Today America faces a big test. Will we stand up for Georgia? Or will we betray her in the way that the United States so often betrays its friends and allies abroad?
A depressingly consistent aspect of American foreign policy since the Korean War has been to let down peoples who fight for us, trust us, or depend on us. Remember the Montagnards of Vietnam who fought so valiantly with our Green Berets during the Indochina conflict? Most of them ended up dead or in reeducation camps and it was decades before the survivors were even given visas to come to the USA.
Osama bin Laden himself has pointed out to his followers that America is a fair-weather friend, and that when things get tough — Lebanon in 1982, Somalia in 1993 — American administrations can be counted on to cut and run.
As the U.S. figures out what to do about the Russia-Georgian war, it should bear in mind that the world is watching very closely. Georgia has proved itself as a true friend and ally of the United States; it has sent thousands of troops from its small army to help the U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sure the Georgians got themselves into this conflict by launching a bid to recapture South Ossetia. But it wasn’t unprovoked — the Russians have been building up the government and armed forces of the breakaway province for years, and have been applying every kind of pressure to stop Georgia joining NATO, including aggressive measures like shooting down a Georgian aircraft earlier this year. And the Russians are in no position to criticize Georgia’s efforts to recapture breakaway territory given the tens of thousands the Russians killed to reverse Chechnya’s attempts to break free.
As Russian bombs rain down on key Georgian military bases, Ukraine and the Baltic states know all too well that they are next on the list for Russian invasion — probably with the same pretext of protecting Russian citizens — if the Kremlin gets away with crushing Georgia.
Also watching what happens in the Caucasus with one eye on the U.S. will be allied countries like Taiwan (it knows that U.S. corporations have long been pushing successive U.S. administrations to abandon Taiwanese democracy), Pakistan (it’s been dumped before), India, Turkey, the Gulf states, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, Japan, Australia, and Colombia… the list goes on.
The Bush administration is said to be obsessed with loyalty. But at the same time, it is habitually disloyal to America’s friends and allies. None of the over 30 countries that have sent troops to take part in the invasion and reconstruction of Iraq have been economically or politically rewarded in any way. Indeed the administration has taken them so much for granted than it hasn’t barely acknowledged their contribution, still less thanked them. This has damaged the administration because it plays into the myth of “unilateralism.” But much worse than that, it has also damaged American interests. Our allies have realized that America is neither grateful nor reliable. If the Poles had got anything for their stalwart support in Iraq — even something as cheap and easy as more visas to the U.S., the Kaczinsky government might not have fallen and the Poles might not be taking their troops out. If Tony Blair could have pointed at a single major defense contract from the United States — say a small aircraft carrier to be built in one of Britain’s desperate shipyards — he could have replied convincingly to charges of being “America’s poodle.”
But Georgia is a bigger test.
We don’t have to go to war for her (fortunately for irresolute Western governments, Georgia’s not in NATO) but we must back her in every other way: diplomatically, economically and with military technology and advice, now and after any ceasefire that is called.
If we don’t, if we let our ally be defeated and humiliated by the Russians, everyone will know that friendship with America carries more risk than rewards. Moreover it will genuinely signal a new age of American isolation. The diminution and weakness described or predicted by so many “declinist” authors will become a reality.
— Jonathan Foreman is deputy editor of Standpoint magazine.