Midasize It!

Someone needs a catalytic converter …

Keep Out

Russia quietly ups the ante:

In recent days, several Bear-H bombers have carried out training missions over the Black Sea, according to American officials familiar with intelligence reports. The training flights represent the first time that a Bear bomber has flown over the Black Sea in at least two years, according to American military experts. The Russian bombers are capable of carrying non-nuclear cruise missiles, and government intelligence analysts have told the Pentagon that a recent Bear training flight appeared to simulate a cruise-missile attack against Georgia.

It’s also a not-subtle message to the US Navy that as far as the Russians are concerned, the Black Sea is their lake.

Getting the Point

Thomas Barnett:

The reason why you don’t lose your head over stuff like this is that every time there’s churn in the international security order, there are always new opportunities for re-balancing. Most of that re-balancing has been focused on the United States for the past four years, hence the increasingly sensible stuff out of the Bush administration. After a while, your choices are simply narrowed.

The same will happen with Russia, and if we avoid the calls of the freak-out artists, we’ll find several useful answers regarding future structure along the way.

Purity Has Nothing to Do With It

Matt Ygelsias misses the point entirely in observing that Georgian President Saakashvili is no democrat. The US embrace of Georgia has nothing to do with human rights, democracy or anything so soft and squishy as that. We prefer that Georgia (and the other former Soviet republics) remain independent of Russia because a smaller Russia is a less powerful and less threatening Russia. Period.

Things Settle

Lots of low-level stuff on Georgia/Russia.

  • The NYT cottons to the cyberwar. Suspects are plentiful, conviction-level proof minimal.
  • Just like that, the US and Poland do a missile-defense deal. They deny the Georgia fracas had anything to do with it, but no one believes that. The cherry on top is that we promised to help out the Poles “in case of trouble.” The Poles aren’t exactly believers in NATO.
  • Someone in the US Navy may be less skeptical than I about the possibility of its operating in the Black Sea.
  • Andrew Sullivan thinks McCain is hard-wired personality-wise to keep global conflict at a boil.
  • Some look at McCain and see Al Haig. Along with something a little more sleazy, in the form of an adviser who’s been in Saakashvili’s pocket.

Ars Technica: Georgia Cyberwar Not Military?

Seems that some Russian hacker superpatriots might be responsible. Would that they’d done a better job programming the software I once used at work.

Not So Peaceful

The Russians appear to have a loose definition of the cease-fire terms in Georgia, so Bush is sending in troops to deliver humanitarian aid. As the New York Times tells it, there’s a lot of loose talk going around. From our side, we get this:

On a day when the White House evoked emotional memories of the cold war, a senior Pentagon official said the relief effort was intended “to show to Russia that we can come to the aid of a European ally, and that we can do it at will, whenever and wherever we want.” 

And this:

“This is not 1968, and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can invade its neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it,” [Secretary of State Rice] said. “Things have changed.”

From the Russians, this:

Asked whether Mr. Bush’s relief mission made him nervous, he scoffed. “What can the Americans do to us?” [Gen. Vyacheslav Nicolayevich of the Pskov Airborne Division] said. “A big country like Russia doesn’t fear America.”

Oh, great. First, given where Georgia is and the condition and present commitments of our forces, we can’t do anything “at will.” On the flip, the good general might ask his air counterparts what they’d think about tangling with a passel of F-22s. 

Registan is mortified and thinks we’re on the brink. That’s just panic talking. Bush knows that at the end of the day, there’s no public or Congressional support for battle. He is, or should be, trying to find some way to get the Russians to calm down a little. An aid mission strikes a nice balance. The supporting public and private commentary from the administration doesn’t.

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.

A Different Take on Georgia

Joshua Foust and his commenters at Registan have a rather different, cautionary view of things in the Caucasus. I offer it at this point for perusal. The linked post is from early on, like Rob Farley’s. Opinions at the site have evolved a bit since.

Russia: “We’re back”

It appears Russian forbearance is sorely lacking in Georgia:

Russian troops briefly seized a Georgian military base and took up positions close to the Georgian city of Gori on Monday, raising Georgian fears of a full-scale invasion or an attempt to oust the country’s pro-Western president, Mikheil Saakashvili.

Like I said previously, there’s really nothing to stop them if they don’t want to be stopped. With our army fully committed in Iraq and perhaps incapable of sustained high-intensity operations even if it weren’t, the only military option I can see we’d have is maybe forward-deploying what F-22s we have to Turkey. But the Russians would call that bluff. They know we have no interest in getting into a shooting war with them.

Galrahn has more, including a comment on “communications disruption” that is not fully explained; it’s not clear whether he means conventional EW, Internet attacks or both. He also notes that Russian casualties are likely high, not that Putin cares.

All in all, it’s shaping up as a big short-term loss for the U.S. As Rob Farley said early in the game:

Russia gets to demonstrate her power, solve two of the Frozen Conflicts (the Georgians are never getting Abkhazia back if Russia wins here), and humiliate the United States, all at the same time. They hit the trifecta if they win this war.

Question now is what we can make of it on the rebound vis-a-vis the EU and Iran.