All Quiet in the Caucasus

Now that peace has kinda/sorta/maybe broken out between Russia and Georgia, the recriminations have begun. Most everybody’s getting it wrong.

Galrahn, heretofore on target, has gone off the deep end predicting an EU/French sellout and lamenting that Bush never brought a credible military threat to bear. His commenters properly note that we don’t have much at present to wave at the Russians. The army’s fully committed (it can’t even sustain the proverbial half-war) and the USN isn’t in the Black Sea. The Air Force was the best possibility, but would likely have been late to the party. Again, I think this whole thing opens rather than closes more opportunities for U.S. diplomacy. Until now, the Russian revival was mostly theoretical. After Georgia, not so much. The postgame could go bad for us, but it could go the other way too. It all depends on how we play it.

Registan proves a disappointment, indulging in some ill-judged ad hominem against Thomas Barnett and showing its own lack of vision. Barnett’s not about neo-imperialism; he stresses the need to establish global rulesets to constrain everyone’s behavior, even that of the U.S. That negotiation process necessarily involves more than “reducing the entire planet to dumb monkeys.” Nor is Russia the paper tiger Joshua portrays. It is not on par with the U.S., China, the EU or even the old Soviet Union, but there’s more to its economy than oil and gas and it is resurgent. 

Barnett himself, meanwhile, is arguing that Russia’s play is essentially “modeled behavior” from the USA’s own rules transgressions. While that’s a nice refutation to Registan, I’m not buying the underlying argument. Russia has never needed an excuse to act out along its borders, or felt much need to cover its activities. All the transgressions Barnett is talking about have done is complicate our diplomacy in much the same way that America’s racial problems complicated USIA’s sales job back in the 1960s. They’re an own-goal, but the effect is on us and not on Russia.

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