August 15, 2008

An Admittedly Impressionistic Description of the Left's Response to the Russian Invasion of Georgia

Carroll Andrew Morse

After President Bush announces at West Point in 2002 that American strategy will evolve beyond containment in response to new threats, the left responds

What!?!? The United States is abandoning containment? Containment is how we all worked together to win the Cold War. Our strategy must be based on containment!

After the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, the left responds

What!?!? You mean containment means that we actually sometimes have to take an active role is resisting aggression and supporting allies? That makes containment too dangerous and provocative. Aggressors can be trusted to stop when they've taken enough to feel secure.

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Oh Andrew.

Blowback From Bear-Baiting

This is a tale of US expansion not Russian aggression

Posted by: PDM at August 15, 2008 3:39 PM

Blowback From Bear-Baiting

Posted by: PDM at August 15, 2008 3:45 PM

Great link. Nobody says it better than Pat.

Posted by: George Elbow at August 15, 2008 10:22 PM

Buchanan is apparently determined to go down in history as the last cheerleader in the West for accepting the Brezhnev Doctrine as the basis of American foreign policy. If the Soviets ever held it, then the new Russian empire has unlimited rights to reseize it, always and forever.

His argument is bizarre. He invokes the name of Reagan, and asks you to imagine a world where America hadn't carried out Regan's aggressive version of containment and the Soviets were able to expand, right up to our borders. Um, sorry, but that's the argument for beginning containment as soon as possible, not for waiting 'til the threat is really on your doorstep.

As for the moral-equivalence symmetry, what exactly is the Putin regime worried that a Georgia allied with the West is going to do to Russia?

And if you get a chance, take a look at a map of north-central Europe. Then try to explain why a nation like Poland, for example, should be considered in the Russian sphere of influence because the Brezhnev doctrine says so, instead of in the German/EU sphere of influence and, more to the point, why it shouldn't be able to choose how closely it allies and integrates with whatever side it wants to be on.

Posted by: Andrew at August 16, 2008 10:53 AM


Buchanan doesn't suggest we let the Ruskies set up shop on our door step.

Just the opposite.

He suggests that we give each other "space".

He is exactly right when he suggests that we'd have a bad reaction to the Ruskies setting up shop in close proximity to the US, no different than the Ruskies getting anxious about the US attempting to expand it's sphere of influence in thier region.

When the Ruskies were doing their thing in Cuba back in the 50s & 60s, we objected. Granted, Cuba may be a bit closer than Poland is to the Ruskies, but the concept is the same.

Like it or not, right or wrong, Poland was once part of the Soviet block, so a negative reaction to the US setting up shop in Poland can be and should be expected.

The US can not and should not control the world. Yes, it would be nice if every "nation" could choose their own course. But the reality is that that has never been, nor ever will be, the case.

And as Buchanan noted, who is the US to object to Russia invading a sovereign country when we did exactly that 5 years ago? We still remain in that sovereign country?

And it should be noted that the 10 year Russian / Afgahn war did as much to destroy the old Soviet Union as Reagan and his "take down this wall" rhetoric did.

Posted by: George Elbow at August 16, 2008 11:13 AM

"And as Buchanan noted, who is the US to object to Russia invading a sovereign country when we did exactly that 5 years ago? We still remain in that sovereign country?"

Specific to the above point, how about:

We went into Iraq to dump a dictator, set up a democracy and allow that country to control its own natural resources.

Russia wants to do just the reverse in Georgia.

Is there not some difference between the two?

Going back, Germany invaded France. Several years later, the US and allied forces invaded Germany.

Would you not say, George E, that one was bad and one was good? Or are you lumping all invasions together into the same condemnatory pile?

Posted by: Monique at August 16, 2008 11:49 PM


We could spend the rest of the summer discussing the issues raised in your comment.

But the answer to the core issue that I commented on can be provided by asking the following simple question(s):

1) Did we (the US) or did we not invade a Sovereign nation when we invaded Iraq (and continue to occupy it)? Answer: YES.

2) Did the Ruskies invade a Sovereign nation when they invaded Georgia? Answer: YES.

You are trying to ascribe reasons and rationales to the actions. But the central point remains unchanged …who are we to lecture people about invading sovereign nations when we do it ourselves?

Clearly, in both cases, there are some people that want the invaders in their country and some that don’t want the invaders in their country, else there’d be no conflict or bloodshed.

In other words, if either the US or the Ruskies were welcomed guests in these countries, there would be no issue. Agree?

But clearly we are not welcome (by all), as evidenced by the violence.

You are trying to find gray spots in a black and white issue.

You are ascribing good intentions and reasons in your attempt to rationalize US actions, while ascribing bad intentions and reasons to the Ruskie’s actions. I know you know that the folks in Russia are saying exactly the opposite of what you are saying.

In fact, the Ruskies are saying they invaded Georgia for the same reasons you are saying we invaded Iraq.

It is like me and Tom “Giving Selflessly” Kenney. My world view will never accept or justify the Entitlement-minded actions of the Unions (especially the actions of no-show employees), whereas Tom’s world view results in just the opposite. His perspective causes him to defend “no show” employees and expect Entitlements.

With respect to your question about lumping all invasions in the same pot …are ALL invasions the same? Clearly, no.

World War II started in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. The US didn’t get into the war until 1941, AFTER Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

I’m trying to recall where in the Constitution it says that the US will maintain a standing Army, not to protect and defend America, but to be a service provider to the world (i.e. dump dictators, set up democracies and allow countries to control their own natural resources).

So which dictator do we depose next? Which non-democratic country do we impose democracy on next? It's going to be a busy decade or two if that is our military's mission.

And besides, don’t you remember, Saddam held democratic elections. He wasn't a dictator ...he reported that he received nearly 100% of the vote!

PS - if our military is to be used to "dump a dictator, set up a democracy and allow [the people] to control its own natural resources", do you think there is any chance we could have the US Army invade RI to depose the the dictatorship that is the Public Employee Unions & their wholly owned subsidiary (the GA), set up a democracy in which the Taxpayers have a vote in Labor contracts and allow the Taxpayers to control their limited resources?? I can dream, can't I?

Posted by: George Elbow at August 17, 2008 9:40 AM

"if our military is to be used to "dump a dictator, set up a democracy and allow [the people] to control its own natural resources", do you think there is any chance we could have the US Army invade RI to depose the the dictatorship that is the Public Employee Unions & their wholly owned subsidiary (the GA), set up a democracy in which the Taxpayers have a vote in Labor contracts and allow the Taxpayers to control their limited resources??"

Damn! Where do we sign??

Posted by: Monique at August 17, 2008 10:44 PM

Iraq was nearly as far from a democracy as was possible in this world. That ends the simple moral equivalence argument between Iraq and Georgia. Dictators don't get to demand the full protection of the rule of law and simultaneously demand that no one interfere with their lawless behavior within (and sometimes outside of) their own borders.

But if we're going to go down the anything-goes-in-power politics line of reasoning anyway, then there's no basis for questioning a EU/NATO desire to push one way as hard or harder as the Russians are trying to push the other. Why is there a legitimate Russian "need" for "space" that is any greater than a German or French similar need?

Further, saying it would be nice if every nation could choose its own course is way too glib an analysis. Eastern Europe is not some sparsely populated desert. Between Poland, the Czech Republic, the Baltic Republics, and the Ukraine, there are about 100 million people. Saying the Russians (150 million) have some sort of power-politics right to declare themselves the de-facto final authority over a region of the world 2/3 of their own size makes as much sense as saying that Mexico (100 million) has a right to dictate events in California and Texas (60 million) because of a need for "space".

Rolling this all together: if nations of 100 million people want to join up with one side that has a much better track record of building a prosperous society (the American/European alliance), rather than the side that doesn't (the Russians), there's no reason for the prosperous side to ignore them -- unless you are willing to accept that a main driver of international relations should be accepting that dictatorial regimes have psychological needs that can be appeased if they get enough of what they say they want.

Sorry, but I'm not willing to base American foreign policy on satisfying the psychological needs of foreign dictators for expansion.

Posted by: Andrew at August 18, 2008 8:58 AM

This is NOT a simple moral equivalency argument.

When, on the one hand, a nation such as the US invades another sovereign nation, it can not criticize another nation for doing the same (the “same” being defined as invasion, regardless of real or perceived motives).

Now, move to the motives (i.e. the moral justifications) of the invasions. Putting aside the fact that the reasons given for our invasion of Iraq change like the wind (they were an eminent threat with weapons of mass destruction; they were linked to 9/11; it was to bring democracy to an oppressed people, blah, blah, blah…), I would argue the reasons are irrelevant because, one’s perspective depends on what side they are on.

For every American that says we rightfully invaded Iraq to free a people from a dictator and to impose democracy, there is someone at the other end that feels completely different due to their world view and perspective. How do I know this? Simple …Americans continue to die over there, and it ain’t the folks that think like us that are killing them.

Trying to apply “morals” to the analysis is when you get yourself in trouble. 19 pieces of crap, from their f’d up perspective, thought they were morally right to fly planes into buildings.

There are Mexicans that would think they are "morally right" to "take back" their ancestural lands in Texas and California. We might feel differently. Who is right? Who is wrong? Does it matter? I think in the end the only thing that would matter is that we'd crush & destroy Mexico if they tried. But people would die on both sides think their cause was morally right.

I assure you that from the Ruskie’s perspective, our presence / influence in Georgia, Poland and other areas is no different than what our perspective was when the Ruskie’s were attempting to establish a presence in Cuba.

But far more importantly, it comes down to practicalities. Separate theory from practice. In theory, wouldn’t we love to play Cop to the world and ensure that everyone was free and happy. But in practice, we can NOT do it, nor should we try.

Check with the Romans and see how they made out trying to control and impose their way of life & beliefs on the world.

Check with Great Britain. Last I checked, the sun does indeed regularly set on the Union-Jack.

Check with the old Soviet Union and see how that whole expansion of Communism across the globe thing worked out.

Indeed, we may, in theory, want to save the world. But in practice, it is not possible. It is kind of like RI, where a group of people decided to create a nanny state, which in theory is a very nice and neighborly thing to do. But, in practice, it eventually caved in upon the weight of itself.

In summary, you are right that “Dictators don't get to demand the full protection of the rule of law and simultaneously demand that no one interfere with their lawless behavior within (and sometimes outside of) their own borders.” At some point, the people who are oppressed will either rise up and revolt (like they did in the US in 1776) or they will roll over.

Am I willing to ask our troops to help and assist those that are rising up? Perhaps. But it ain’t a blank check. And it sure isn’t based on whether it’s for 100 million people or just 25 million people in a desert.

And if I am going to sacrifice this country’s blood and treasure, I am going to be far more willing to do it in a situation where the Ruskies are rolling into Mexico as opposed to rolling into Georgia.

Lastly, when someone says things like “Sorry, but I'm not willing to base American foreign policy on satisfying the psychological needs of foreign dictators for expansion”, I can’t help but wonder if that means they are running down to the local recruiting center to join the Armed forces or if they mean it like Dick Chenney and George Bush (Chenney having taken 5 deferments and Bush having “served” stateside, during a time of war to free an oppressed people).

I would say something more along the lines of: “I am not willing to sacrifice this country’s blood and treasure to satisfy the psychological needs of domestic chicken hawks for expansion. I will follow George Washington’s advice about avoiding foreign entanglements long and hard before I ask those that serve to serve”

Posted by: George Elbow at August 18, 2008 10:54 PM

The argument above IS simple moral equivalence, all the way through. There was no “need” for expansion or “space” driving the American action in Iraq. The Iraqi regime was presented with a set of reasonable conditions for complying with the Gulf War cease fire that would have left Saddam Hussein in power, had he complied. That’s a very different situation than Russia issuing Russian passports to the people of a sovereign democracy on its borders. More generally, if we actually had followed the appeasement philosophy written out above, we'd still be fighting the original Cold War; we'd be out of NATO (it's one of those "entangling" alliances you know, the same alliance the Russians are objecting to now) and we wouldn't have opposed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

But ignoring tyrannical aggression just pushes the costs down the road, and usually increases them. We saw this starting in the 1990s, beginning from the time that the U.S. decided it would be too provocative to respond meaningfully to an attack on American soil at the World Trade Center, on to the attack on Americans in Somalia, on to the bombing of two of our African embassies, on to the attack on the U.S. Cole. Eventually, the bill came due. But Bill Clinton kept the peace while he was in office, right? Wrong. Give into tyrannical aggression, and you breed more aggression. That’s a “practicality” that can never be ignored.

More moral equivalence: Someone else in the past has done something somewhere, so Russia can do whatever it wants and the West shouldn't object. Russia can assert itself as the final authority over events in democratic Georgia, Ukraine, and Poland, because America toppled dictators in Afghanistan and Iraq, because all governments are equal. The fact that the 100 million people want to be a part of the West, counts for nothing because of some weird idea that a defunct Warsaw Pact structure that its former members want nothing to do with is what should determine the shape of Europe. The last 100 out of 2500 years of history in Europe represents the “true” configuration of Europe, because the Brezhnev doctrine says so. Huh?

But if you turn away from hundreds of millions of people in democratic allies because it displeases foreign dictators, you can’t expect that a world hospitable to our ideals and values will be the end result. That’s doesn’t mean “imposing” democracy, but if you can’t do even the slightest to help nations and cultures with shared ideals build relationships of mutual trust and shared respect, then you can’t expect that an international system at all hospitable to your presence is going to exist for very long.

It is very interesting that you chose the Roman and British empires as your examples, because though the formal structures of the Roman and British empires are gone, it is Roman and British ideas that have largely formed the core of the most prosperous and peaceful part of the world that has ever existed. Abandon that structure for more ancient and barbaric practices, and the entire world, even our part, won't stay prosperous or peaceful for very long.

Our generation didn't build the success we enjoy. We didn't do it on our own and the success of America is due to more than isolationism and good luck. We’re heirs to a great and noble tradition, constructed for us by others, that it is our duty to defend and pass to the next generation, and not just burn through with little concern for the future.

The view that aggression against democratic nations by powers with less of a democratic tradition should be accepted as an immutable feature of the international system and not resisted has no special claim as a high-ground in international politics. In fact, it is people who believe in accepting inter-country conflicts as inevitable BUT not in taking steps to try to win them who should be early in line at the local recruiting center, since they’re the ones saying that they want a military to defend them, but refusing to use the full range of options to maximally deter a future assault on it and on the nation at large. That doesn’t seem quite fair to the folks in uniform.

Ultimately, I'm content to let the readers and, in a larger sense, the American people decide this issue after they've considered both sides, to let them decide if they believe that foreign dictators are morally equivalent to the democratically selected leaders of America, the larger West and now Eastern Europe, and if they believe that American foreign policy should be based on trusting that foreign aggressors will stop aggression of their own accord while we stand silently by, trying not to offend them.

Posted by: Andrew at August 19, 2008 7:01 PM

"Saddam was presented with a set of reasonable conditions..."

Who the F are we to give someone in a sovereign nation 6,000 miles away a "set of reasonable conditions", else we bomb them to smithereens?

Is that the old "might make right" argument? We beat you up in 1991, so you will be our trained monkey.

I have no problem objecting to Russia's agression.

But, it is a fact that it becomes much harder to object when you are seen as an agresssor your self (oh that's right, we gave someone an ultimatum before we became agressive).

It also becomes very hard to object in a meaningful way when you are seen as being bogged down and stretched too thin.

Make no mistake, Russia has absolutely been emboldened in its agressive behaviour as a result of our little excursion into Iraq.

And the proof is in the pudding have we objected, even with a war-dodging, Mission Accomplished, chicken hawk as Commander in Chief?

Buchannan is correct when he says the "chickens are coming home to roost".

And don't suggest that invading Iraq was somehow smart in comparison to Clinton's reluctance to respond to a direct attack on the US or it's forces (as well as others such as Reagan not responding to the Lebanon bombing in the early 80s).

9/11 absolutely required a hard-nosed response. Unfortunately, we went after a Iraq instead of Osama.

And Rome and GB indeed had wonderful models that have served us well. And we can learn from their flaws, the biggest being that they spread themselves too thin ...for a variety of reasons, none of which matter since it ultimately was the greatest contributor to their down fall.

It's real simple. If you want to object in a meaningful manner, as opposed to the Demi Moore (A Few Good Men) style of objecting ("I object...I strongly Object"), then you better be in a position to back it up. And we are NOT in such a position as we spend our time presenting foreign leaders with "reasonable conditions" to avoid our export of democracy.

Perhaps if we institue a Draft so that we ALL have some skin in the game when it comes time to playing World Cop, then I'm with you in being "content to let the readers and, in a larger sense, the American people decide this issue" ...once they all risk bearing some real consequences to the chest thumping.

Posted by: George Elbow at August 19, 2008 7:38 PM

Andrew -

If you haven't already, check out today's (Aug 20) Op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal by Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov entitled "America must choose between Georgia and Russia".

It is worth reading. You will not agree with all of it (or perhaps, most), but it provides two important things:

1) Insight to the Ruskie perspective

2) It highlights the point that I attempted, but failed to articulate, which is that life is about the allocation of LIMITED resources and you have to be smart about how and where you allocate those LIMITED resources ...hence, I believe, the title of the op-ed.

Posted by: George Elbow at August 20, 2008 9:20 PM
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