Two things that have struck me about all of the writing and analysis of Russia’s foray into Georgia via South Ossetia and Abkhazia are 1) U.S. writers continue to describe nations as if they are individuals and 2) U.S. writers, especially the hawkish ones who are fans of John McCain’s aggressive banter, fail to see that the U.S. is not in a position anymore to trot around the globe with its armed forces and whip other countries into the shape it desires.
WarNerd’s take, while a really funny and entertaining read, is still endemic of the first problem. He writes:
You don’t give up territory in that part of the world, ever. The Georgians have always been fierce people, good fighters, not the forgiving type. In fact, I can’t resist a little bit of history here: remember when the Mongols wiped out Baghdad in 1258, the biggest slaughter in any of their conquests? Well, the most enthusiastic choppers and burners in the whole massacre were the Georgian Christian troops in Hulagu Khan’s army.
Russia has a long, unpredictable history of screwing its allies — but not all the time. The Georgians should know better than anybody that once in a while, the Russians actually come through, because it was Russian troops who saved Georgia from a Persian invasion in 1805, at the battle of Zagam. Of course the Russians had let the Persians sack Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, just 10 years earlier without helping. That’s the thing: The bastards are unpredictable. You can’t even count on them to betray their friends (though it’s the safer bet, most of the time, sort of like 6:5 odds).
Leaving aside the question of exactly whom he is comparing the Russians to, this sort of analysis forgets that in the Middle Ages, as in his first example, people’s idea of what exactly Georgia was and what exactly Russia was were so hopelessly different than contemporary views of what constitutes a nation-state that it isn’t worth any comparison at all.
Not that it stops people, often in the countries described, from viewing their own histories in such a light. Americans aren’t the only ones who like such a simplistic viewpoint.
By 1805, as in his second example, I suppose you could make a better historical argument, but you would need to include the influences of the Ottoman, British, and probably the Austro-Hungarian Empires into the equation, all of whom were jockying for power in the region. You can’t just say “Russia almost always stabs its allies in the back”, like one might say “Sam almost always orders pistachio ice cream.”
Simply put one cannot talk about nation states as individual actors, ever. They are not only influenced and buffeted but created by historical, social, and political forces that are way beyond their control. So to speak of countries as if they are people with charming and/or terrifying personality quirks may work for writing a column for the NYT or for the drivel that comes from “historians” like Victor Davis Hanson, but for any real understanding of the world it is sheer nonsense.
And furthermore why is it that two countries in particular, those old Cold War bogiemen Russia and China, are so often portrayed to in this way?
China: that teeming hive of a society with no understanding of our Western belief in Individualism, capable of God Knows What through the sheer power of their single-minded, totalitarian society.
And Russia: that grotesque bully of a society with no understanding of our Western belief in Fairness and Justice, capable of God Knows What through the sheer power of their fanatically patriotic, totalitarian society.
I don’t like to make predictions but here I go: Look for more caricatures of these two states in what passes for political debate in the U.S. in the chaotic years to come. As the United States comes to the uncomfortable realization that it is no longer the Big Cheese, The Top Dog, The Main Brain on Planet Earth, you can expect all kinds of explanations as to why we now have to parlay with other power blocs (including but not limited to the dastardly Russia and China), and these new political missives you will read will explain it all in terms of how our (not so) recent competition is inherently….well, different. (Read: Bad.) And they always have been. I mean, just look at history. Read Victor Davis Hanson.
Which brings me to the second of my observations, that the U.S. is no longer in the powerful position it was 40 years ago (around the time John McCain came of age) and is now in no position to tell any country (especially large and powerful nuclear-armed countries like Russia) what to do about anything.
The so-called American Century, which lasted from around 1945 to about 1995 (fifty years, really only half a century) is over, finito, terminado, goodnight Vienna. It isn’t because of Bill Clinton or because of Bush The First or because of Bush The Second or because we switched from the Gold Standard or because Kennedy got whacked by three gunmen hired by Cuban gusanos. It is due to historical forces way bigger and way longer than can be summed up in this rinky-dink blog or in the not-so-rinky-dink Wall Street Journal Op-Ed pages. But it is as true as the day is long and the sooner the American populace and the American political elite come to accept it, the better.
To watch John MacCain, that hack who is considered a “war hero” because he dropped bombs on Vietnamese civilians (that makes you a hero in the U.S.A.) make political hay by decrying Russia’s tyranny and calling for a NATO intervention that he knows full well not just will not but cannot happen is revolting. That hawkish fool cries about democracy and how Georgia was Christianized in the 4th century (again with the ancient history) and calls for the U.S. to send troops to attack Russia when he is completely aware that this is freaking impossible.
As the ever on-point Immanuel carries on about, Europe needs Russia’s natural gas. And the U.S. is busy losing two or three wars (I get confused at times- Iraq, Afaghanistan and Somalia). No one, I repeat No One, in the world-system is in any position to do anything about Russia punishing Georgia for attacking South Ossetia. It has never, ever, been a question of freedom versus dictatorship or justice versus tyranny. It’s about power between states and blocs of states, versus other states and blocs of states and at the moment, Russia can do whatever it bloody well wants to do to Georgia. And no one can do a damn thing about it. Welcome to the 21st century. This isn’t and it will not be The New American Century. Full stop. Get used to it.