The details of who did what to precipitate Russia's war against Georgia are not very important. Do you recall the precise details of the Sudeten Crisis that led to Nazi Germany's invasion of Czechoslovakia? Of course not, because that morally ambiguous dispute is rightly remembered as a minor part of a much bigger drama.But what are the details that precipitated "Russia's war against Georgia?" This is an extremely important question for American policy-makers and public opinion. The top priority is to get the Russian military to end their invasion and retreat to their initial positions in South Ossetia and Russia proper. But after that nailing down the details of what precipitated the war is extremely important to evaluating the role of our own government in this fiasco, evaluating our stance toward Georgia as a potential ally and client state, and determining the stance that the U. S. should take toward Russia as a possible long-term rival.
Obviously, the problem of how to deal with Russia is going to be the most important issue. But before we decide about Russia, we need to evaluate the role of the Georgian government and possibly our own government in precipitating the war.
Some Details. It is well-known is that the Georgian military attacked the breakaway enclave of South Ossetia and moved into the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. It is almost as well known that the South Ossetians are much more favorably disposed toward Russia than they are toward Georgia and that Russian peacekeepers were stationed in South Ossetia.
It is apparent that Georgia attacked Russian peacekeepers as part of their offensive into South Ossetia. The Russians also accuse the Georgians of ethnic cleansing and war crimes (and the Georgians should be prosecuted for those war crimes if they occurred).
It was only after the Georgians took control of Tskhinvali that the Russians attacked.
Far from considering these details to be unimportant, they should be examined closely.
The U. S. Government. The first detail that an "incompetence weary" American nation needs to consider is the performance of the Bush administration. To what extent did the Bush administration know of the Georgia government's plans to invade South Ossetia? If Bush's people did know of Georgia's plans, did they do anything to approve of those plans? Was there any quid pro quo agreement that the U. S. would back Georgia on South Ossetia if Georgia sent troops to Iraq (Georgia had 2,000 troops in Iraq)? Even worse, did the U. S. government do anything to encourage the Georgia government in their thinking or goad them to attack?
In other words, was the U. S. government seeking to "test" or "provoke" the Russians by encouraging our proxy Georgia to move against the Russian proxy of South Ossetia.
Given the Bush administration's record of recklessness, the possibility has to be acknowledged and investigated.
Georgia. It is also important to understand the thinking of the Georgian government of President Mikhail Saakashvili as it decided to attack South Ossetia. Why did Georgia think it would be able to succeed in their attack and reintegrate South Ossetia into Georgia despite the opposition of the South Ossetian population and the Russians? Given that Russia is much larger and much more militarily powerful than Georgia, why did the Georgian government believe that the Russians would be either inclined or able to effectively retaliate.
These are important questions because it appears on the surface that the Georgian government was incredibly stupid and reckless in deciding to invade South Ossetia.
Some quick comparisons to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait illustrate the point because Georgia is in a much worse position compared to Iraq when Iraq challenged the U. S.
When Saddam Hussein launched his invasion of Kuwait, he thought he had an implicit go-ahead from U. S. ambassador April Glaspie. Georgia had no such implicit gesture from Russia. The Iraqis also had more than 500,000 troops who had been battle-tested in a long war with Iran and could see itself as a real challenge for the American military. Georgia's army has 26,000 soldiers and outdated Soviet-era weapons to boot. Finally, Kuwait was thousands of miles away from the territory of the United States and it would take months for the U. S. to move sufficient forces into the theater to dislodge the Iraqis. South Ossetia is on Russia's border and it didn't even take one day for the Russians to generate an overwhelming response.
So why did Georgia think they could win?
So far, liberal writers are the ones most willing to speculate. Fred Kaplan of Slate reports that the Georgians believed that the U. S. would ride to their rescue because of the Bush administration's eagerness to promote Georgia entry into NATO and beef up the Georgia military. But how was the U. S. going to get enough of an army into isolated Georgia to fully engage the Russians who are in neighboring territory?
Matthew Yglesias speculates that the Georgians believed that the Russians did not want to invade Georgia proper or that the Georgians thought they could close the only road from Russia to South Ossetia. But why would the Georgians think the Russians would not want to punish them given that Georgia has been a consistent thorn in the Russian's side--unless they thought the U. S. would rescue them?
What all of this gets down to is that the Georgia government was not capable of making even the most elementary calculations of self-interest as they were launching a war that was likely to draw in a powerful neighbor.
That's bad enough for Georgia and it looks like the Georgians will spend several years rebuilding from the damage caused by the war.
But there's more to it. In its thoughtlessness, the Georgian government also thought it would drag the United States into a confrontation with Russia.
Thanks but no thanks. That's inexcusable in an ally and client state. As the major partner in any U. S./Georgia alliance, the U. S. should be the ones dictating the terms of any actions of Georgia in relation to a major U. S. rival like the Russians.
The fact that Georgia did this on their own is an indication that the Georgian government does not have the savvy and maturity needed to be a long-term American ally.
After this confrontation is resolved, the U. S. should drop its connection with Georgia. It's bad enough that we have a recklessly dumb government of our own. The last thing we need is dumb allies.