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August 14, 2008

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A welcome bit of clarity. Hopefully Obama will benefit from his vacation, too.

I think to present Kristol's point of view in a favorable light, you have to push on two points:

(1) We *are* better than they are. We're a better power than they are. I think you really push hard on this. Kristol might argue something like: sure, nations all have the same sets of rights and so forth. But among the many possible allocations of power in our topsy turvy world, the world is best off with us at the helm.
(2) In fact, this is so much a better outcome that regardless of the international system we've created, the world is better off with us as this benevolent hegemon, even if that comes at the cost of some kind of slavish obeisance to the letter of international law.

But in a similar light, I always wondered why some crazy mullah in Iran saying nutty things was an existential threat to Western civilization, while editorialists in major American newspapers openly musing on whether we should bomb the pulp out of Iran was considered a perfectly genteel topic of conversation, something that shouldn't be regarded as an escalation or a threat at all. I think the Kristol point of view is: We *are* as a matter of fact better than they are, and therefore the same standards don't apply.

I've never commented here before, and may be getting in over my head, but... as preamble: I'm an American who lives in the Czech Republic, so these events get reported and discussed slightly differently in the media here, and are filtered through, to some extent, former Soviet block perfectly reasonable distrust for, and perhaps somewhat overwrought fear of Russia as an imperialist power.

I agree with this analysis, but would add that it is precisely the militant nationalism of those at the helm of the Russian government that makes them so dangerous, and makes, I would argue, an instinct towards hawkishness in response to them supportable. I don't suggest that we use our similarly dangerous worst he-man impulses to assert our better brand of militant nationalism, but I think Europe and the US have to respond to Russia with aggressive diplomatic measures and possibly the imposition of an international peace-keeping force in Georgia, because I'd hazard that Russia basically sees Georgia's sovereignty as a temporary inconvenience.

Actually, that's a very accurate observation.

Putin's party is very similar to Republicans: strongly Christian, in favor of "traditional values", strongly pro-life, anti-gay, pro-business, uber-patriotic, hates Soros, hates human rights activists, hates intellectuals, says that their opponents are "fifth column" etc., etc.
Even rhetorically they are very similar, I can easily find "Russian Bill Kristol", "Russian Glenn Reynolds", "Russian Michelle Malkin", "Russian Pamela Geller" here.

Even rhetorically they are very similar, I can easily find "Russian Bill Kristol", "Russian Glenn Reynolds", "Russian Michelle Malkin", "Russian Pamela Geller" here.

Nikolay,
you have my condolences...

publius: excellent. And welcome back. ;)

Nikolay: what lj said. One of each of those, per planet, is more than enough.

Sooo, you're saying what Russia has done is bad - and you condemn their actions?

"country first"? that sounds mighty collectivist, to me.

i'd question the goals of anyone who put that phrase in big letters at the top of their website.

The neocons underestimate Russian fears of attack, as they did during the Cold War (nearly turning it hot in the process). Russia was the victim of a surprise attack during WWII, an attack that came in violation of a treaty. The result was the death of tens of millions - literally every Russian alive during the war felt its impact directly, felt real personal danger. The scars of that war are all over the place in Russia, constant reminders of just how close they came to national annihilation. The US has no comparable experience in recent memory, and the only thing close in terms of severity is the experience of the South during and immediately after the Civil War. Given that the Civil War is still a sore point for some people four generations later, it's understandable that the Russians might take WWII as an object lesson in things to be avoided even at great cost.

The One Percent Doctrine of Cheney applies equally well to Russia, the difference being that Russia has actual experience of coming within a hair's breadth of national destruction, whereas Cheney only has his fevered imaginings.

Consider for a moment what you'd do if you were a leader who actually *did* intend to launch a surprise attack with the intention of destroying Russia, seizing it's resources, and reducing it to vassal status. Putting missile defenses right along the border would be pretty damn high on the list, wouldn't it? You'd also want bases in as many nearby countries as possible, and alliances with any potential Russian allies so you could keep them out of the picture when time came to make a move. In short, you'd pretty much do exactly what the neocons want the US to do, albeit with different motivations.

Excellent post, publius. I couldn't agree more. These folks are "exceptionalists." They think their country is intrinsically superior to others and completely lack the ability to see their own country's actions from the perspective of others. That's why John McCain can say, "in the 21st century, nations don't invade other nations," without the deep hypocrisy of that statement even registering. For exceptionalists, there is no such thing as hypocrisy because, by definition, it's always different when we do it.

Don't forget, many "responsible moderates" seem to embrace mass death and destruction, once the nationalists scare their brave little hearts out.

Let's not forget how quick the "responsible moderates," around here bravely supported the mass death and destruction of Iraqis and Lebanese once nationalists scared the sh!t out of them.

Most nationalists can't do much without the "responsible moderates."

I have been thinking along the same lines of Publius and musing on the difference between a "patriot" and "nationalist" (the type of patriotism that Dr. Johnson, a true British patriot himself, I think was referring to when he called it the "last refuge of the scoundrel.") A patriot has that natural love of his country and nation that grows out a healthy self-love for herself, but like the self, it is not regarded as perfect or beyond criticism. He also appreciates that others will have similar feelings for their countries, whether Irish, English, Chinese, Frenchman, Russian or Georgian. A nationalist though regards that only his country's genius is special, that all others are lesser breeds, and that they have no rights or interests that he or she need regard.

By the way, this does not mean we should not be firm in responding to the Russians in this Georgian matter so long as we are clear that we will not risk war. In this matter our guides should be George Kennan and Winston Churchill (the real Churchill as describe by John Lukacs, not the necon fantasy version of him) and pursue what Churchill called "jaw, jaw" to insure the Russians understand the costs involved short, medium, and long term. We also have to think hard about about for what capitals we will be willing to risk Global Thermonuclear War (for that is what NATO membership means). In the Cold War we made it plain that Berlin something we would risk war for, and in turn, we told the Germans to put their dreams of reunification on hold, and ultimately make nice to the Russians. Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, and Bucharest have now been added to the list. I think Vilinius and the other Baltic states should be added to the list. I ponder whether Kiev should be. It may seem arbitrary, but I would not put Tibilis on the list, especially when, no matter how democratically elected, it has a revanchist regime heading the state.

Excellent post and comments. Am I being totally paranoid in seeing very scary parallels to 1914, with True-Believer militant nationalists on both sides stumbling toward a hugely destructive Glorious War? The idea that a tough-guy showoff like McCain might get command over nuclear weapons really gives me the creeps. (But if the U.S. elects another dumb little rich boy whose career was built largely on family connections, then perhaps we really deserve to be blown to Kingdom Come.)

Am I being totally paranoid in seeing very scary parallels to 1914...

No. There's a danger 1914 might become for the left the kind of touchstone that 1938 is for the neocons, but that doesn't mean the lessons of 1914 aren't still very relevant.

musing on the difference between a "patriot" and "nationalist"

Easy - patriots are the "us", nationalists are the "other".

What togolosh said.
Also, I find that I have some difficulty with the premise that the US must "do something." If Quebec became independent, allied itself with China, bought arms from China and then invaded northern Maine, what do you people think the US would do in response?

For the record, I have repeatedly stated in the past that I consider the US mindest very similar to that of Germany about 1910. So, 1914 may be just around the corner.

There even is Ras* Putin ;-)

*OK, that's not a Russian title

No. There's a danger 1914 might become for the left the kind of touchstone that 1938 is for the neocons, but that doesn't mean the lessons of 1914 aren't still very relevant.

In often strikes me that there is something deeply defective, either from ignorance, or out of deliberate deception for rhetorical purposes, about our use of historical analogies in the debates we have over US foreign policy.

Let’s start with 1938 (which I assume is a synecdoche for appeasement of Germany by the Western democracies during the 1930s more generally). I think it is striking that this is example is so frequently cited with little or no context.

Every modern evil dictator to whom the comparison is made is implicitly assumed to be driven by the same impulses, and to have command of resources similar to what was within Hitler’s grasp in the 1930s.

It is as if there was nothing particularly special or unique about the rise of a revolutionary mass political movement led by a genocidal megalomaniac with a messiah complex within the most economically and scientifically advanced and powerful state of Continental Europe, in the wake of the First World War and a global depression, and also during a period of time when Fascism as a political philosophy held significant appeal throughout many countries in the West, so that these societies were internally divided and weakened with respect to how deal with Germany. Not to mention more tactical factors such as the German adoption of Liddell Hart’s theories regarding the use of armor in mobile warfare, and the clandestine cooperation between the German Army and Soviet Red Army during the 1920s to test these theories and develop equipment designed for these new tactics.

Yes, certainly we have to deal with lots of situations in the early 21st century which are just like that. /sarcasm

So when pundits invoke 1938 three quarters of a century later as a lesson which must be applied when we decide how to deal with dictators and international bullies today, I do wonder whether this is because the analogy is so much better than analogies with say the wars of Napoleon Bonaparte, or Frederick der Grosse, or Louis XIV, or Toyotomi Hideyoshi, or Chinggis Khaan, etc., etc... Or perhaps it is because the Second World War is literally the only history the speaker has any actual knowledge of. Or perhaps the analogy is being deliberately misused to support a present course of action which it does not, in fact, actually support.

Now the same perils of inappropriate analogy apply to 1914. The latter analogy seems to have a good deal less resonance with many Americans than does 1938, perhaps because we are simply an aggressive and warlike people by nature, or we prefer explanations which invoke Manichean dualism (which is easier to do with 1938 than 1914) and have clearly demarcated lines between foolish and cowardly leaders vs. Churchillian eloquence, vision and courage, or perhaps it is due to the greater distance in time from our present, or perhaps because the “lessons” of 1914 were effectively erased from our historical memory by the “lessons” of 1938.

The latter explanation (my personal favorite) is ironic because of all the lessons from the Second World War which could profitably have been applied during the earlier Great War, the one which I think might have done the most to prevent the later conflict from happening as it did would have been for the Allies to insist on unconditional surrender in 1918-1919 and then to have driven all the way to Berlin (completely routing and destroying the German Army in the process), which is a “lesson” regarding how best to end wars rather than how best not to begin them, bearing on decisions made in 1918, not the decisions made in 1914.

I’m not sure what to make of all of this, other than we seem to prefer using historical analogies as a club to beat our political enemies with rather than a guide to wisdom, and it very much shows in the results.

Sigh.

. . .and then invaded northern Maine, what do you people think the US would do in response?

this is one of the problems with the debate. Georgia didn't invade Russia.

More like if Quebec invaded Western Canada, say southern Alberta. You, know, all that oil and all. And they speak just like us.

Heck, I like the Russian idea. Let's go drop a few thousand passports into B.C., see who accepts them and then invade in the interest of our citizens! I always thought we stopped a bit short and should have taken it long ago. Way too pretty to have let the Brits keep it.

I'd hazard that Russia basically sees Georgia's sovereignty as a temporary inconvenience

Welcome to the pool, Jane. I agree -- but I'm not so sure that's a bad thing. Fundamentally, I don't care about Georgia. Let Russia have it, it's far more useful to Russia than to us, and a richer Russia will be of more use to us as a trading partner than Georgia and a resource-starved Russia together ever could be. Georgia is slightly friendlier to us than Russia this year, but only because we are eager to sell them weapons to use against Russia, which unsurprisingly causes the kind of trouble we see this week. Arms merchant for the world is a lousy business plan for America, and I really wish we could get out of it. Not gonna happen, but we should keep resisting the efforts of munitions lobbyists to warp our foreign policies so they can get new markets.

I also don't see Russia having the resources or the will for reconquest of the Warsaw Pact. They appear to want to retain what hegemony they still have over vital border areas that give them access to fossil fuel and the sea, i.e., Georgia, Ukraine, some "stans." All of which have basically always been in their sphere of influence, the Russian equivalent of Latin America. I doubt Russia would even bother annexing the non-ethnic-Russian areas of Georgia any more than we bothered to conquer Mexico after taking Texas. Too poor, too troublesome, too hard to fight in.

I wouldn't be nearly as calm about all this if I were a Czech. But I'm not.

"That problem is nationalism. Russia is doing exactly what the neocons want America and Israel to do."

For the most part I'll agree with you on America, but I can't really agree with you on Israel. In the superpower cases you discuss nationalism is creating an appearance of threat where there really isn't one. Georgia really isn't a threat to Russia, and it doesn't harbor large groups which regularly attack Russia.

The same is not true with Israel's neighbors. At the very least Israel's neighbors harbor large groups which regularly attack Israel. I don't think your critique of nationalism extends from merely perceptual threats to actual physcial ones, so I don't think Israel easily fits.

What’s more depressing, though, is that America has an uncomfortably large level of public support for militant nationalism.

That is the crucial point here. You have nationalist warmongers in most countries, but if they can't rely on a broad base of public support (or at least indifference, most of the time it's a mixture of both), they are largely irrelevant.

For the record, I have repeatedly stated in the past that I consider the US mindest very similar to that of Germany about 1910. So, 1914 may be just around the corner.

Thank you! I fully agree! I think it would also be an excellent idea for the Kaiser, uh I mean the president, to make a mutual defense alliance with really unstable parts of the world with complex inter-ethnic disputes right on Russia's borders. What could go wrong!

Although I also think the Iraq War was very much like WWI in this sense. Obviously not nearly as devastating for the US as WWI was for the European powers, but it was like those wars completely unnecessary, created entirely out of a belligerent nationalistic psychology rather than any rational calculation.

But, actually, you guys have to understand: a 1938 comparison is perfectly legit. The more one learns about this story, the more one sees it as a perfectly planned provocation by Putin. Saakashvili's extreme stupidity and hubris helped Putin a lot. Saakasvili makes so many outrageous claims, that it's easy to miss the key important factors, such as the fact that he _did not_ invade South Ossetia. What he tried to do was to take a key location from which he could stop the advance of the tanks that were _already on the way_ to Georgia territory at that moment.
Everything was well prepared for this thing, the children and women were a evacuated five days before the start of the fighting, propaganda blogs run by the "simple Ossetian patriots" were also set up in advance.
The whole situation was perfectly played, it's the same kind of ruthless genius Hitler displayed when he conquered Europe.
And there's a lot of places left to conquer. Luckily, Russia is too big a place anyway, and the population is not growing, which means that Hitler's idea of "taking new lands for our folk" won't make any sense.

The whole situation was perfectly played, it's the same kind of ruthless genius Hitler displayed when he conquered Europe.
And there's a lot of places left to conque

You're totally right. The Russians have an evil master plan to conquer Europe, and the best places to start are two tiny obscure regions of a small peripheral country on the far side of the Black Sea. I'm sure the Kremlin feels that all the international opprobrium it has accrued from this savage conquest is more than compensated for by the enormous increases in territory, population and resources they have just acquired.

After all, after North Ossetia, South Ossetia is the second largest chunk of the Ossetian nation (pop. est. 800k)!!!!

i resent the way world events keep making me learn more geography.

Heh - turn away from the computer for a few minutes, and someone else (in this case byrningman at 12;58) makes your point for you...

Oh well...

Personally, I think the "1914" analogy wrt the current mess in Georgia is frighteningly apt: with the notable exception that, in this case, a wider conflict has been avoided (for now). But the fundamental situation was uncomfortably the same: a Great Power (the US now, Austria then) in serious danger of being drawn into a major conflict with another one (Russia, both times!) over the local adventurism of an ally (Serbian-nationalist terrorism then, Georgian-nationalist aggression now): with the ties of an "alliance" swiftly becoming shackles dragging the larger nations into a destructive conflict neither one should want.

If the US is to actually act like a "superpower", it has to lead, not be led. And allowing a superpower to be hustled into a large-scale military conflict by the p local grievances of an informal "ally" in a remote and fractious corner of the globe would be, ultimately, suicidal folly. A notion which seems to have escaped the notice of a great many folks in this country. Too many.

Another possible 1914 parallel is the closing window of opportunity assumption (probably) held by participants. Germany's ruling opinion then was that there was 1)encirclement, 2)war would be inevitable in the long run 3)the chances of success were dwindling with time. 4)the conflict could be limited in scale (esp.that Britain could be kept out) Resulting "solution": wait for the right pretense, then go for the attack.
Russia's fear of Einkreisung is real (and to a degree even justified), the assumption of a belief in inevitable conflict is at least resonable, pretense and opportunity are there at the moment but the latter may disappear, no reasonable(*) world leader (not directly involved) would go to war over some "tribal" conflicts on the periphery*/**.
Also both today and in 1914 conspiracies were assumed to be involved in the affair that started the war.
I don't want to overstretch the analogy, I just want to say that it is not completely unreasonable (like many Hitler analogies).


(*)ok, we are talking Bush here (who I think has strong similarities to Wilhelm II but making the latter look good in comparision***)
*No, this is not meant as a violation of Belgian neutrality analogy
**As opposed to e.g.(the) Ukraine
***Willy had e.g. rhetorical talent and a keen interest in science etc.

I do wonder whether this is because the analogy is so much better than analogies with say the wars of Napoleon Bonaparte, or Frederick der Grosse, or Louis XIV, or Toyotomi Hideyoshi, or Chinggis Khaan, etc., etc... Or perhaps it is because the Second World War is literally the only history the speaker has any actual knowledge of.
> Or perhaps the analogy is being deliberately misused to support a present course of action which it does not, in fact, actually support.

I'm guessing it's often sort of a mixture of all these points. Analogies to Hitler are better than to Napoleon because of a lack of knowledge/awareness/resonance - on part of the intended audience.


The Russians have an evil master plan to conquer Europe, and the best places to start are two tiny obscure regions of a small peripheral country on the far side of the Black Sea.

The Russians don't need to "conquer" Europe -- they can extract all the tribute they need as the price for Russian natural gas, or Caspian gas that passes through Russian pipelines. After all, isn't tribute why you build an empire?

btw: if I see one more blog post called 'Georgia On My Mind', I may scream.

The Russians don't need to "conquer" Europe -- they can extract all the tribute they need as the price for Russian natural gas,

Those evil scum, now they won't even give their gas away for free! Nuke 'em, they don't play by the civilized rules of international politics.


But seriously, but summation of this whole business is this: the separatist regions dilemma could only have ended one of two ways. Russia is Teh Evil because it ended the way Moscow preferred rather than the way Washington would have preferred.

I'm not so naive as to think Moscow didn't do this for selfish reasons, nevertheless, I think there's a lot to be said for it ending in a way to seems to accord with the wishes of the inhabitants of those regions. Bloodshed is obviously regrettable, but I have a hard time believing that the Georgians could have ever 'reintegrated' the two regions against the locals' wishes without a great deal of repression, and this leads me to believe that this outcome is probably also the least violent of the two possible alternatives.

Jane: " . . . our better brand of militant nationalism . . ."

Nice phrasing.

Great first post.

Welcome.

brilliant observations on our NeoCons, publius.

but once again, I think you should stick to representing us, not them (or in this context, other nations).

I think you cave in concluding that the problem is nationalism.

from your own observations, I'd conclude that the problem is no more in nationalism than race conflicts are in one's affirmations of her race.

Like race and gender, the problems follow from not respecting other peoples identities.

The Russians don't need to "conquer" Europe -- they can extract all the tribute they need as the price for Russian natural gas,
==========
Those evil scum, now they won't even give their gas away for free! Nuke 'em, they don't play by the civilized rules of international politics.

Yeah, but I was being serious. They've got their own reserves; they can position themselves to control the Caspian pipelines; and they're pretty cozy with the Iranians, and could without too much effort be the most convenient way for Iran to sell natural gas into Western Europe.

Uh, ok. So we should talk whatever natural resources from Iran and Russia that we want, and shoot the false god-worshipping scum if they dare ask for payment?

"from your own observations, I'd conclude that the problem is no more in nationalism than race conflicts are in one's affirmations of her race."

Since humans do not actually come in "races," "affirmation" of a belief in 18th century pseudo-science is, in fact, quite problematic.

Since humans do not actually come in "races," "affirmation" of a belief in 18th century pseudo-science is, in fact, quite problematic.

there's ample evidence that long before the telescope, the astrolabe, and probably before Odysseus's lie to the cyclops--or whatever marks your notion of science--groups have been self-identifying in terms of their regional distinctions.

the point is to respect the stories other people tell about themselves, i.e. it is about having the courage to listen for the meaning of 'spect' in respect. publius cops out.

Importantly, I doubt any one of the nations publius cites would tell its story without including a chapter on how the U.S. and Britain have attempted to subvert their efforts to organize themselves.

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