Georgia and American Triumphalism

We can all agree that Russia was wrong in trying to subdue Georgia, in spite of Georgia’s foolish attacks beginning it all. But we should also reflect that events in Georgia are due in part to American attempts to extend its reach into areas that Russia rightly considers to be in its historical sphere of influence. In trying to assert itself in Georgia, Russia is striking back against what it considers an attempt by the United States to surround and diminish its presence in the world.  After the collapse of the USSR, the United States in a spirit of triumphalism developed close relations with all the former parts of the Soviet Union that it could contact.  In recent years, it has continuedto urge the eventual inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine in NATO and is moving to set up missile defense sites in Eastern Europe. Regardless of the arguments that may be made for such measures, we should take seriously th fact that they are seen asdirect affronts by Moscow.

I am reminded of the rollback strategy of Secretary Dulles that led to the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. Without taking seriously the implications of our talk, we had embarked on a rhetorical offensive that led the Hungarians to rebel against the Soviets in the mistaken belief that we would come to their assistance. The result was a bloody suppression of the rebellion and the postponement of real freedom in Hungary for many years.  On Russia’s periphery we have once again been indulging in a rhetorical offensive that we cannot and should not back up with action.  By implicitly encouraging Saakashvili to move against South Ossetia, we gave Russia the excuse that it had been waiting for to reassert its influence over this and other former Soviet and Russian peoples. Brash statements by Rice and Cheney and Biden and the announcement of a one billion dollar aid package underline our weakness more than demonstrate resolve. If, as with Hungary in 1956, we actually had the power and the public support for an effectiveintervention in Georgia and neighboring states, then our policy might make sense.  But with the present attitude of our people and our presentweakened economic and military condition, we should rethink our policy along the borders of Russia to make sure that we don’t again endanger either the peoples involved or the world with our feckless ambition. Only in this way will we have a chance of once again making Russia a working partner.

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