These are just a few random observations about the current conflict in Georgia.
Americans are ill suited to being a global power. The great majority of Americans are mostly bored by conflicts involving strange, foreign lands. If we’re not bored, we’re easily misled by the media into assuming we know enough to have an opinion, which usually takes the form of a Wilsonian-idealist-interventionist set of principles that do not do much to clarify what are our legitimate interests. For the most part, foreign policy is the play thing of a smallish clique on the East Coast wedded to outdated ideas of the U.S. being the “sole superpower.” Most everyone else is basically nationalist and isolationist. Americans only take notice when things have gone very wrong long after the trend lines have been established.
Putin’s Russia is becoming Franco’s Spain for anti-modern traditionalist conservatives. His ethnonationalist concept of Russia, his subordination of business interests to the state, and his rejection of the liberal internationalist order all have a certain appeal. The mainstream media and mainstream conservative institutions diverge from a significant voice that sees in Iraq and crusades for democracy the seeds of disaster. This group, seeing in Russia a Christian nation undergoing a renaissance of power that is often in conflict with a common enemy in the form of militant Islam, strikes some of us at least as a natural ally with certain admirable qualities.
Along these lines, the Russia people today parallel the US view of ourselves and our applications of military force. Russia selectively rejects international institutions and international norms, including subordination to the UN, when such norms simply restrain its power without benefit. The average American’s view of its actions in Panama and Kosovo were much the same. Russia too has a rather romantic view of its soldiers and the beneficence of its power projection. It’s more than a little humorous to see Russia simply mimicking the western formulae of “stopping the genocide in Ossetia.”
Russia’s army itself, judging from photos, is a bit rough and ready, though apparently quite capable of taking on the poorly equipped and outnumbered Georgian forces. In various photos, we see a hodge podge of uniforms, old T-62 tanks, and irregular Ossetian and Chechen forces on display. Together, they show that the modern fores on display in the recent Victory Day Parade conceal the uneven pace of military modernization and the persistent ill discipline that still plagues the Russian army.
Finally, the geography of the Cauceses matter quite a bit for US power projection and shows how things that cannot be easily changed–like mountain ranges and the Asia Minor peninsula–limit our power. The Black Sea can be easily closed off by Turkey. None of the countries in the Caucuses can be reached without some cooperation from Ukraine, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, or some other neighboring land. Almost all of the significant US actions since WWII–Korea, Lebanon, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Kosovo, Iraq–occurred in lands close to a large body of water, where supplies can be easily brought on shore and where power can be projected directly without the consent of countries bordering land-locked battlefields. Afghanistan was and is the exception and could not have occurred without Pakistani, Uzbek, and other nations’ cooperation. Even now, the indifferent state of that cooperation hinders operations.