Over and over again, in tones ranging from annoyance to paternalistic, the pundits tell us that “there is no military option” with regard to the Russian invasion of Georgia. And in case you missed the point, they will tell you that we’re not going to war with Russia over this particular crisis. Not for little Georgia, so unimportant, so far away. It’s very hard to find any of the leading commentators who thinks otherwise.
It’s an odd way to formulate the issue, since Russia has gone to war with us. Georgia is our ally. As of the time of the invasion, there were more than 150 American military men and women in Georgia, training the locals for self-defense. We are sponsoring Georgian entry into NATO, along with Ukraine. It sure looks like an attack against us. And it’s conjoined to an ultimatum from the Russian foreign minister, who said that the United States would have to choose between good relations with Russia and friendship with our “virtual ally” Georgia.
If you expand your vision of the strategic board from the Caucasus to include the Middle East, you see that the Russians are working in close tandem with other countries that are waging war on us. Syria uses Russian weapons and is installing Russian anti-aircraft systems, as is Iran. And the Iranian nuclear program, which the leaders of the West have elevated to the number one issue in the region, is essentially a Russian program, involving Russian nuclear physicists and Russian nuclear technology. But there, too, the pundits and the policy makers have concluded that there is no military option, that we’re not going to war over this particular crisis. Not to stop Iran from going nuclear. Others have the bomb, after all. And Iran is so far away.
Many others have noticed the grim similarity between such comments and Chamberlain’s historic remarks about the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. Few have quoted Churchill, whose words should be posted on every computer in the National Security Council: “(Chamberlain) had a choice between war and dishonor. He chose dishonor, and he got war.”
We’ve got war already, and it was a big war, long before the invasion of Georgia. The battlefield runs from Afghanistan into Somalia, Iraq, Lebanon, and Israel, across northern Africa, and deep into Europe. The latest Russian gambit is part of that big war, as any of our friends and allies in the war zone will tell you. Insofar as America is seen as weak, our enemies will redouble their actions and our friends will hold back, fearing that association with us will not protect them, and single them out for attack. Those consequences are immediate, traveling across the airwaves of the BBC and al Jazeera and the other propaganda outlets favored by our enemies. The Chinese, who will feel free to bare their fangs after their Potemkin Olympics, may be emboldened to move against Taiwan, another small place very far away.
Once you grasp the full dimensions of the war, it becomes easier to conceive useful options, military and other. We are well placed to demonstrate that this is not a one-way street. The Russians think they have shown that it’s costly to be a friend of the United States. We need to show that there can be a high price for friendship with the bear. It is long past time for us to strike at the terrorist training camps inside those two nasty Russian allies, Syria and Iran. Moreover, we have political weapons the Russians can’t use, namely support for freedom. Their friends and allies are tyrants, and their subjects are on our side of the political divide. Support for the repressed peoples of Russia’s buddies — also long overdue — can, at a minimum, compel the tyrants to worry about their own survival rather than the destruction of our security interests. And we have every chance of success, without firing a shot or dropping a bomb. The Syrian and Iranian people are a more powerful weapon than anything the Russians used against the Georgian people. I dare say that Saakashvili’s support is much greater today than it was a week ago, while the dictators in Tehran and Damascus know well that if their people had a free choice, they’d be headed for safe havens outside the Middle East.
So instead of the incantation “we won’t go to war over this,” serious people in the West must accept the fact that the war is on, and we must find ways to win it. We have enormous advantages, there’s no excuse for the years of dithering.
— Michael Ledeen is Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.