Friday, August 8, 2008
Russia invades Georgia: an Archduke Ferdinand moment?
Posted by John Keller
Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers rolled across the Georgian border yesterday in a fast-moving armored blitzkrieg in support of Georgian separatist rebels fighting in opposition to the democratic and Western-leaning established government of Georgia.
CNN is reporting that upwards of 1,000 Georgian civilians have been killed so far, and Russian warplanes have dropped bombs on at least one Georgian military air base. This isn't a little border clash; these two countries are in an all-out war. No one has seen this kind of Russian incursion since the Soviet Union's invasions of Afghanistan in 1979, of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and of Hungary in 1956. Is this the beginning of a return to the bad old days?
Interesting that this comes the day before the Olympics open in Beijing, and the U.S. is in the heat of a presidential election. What better timing to ensure that nobody in the U.S. or the West cares much about this military invasion. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili says the Russian timing is no accident. I don't think it's any accident either.
Saakashvili made clear in an interview today that this incident represents a test of Western support for democratic governments, especially those established in the sphere of influence of the old Soviet Union, as Georgia certainly is.
Georgia has voiced its wish to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, better-known as NATO. Russia has said this would be unacceptable.
Russia has put its money and military might where its mouth is. The most fundamental geopolitical question in the world today is will the West do the same? Would it make sense for the U.S. to get involved in the Russian-Georgia War, which Russia will claim is an internal conflict and Georgia will claim is naked armed aggression against an independent democratic country?
The only thing between U.S. air bases in Iraq and the Georgian capital of T'bilisi is the country of Turkey. Would the Turks grant permission to U.S. planes to overfly its territory in support of Georgia? That's no clear. Would U.S. aircraft carriers -- they're not there already -- move into the Eastern Mediterranean -- or even into the Black Sea -- within striking distance of Georgia? We'll have to see.
The bigger question is would we want to do this? The answer is, we would if we would like the world to take the U.S. and its rhetoric supporting democratic movements and governments seriously.
Next question: COULD we get involved while U.S. forces are already stretched thin in Iraq and Afghanistan, and on the opening day of the Olympics? That would be ugly. We'll see if the Bush Administration has the stomach for it.
In the meantime, I'm reflecting on the history of the early 20th century. In the summer of 1914, a Serbian terrorist shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo. A series of interlocking alliances were activated, resulting in an invasion of Western Europe by German and Austrian armies, resulting in World War I, which resulted in 20 million deaths.
I wonder if the Russian invasion of Georgia is an Archduke Ferdinand moment. I hope it's not, but smaller things have resulted in global conflagrations. The risks and threats posed by the Russian invasion throughout the world are huge.
I'll be keeping a close eye.