinai Peninsula and much of the western Middle East. This was possible due to years of military support from the West. This support was not in the form of our own forces, but in aid supplied in the form of weaponry and vehicles from Western countries including Great Britain and the US (Wikipedia for more info). While that war has been the spark for much of the further Arab-Israeli antipathy, it is obvious that non-combat support in the form of arms can be a powerful force indeed.

So, the path for the United States seems obvious: to suppress Russia's anti-Western aspirations, the massive US defense budget should be temporarily bent toward helping Georgia's forces compete with the forces of Russia. If Georgia can repulse, or even simply inflict heavy losses upon, Russia, the Great Bear will once again back down, especially when it becomes obvious that the US will not stand for a return to Russian aggression.

Remember, the conquest and conversion of Eastern Europe to form the Soviet Union strengthened Russia enough to touch off the long-running conflict between the two world superpowers, with all the fear and stupidity that came along with it (flash!). I would rather not have to travel that road like my father's generation.

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman