GEORGIA-- AND NOT THE ONE IN THE
AMERICAN SOUTH-- ON THEIR MINDS
International Crisis erupts: how might such
a thing affect the Presidential Campaign?
Thursday, August 14, 2008
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
Lately, and in the wake of the actions of the Russian military within the internationally recognized borders of the Republic of Georgia (the region of South Ossetia, despite Russian claims to be acting in protection of same, is- nonetheless- within Georgia, at least on all the maps *I* have in my collection [in addition, there is a reason there are two 'Ossetia's, North and South!]), the mainstream American media has been falling all over itself portraying the Republic of Georgia as being a democratic bastion in (with its President Saakashvili a pinnacle of libertarian forbearance in the face of) mortal danger of being gobbled up by the nasty, autocratic post-Soviet/neo-Czarist Russian bear...
but hold on there!...
Time for a bit of a "reality check"!
Georgia is, at best, still (maybe) an, at best, "emergent" democracy.
Yes, it did hold a presidential election back in 2004 (in the wake of the departure of Georgia's first post-Soviet era president/former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Sheverdnadze as a result of the so-called "Rose Revolution") that elected the country's current leader, Mikheil Saakashvili-- but he won with more than 96% of the vote: and any time a candidate for an elected national executive office gets that kind of percentage, it simply has to be considered at least somewhat suspect, even where it happens to have represented a victory for the anti-Sheverdnadze opposition!
In truth, Georgia is still rather quasi-autocratic in its own right: for the President of the Republic is not only Head of State but also Head of Government where security is concerned (that is, the President acts as his own Prime Minister as regards Defense and Interior [here meaning, as is more usual outside the United States: the department of government that is the police]; the Prime Minister himself is left with being first among equals as regards the domestic governmental departments, but the President is- by dint of his security duties- the functional "political Executive" in the Georgian system of governance).
Then there is the little matter of the rather odd circumstances surrounding the death of Saakashvili's first Prime Minister- Zuban Zhvarin- back in 2005: for the official account that he died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty gas heater has all the stench of a "lefthanded guy commits suicide by shooting himself in the right temple"-type story (and is eerily similar to, for example, the strange 1981 death of Mehmet Shehu- longtime Premier of Albania back in the Communist era- who allegedly committed suicide as a result of a "nervous disorder" only to, but a few years later, have it admitted that Shehu had been "liquidated" for allegedly betraying the great socialist workers' revolution in Albania).
If anything, the Republic of Georgia is more libertine than libertarian, at least when it comes to economic matters. This does not at all make Georgia a "bad" country-- it is simply a rather poor (overall) Nation-State of the so-called "Second World" in which whatever smuggling, black marketeering and/or other financial illegalities within, as well as passing through, it are but a means through which its people can best try- to quote the late, great American philosopher [;-)] James Brown- "to get over before we go under"... but it is hardly a paradise of Republican Democracy (unless your idea of just such a "paradise" happens to be the early 20th Century Jersey City of Frank "I am the Law" Hague or the mid-19th Century New York City of "Boss" William Marcy Tweed!).
At any rate, let's not now turn President Saakashvili into the second coming of Thomas Jefferson succeeding John Adams as President here! For the regime in the Republic of Georgia is far less "We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists" and, instead, much more "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss"- that is,operating in a political climate much more 'Townshendian' than Jeffersonian!
Put another way: neither side involved in this latest Georgia vs. Russia dust-up comes into it with the proverbial "clean hands"!
Having said this, however: the so-called "Law of Nations" (that is: International Law- such as it might actually be) is the Law of Nations and, per such a thing, a national border is a national border; a small country being invaded by a much larger country is but the stuff of potential larger conflict: thus, there are rather grave geopolitical ramifications flowing from Russia's recent military action-- not to also mention strange, where not also ominous, historical parallels!
In less than two months we will be at the centenary of the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by Austria-Hungary, an event that well stoked Serbian and Croatian nationalism which, in turn, would lead directly to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Austro-Hungarian Heir-Presumptive less than six years later which itself would spark The Great War (that is: World War I) which ended with, among other things, the disintegration of Austria-Hungary itself, the concomitant creation of what became Yugoslavia- the later disintegration of which is an event of fairly recent vintage.
The important thing in this whole sequence of events is the ultimatum much larger Austria-Hungary delivered to Serbia and which led to the first of the series of Declarations of War that set off the "Guns of August" in 1914; Russia's recent "cease fire" with Georgia smacks of very much this same kind of thing (though it seems hardly likely to lead to a much wider general war).
Particularly obnoxious is Russia's demand for the resignation of President Saakashvili. Despite all that I wrote earlier in this piece about Georgia's governance, Saakashvili was elected and it is an ominous thing indeed for a more powerful country to demand the removal of an elected (however so elected) leader of another country!
What we are here seeing is something of a "replay" of the rivalry between the British Empire and the German Second Reich of Kaiser Wilhelm II now more than a century ago. Back then, Germany was sick and tired of seeing Britannia rule the waves (including the North Sea through which German vessels- regardless of whether they were coming out of North Sea or Baltic sea ports- would ever have to sail) and demanded its own "place in the sun" even while the Sun never set on the dominions ruled by Queen Victoria (who was the Kaiser's own grandmother, after all)... thus, the German rush to colonize (if only to show it, too, was a "Great Power") places such as what today is Namibia and Tanzania, as well as the nowadays Federated States of Micronesia and the United States' own Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (which will- an interesting, albeit trivial, connection- be represented at the Republican Party's National Convention in a few weeks).
Russia is now doing pretty much the same thing, for the United States of America is, in effect, what "Great Britain" was to the late 19th and early 20th Centuries to the late 20th now into the early 21st Century and Russia- ever since the end of the post-World War II so-called (if only in retrospect) "Soviet Empire" and the concomitant disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics itself- has found itself pushed aside from its once-predominant role on the World stage... it wants to, once again, be listed near- if not at the top- of the global marquee (that is: it, too wants its "rightful" "place in the sun") over against perceived American hegemony (though this has also quite a lot to do with the People's Republic of China currently- as I type this- hosting the Summer Olympic Games... but that would be a whole other Commentary and not all that much [though, yes, somewhat] connected to the 2008 Presidential Campaign that is the principal focus of this website) and it is doing so by exerting its still-quite-powerful "influence" over a region to which Russia has long historically had ties. In a sense, the Russia Federation- unlike the Second Reich- is not seeking new, far off, colonies; but, rather, it is staking a claim to nearby, once-held, ones...
nevertheless, the overall effect is intended to be the same!
So, how does Russia vs. Georgia interplay with the American presidential race now ongoing?
Well-- for one thing, Senator McCain's latest campaign slogan is "Country First"-- but what does that really mean? More to the point, what does it actually portend?
McCain apologist Senator Joe Lieberman recently scored Senator Obama's response to the crisis in the Republic of Georgia as "morally neutral", yet what's McCain going to do so differently should he become President? What's McCain's more "moral" approach to the crisis? Wagging his finger at the "naughty" Russians just as President George W. Bush is now doing, except (unlike, perhaps, Barack Obama) not being at all afraid to use the middle finger while so wagging?
For, in the end, Georgia is something of a "cheap thrill" for the Russian Federation-- relatively cheap, that is, in its overall costs to Mother Russia itself (while, obviously, the cost to those living in the beleaguered Caucusus republic is rather dear, indeed!). Georgia applied for, but has not yet been granted, membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-- for which George W. Bush, John McCain and Barack Obama can be most grateful (else, as regards whoever might be President at a given time in the near future, that "all for one and one for all" Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty itself might have then kicked in big time, ratcheting this crisis up to a level not all that far below a "World War III"!). Russia, therefore, gets to send a "cheap" (again, from a solely Russian perspective) message that it will not at all tolerate another NATO member right on its own borders (keep in mind that NATO members [because of the accession of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to the Treaty] now border Russia itself, a situation that did not at all exist during the Cold War)-- this is a message that is meant as much, if not moreso, for Ukraine (which has also applied for NATO membership) as it might be for the United States and its NATO allies-- but Russia is not foolish enough to intervene militarily in Ukraine (let alone the three NATO-member Baltic States, which would trigger Article 5.... or would it? [of which more in a moment]).
In addition, the Russian Federation is letting the world know it is getting more and more intolerant of pro-Western democracies (however emergent or nascent)- ones that might well eventually join the European Union- coming into being in territory that was once part of both the Russian Empire of the Czars and the Soviet Union: Russia is here, to again quote James Brown (wow!-- twice in a single Commentary!), "not asking anybody, but telling everybody" that it can still do, at least in such regions historically under Russian influence, what it always has done-- force a more pro-Russian and less pro-Western system of governance onto such places pretty much unfettered (hence its call for the resignation of Georgia's own elected [however duly or not] President).
Put simply: those who lead Russia have calculated that America (and, by extension, its NATO allies) are rather weak as regards any meaningful adverse response to any of this...
and, guess what?... they're right! (albeit sadly so)
In part, this is because George W. Bush is, indeed, the proverbial "lame duck" and the leaders in Russia, no less than anyone else (even on this side of "the Pond"), care far less about the person currently living in the White House than they do about who might be living there a year from now (which is why the "signals" being sent by each presumptive presidential nominee are, indeed, being watched so closely).
But it is also because, in the America of today, you have two Major Parties that are, basically, split down the middle on the issue of American interventionism in international affairs: the Democrats have so often been paralyzed by the so-called "Vietnam Syndrome" (the scars of the domestic political squabbling during the Vietnam Conflict within that Party still haunting its leadership [many of whom, now senior citizens or nearly so, were once the "Young Turks" taking on the Johnson-Humphrey Administration])-- what makes this "syndrome" so interesting is that the anti-war Left-leaners, over now more than four decades, have never ever come to power (the closest they have come was way back: the 1972 nomination of Senator George McGovern-- and just how did that turn out?)... both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were painted, by conservative Republican opponents, as being weak when it came to foreign policy but Carter articulated (however clumsily it might have been executed) an extension of Human Rights as a vehicle for American internationalism and it was the Clinton Administration that developed the idea of expanding Democracy that, it can be fairly argued, is not all that different from the same vision the Administration of George W. Bush has been pushing (especially in light of the lack of Weapons of Mass Destruction being found in Iraq once Saddam Hussein had been toppled)... clearly, neither Carter nor Bill Clinton (except, perhaps, either in retrospect or to bolster former First Lady/Senator Hillary Clinton's anti-war themes in her recent presidential candidacy, where not both) were darlings of those most supportive of the anti-war crowd (I still well remember the harsh, where not also plaintive, cries of numerous Lefties I, at the time, knew personally when President Clinton, newly installed in the White House at the time by the way, actually ordered the bombing of installations in Iraq in late June of 1993, leaving these to complain that "Bill Clinton has allowed himself to become the tool of the Far Right")...
meanwhile, the Republican split between the internationalist "Neocons" and the isolationist "neo-Know Nothings" of the likes of former 'Contract with America' Republican leader Tom DeLay was far more "under the radar" during the Cold War itself (when, as was so often said in those halcyon days, "Politics stops at the water's edge") only to then break out into the open more and more afterwards (particularly with Democrat Bill Clinton in the White House and Republican control of Congress during most of his Administration). Put aside the misguidedness of much of George W. Bush's foreign policy (the Iraq War being but the one most glaring example), the current President would have been hamstrung- in any event- by such a deep divide, within his own Party (let alone within the Opposition), over just how much- or how little- to throw around America's "one remaining Superpower" weight (either diplomatically or militarily). Even the War on Terror (which, at least, can be clearly tied to an actual attack by terrorists on American soil itself [thus, there is little- if any- debate that American interests are somehow involved here]) has only served to further exacerbate such divisions.
Thus, John McCain finds himself walking the proverbial "political tightrope" between squabbling foreign policy wings of the Party he is so trying to unite before heading for its Convention in St. Paul...
hence, the slogan "Country First": one which, of course, can ever mean very different things to different Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents... but this all does rather little- frankly, I find it does nothing at all- to send a clear message to the Russian Federation as regards its actions in the Republic of Georgia.
No, I'm afraid, all this 'Well-- gee-- I don't really all that much like what the Russians are doing in the Republic of Georgia' is, functionally, just as much "moral neutrality" as anything Barack Obama might be saying about the issue. Thus, Senator Lieberman's comments against Obama on McCain's behalf seem, on the whole, rather unjustified.
Unless you can do something (where, in this case, there is no obvious intention of doing anything substantive), it makes little sense to then point fingers at someone else for not saying they would do something!