Context is everything, as the actress frequently pointed out to the bishop in her lavish boudoir, and there is some danger that we will think about the Russian invasion of Georgia in excessively narrow terms. The Kremlin’s careful planning and preparation, including weeks of cyberwar against Georgia and carefully designed deception of the West, strongly suggest that the Russians viewed the operation as a serious move with global implications. Full marks, then, to Melik Kaylan, who warns that Russia’s invasion of Georgia is aimed directly at American power, all the way down to Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. “The Kremlin is not about to reignite the Cold War for the love of a few thousand Ossetians… This is calculated strategic maneuvering… it’s about countering U.S. power at its furthest stretch with Moscow’s power very close to home.” That means the Czech Republic, for example, which saw its oil flow from Russia abruptly terminated after Prague agreed to base American radars on its territory, and now sees the steel in the Russian fist. It also means Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the current locus of the war against the terror masters. If the Russians succeed in their broader aim of dominating the region, then the ‘stans will inevitably be “doomed for the foreseeable future to remain (Russian) colonies in all but name….” Worse still, “choking off the bottleneck in the Caucasus gives Iran and Russia much say over our efforts in Afghanistan.”
So it’s a very big deal, as most people now recognize.
But I think Kaylan has the timeline wrong, for he predicts several unpleasant consequences if we do not effectively thwart Russian objectives. But those “consequences” have already taken place. He says, for example, that if Russia succeeds in Georgia, then Putin will be able to support Iran “in any showdown with the West,” and this would encourage the mullahs to “reassert itself in Iraq, Syria and, via Hezbollah, in Lebanon.” He has the tense wrong. Iran is already hyperactive in Iraq, Syria, and Hezbollah, and at least part of their confident aggression derives from the fact that Khamenei et. al. believe they are protected by the Russians. The future support for Iran that Kaylan so rightly fears is already a done deal: The Iranian nuclear program, after all, is in large part a Russian project. The reactor at Bushehr is a Russian facility, and the anti-aircraft missiles recently shipped to Iran in order to protect the nuclear sites and other sensitive targets are Russian missiles, accompanied by Russian experts. And that Syrian nuclear site, the one that was bombed by the Israelis, had Russian anti-aircraft missiles as well. They obviously failed, and it seems that the missiles in Iran are a later generation. In time, we may well see how good they are.
Kaylan warns that if we do not draw the line at Georgia, we will have to draw it in some other place, and “it doesn’t get any easier down the road with any other border or country.” Again, this underestimates the importance of our unwillingness to realize the broader significance of the liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan. I think it’s clear that our failure to draw the line at Syria and Iran surely encouraged the Russians to go forward in Georgia. Putin must have reasoned that, if we wouldn’t aggressively punish the Iranians and the Syrians for killing Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, we would certainly not risk American lives for Georgian territory. And he was clearly right. The lesson will not be lost on any American friend or ally, from Israel to Egypt, Morocco, and India, from Colombia to Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia.
The real context of the Georgian operation is global, just like the true context of the Middle East war. The jihadis, for example, are desperate to convince would-be followers that there is really nothing to fear from America, that when push comes to shove the Americans will not stand and fight. A successful Russian humiliation of America in the Caucasus echoes throughout that world, and helps draw the painful sting of the defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The likes of Venezuela’s Chavez will find it easier to convince Latin American leaders that they’d better side with him (and his Cuban, Russian, and Iranian allies) than with the American paper tigers.
Finally, there is the question of method, and the world’s reaction to it. I hope we will not hear too many sermons on the inappropriateness of military action after the Georgian invasion. My unscientific perusal of the Western punditocracy suggests that most of the deep thinkers are full of admiration for Putin’s decisive actions. No big antiwar demonstrations (the Europeans are on vacation and Code Pink, in response to a query, said their resources were limited and they needed to concentrate on Iraq, heh). This should not surprise us. It is not only the hypocrisy of the anti-Bush brigades here and abroad that motivates such open appeasement; it’s human nature seen plain. As Machiavelli says, in his brutal summary of the consequences of victory and defeat, “if you are successful, people will always judge the means you used to have been appropriate.”
— Michael Ledeen is Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.