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August 11, 2008

Comments

I like him less and less as the days go on. The long primary was good for him because it put off the obligatory Democrat's slide into stupid pandering. It's a terrible look on him, and he seriously needs to cut it ou.

I am a total non-expert, but I have to think this is just politics. Calling for Georgia to become a member of NATO is a way of telling Russia that its aggression in Georgia is pissing off the West and it needs to back off. The intent is to stake out a maximalist rhetorical position, from which diplomatic efforts can produce a face-saving "compromise" in which Russia pulls out of Georgia (with the exceptions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia) and Georgia does not become part of NATO.

I'd rather he just plagiarize Wikipedia. NPOV tends to keep out idiotic policy suggestions.

Gamesmanship. I'm not against making the statement right now, for a bunch of reasons:

1. Nullifying McCain's Stop-the-Reds argument.

2. Sending a message to Russia; they pushed it too far.

3. It's not a commitment.

4. There needs to be a clarification of the relationship with Georgia, and this is one way to do it. If it's clear that they're not in NATO then it should also be clear that we don't have a defense obligation with them -- maybe not yet, but that's not the issue.

If membership is the explicit goal, that would at least give some positional leverage for brokering a peace deal that's not enforced by Russian "peacekeepers." As it stands, the U.S. couldn't really take a clear position before everything blew up and we had no honest-broker credibility because of the Iraq backchannel stuff going on. That needs to be out in the open at the very least.

One of the major drivers of this mess seems to have been the fact that it was unclear what the commitment to Georgia really was, what "frozen conflicts" might mean and how they could be legitimately unfrozen, etc. That could all be spelled out in an MAP. I'm really not worried that Obama is going to just unilaterally declare a defensive alliance with Georgia, and that's not what he said.

I feel like I should mention that I hadn't read the full statement before I made that comment, so that fact that Obama said this seems to me to indicate that his thinking parallels mine:


For many months, I have warned that there needs to be active international engagement to peacefully address the disputes over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, including a high-level and neutral international mediator, and a genuine international peacekeeping force - not simply Russian troops.

No matter how this conflict started, Russia has escalated it well beyond the dispute over South Ossetia and invaded another country. Russia has escalated its military campaign through strategic bombing and the movement of its ground forces into the heart of Georgia. There is no possible justification for these attacks.

I think it's also important to stake out the rhetorical position against Russia's escalation tactics; that critique cross-applies to the invasion of Iraq and any potential invasion of Iran in a positive way. Also, by calling on Russia to rise above regional conflicts (Kosovo much?), he's making the right move. Sidelining Russia is a losing game; not as bad as McCain's game of treating them like the USSR, but not much better if at all.

This is either a terrible decision or blatant pandering, but are the American people ready to hear the painful truth - we have reached the limits of our power, which can be expected to recede for at least several years into the future, and Georgia is a bridge too far.

Can any candidate tell us that, and still get elected? And double that for a Democrat.

The only possible justification I can see for electing a Republican right now is that somebody needs to explain to the American people that our brief reign as global hegemon is over, and that this is a Nixon-goes-to-China kind of thing.

Robert Farley also makes the argument (or links to the argument) connecting Russia's escalation tactics to the bombing of Kosovo here. He knows what he's talking about far more than I do, of course.

Russia is clearly thinking of Kosovo here, but they've been invoking the Iraq invasion repeatedly -- regardless, it's going to be important for the U.S. to regain some credibility here, and we frankly need Obama in order to do that.

McCain's constant pro-war position gives us no negotiating leverage going forward -- in Georgia or anywhere else -- because we can't seriously criticize wars of aggression or "regime change" while we it's part of our own operating policy.

We're actually fortunate to have a Presidential candidate who can credibly claim to have a strong, consistent position here.

It's a meaningless statement because the European members of NATO will never allow Georgia in.

The only possible justification I can see for electing a Republican right now is that somebody needs to explain to the American people that our brief reign as global hegemon is over, and that this is a Nixon-goes-to-China kind of thing.

Even if that's a fair characterization of everything that was going on with Nixon's China visit, we're (potentially) electing John McCain, not Chuck Hagel.

If anything, McCain's response to the Georgia-Russia conflict has made it clear that his grasp of the distinction between hard and soft power is shaky at best.

Nixon wanted to cement his place in history and actually had a decent understanding of foreign policy (even if he was a realist to the point of absurdity). McCain, on the other hand, isn't a realist -- he's just a warhawk. He doesn't understand foreign policy and has shown no interest in trying to -- consequently, he's not going to be committed to leaving any sort of positive legacy.

The only possible justification I can see for electing a Republican right now is that somebody needs to explain to the American people that our brief reign as global hegemon is over, and that this is a Nixon-goes-to-China kind of thing.

Even if that's a fair characterization of everything that was going on with Nixon's China visit, we're (potentially) electing John McCain, not Chuck Hagel.

If anything, McCain's response to the Georgia-Russia conflict has made it clear that his grasp of the distinction between hard and soft power is shaky at best.

Nixon wanted to cement his place in history and actually had a decent understanding of foreign policy (even if he was a realist to the point of absurdity). McCain, on the other hand, isn't a realist -- he's just a warhawk. He doesn't understand foreign policy and has shown no interest in trying to -- consequently, he's not going to be committed to leaving any sort of positive legacy.

Uh, I think you're just not understanding what he's saying. A plan to get them into NATO is not anything like wanting them to be in NATO as they are now. The way he phrases it, it sounds like he knows it's not workable to get them into NATO yet, but he's savvy enough to emphasize that he wants them in there.

I mean is your position really that Georgia should never be in NATO, or could they join if certain conditions were met (as you seemed to indicate in that earlier post)? Perhaps their membership action plan would address these issues.

I didn't love Obama's statement either. But let's be fair. He did not call for letting Georgia become a member of NATO; rather, he called for deepening relations with Georgia--to include a "Membership Action Plan for NATO." That's diplo-speak, but it clearly seems different from a simple call for membership.

Another thing worth mentioning w/r/t Nixon and China is that (a) the entire point of that move was to push the balance of power against Russia, (b) that it wasn't viewed as a concession of global hegemony by, well, anybody, and (c) it was a surprise move that really didn't have anything to do with the election or Nixon's party (and when the election was an issue, Nixon sabotaged the Paris peace talks).

Seriously, that example makes next to no sense.

Strictly speaking, if Georgia was a member of NATO, how much would we be required to do? The text of the North Atlantic Treaty merely says, "If such an armed attack occurs, each of them, [...], will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area." That seems to give a certain amount of leeway in deciding exactly how a country wants to satisfy its collective defense requirements.

Bringing Georgia into NATO right away is probably not a particularly great idea considering the circumstances (although I agree with the others saying that there's some fine points there that imply merely eventually letting Georgia into NATO, which seems reasonable on its face) but it's not like if a NATO country is attacked the nukes have to start flying or anything.

UserGoogol: The issue with NATO is not adhering to the strict language of the treaty, but rather maintaining the credibility of the alliance as a strategic deterrent. If we take the position that our NATO treaty obligations are negotiable, it destroys the utility of having a treaty at all.

Adam,

My analogy was not meant with anything even remotely like the precision that you are digging into. It was simply an observation that there are some things which a Democrat would be crucified for in terms of domestic politics, that only a Republican can get away with doing (and obviously visa-versa for other issues). Not that McCain himself (or anyone else likely to get the nomination today) would be the one to do so.

Telling the American people that we are no longer the clearly dominant #1 global power, just a particularly large and influential major power amongst a group of semi-peers whom we have to accomodate as best we can, strikes me as falling into that category.

If a Democratic President tried to say something that blunt, their approval rating would fall by at least 30% if not more, IMHO. If a Democratic Presidential nominee tries to say this during a general election campaign, I'd rate their chances of getting elected somewhere in the region of "today's weather forecast is for snowball fights in hades".

I don't see what's wrong with thinking Georgia should never be part of NATO. Is the idea that eventually we want every country on the planet to be in NATO?

Commenter DTM at Yglesias's new home points something out:

It may be worth recalling that joining NATO requires successful completion of the Membership Action Plan process, which in turn requires satisfying the current member countries that the applicant country has achieved sufficient levels of attainment on five measures, one of which is the “[w]illingness to settle international, ethnic or external territorial disputes by peaceful means, commitment to the rule of law and human rights, and democratic control of armed forces.”

So, the idea wouldn’t be to just sign up to protect Georgia no matter what it did in places like South Ossetia. Rather, before actually joining NATO, Georgia would have to satisfy all the NATO countries it would be willing to deal with such situations by peaceful means.

My analogy was not meant with anything even remotely like the precision that you are digging into.

Fair enough; sorry. Just on a Nixon kick, I guess :)

Another classic example of the Western media serving as the Georgian foreign ministry's press spokesperson. The article is titled "Russian troops close in on Georgian capital". My god, that would be dramatic if it were true. The evidence? The Russians have taken some towns "only hours from Tbilisi"!!! Of course, it turns out these towns are those same ones about 20 miles from Abkhazia. Not only is everywhere in Georgia only hours from Tbilisi, but the entire enclave of Southern Ossetia in Russian hands since Saturday is already much, much closer, so I'm not sure why Russian operations on the far side of the country are suddenly a lot more threatening to the capital.

The rest of the article consists of the now daily claim that the Russians have seized Gori (completely untrue as of midnight in New York), plus the also obligatory reference to the same three apartment buildings in Gori bombed on Saturday, presented as usual as a new incident to give the impression that the Russian aerial campaign is in fact far more widespread and brutal than any concrete evidence suggests.

80% of the war is fiction. When the dust settles, if the Russians are able to show us evidence of ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia, I hope (but don't expect) that George W Bush and John McCain will be among the first to step and admit they've been backing the bad guys.

Excellent background summary to the conflict, from Anatol Lieven, who really knows the Caucasus: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article4498709.ece

[tip of hat to publius for finding it]

Obama wants to give away more money. He can't because the President is war criminal guilty of murdering old people and children - he thought no one would notice.

You know, I think this is terrible policy as well as politics for Obama. Policy aside, I think politically he would have been much better off just getting out ahead of this and saying "it looks like our friendship with Georgia wis misguided, despite our efforts to help his country leave its past behind, Saakashvili proved to be a radical nationalist, reckless, and a menace to his own people." Apart from having the merit of being true, this at least makes the case to the American people that there is a difference of opinion on the matter, rather than just concluding that there is one correct opinion and McCain got to it first.

I don't know, I wouldn't freak out on Obama yet. There aren't a lot of great options, thanks to Bush.

Mark Kleiman's take:

http://www.samefacts.com/archives/georgia_/2008/08/is_there_anything_to_do_about_georgia.php

still catching up on news but i 100% agree. i feel like it is political though -- which itself is a bad sign of a future obama administration who feels constrained by nationalist nonsense

I have consistently called for deepening relations between Georgia and transatlantic institutions, including a Membership Action Plan for NATO, and we must continue to press for that deeper relationship.

letting Georgia become a member of NATO would be a terrible mistake. Now that Obama has made it, I am left to wonder s this political?

Sorry hilzoy, but that doesn't make much sense, since according to his own words Obama has been for letting Georgia become a member of NATO all along.

I mean is your position really that Georgia should never be in NATO

Obviously I can't speak for hilzoy, but I think it's generally a bad idea as it would greatly increase the potential for armed conflict between NATO and Russia. Such geo-strategic concerns are also a major reason why I am against Turkish membership of the EU, as I don't want the EU bordering Iraq, Iran and Syria.

I've just seen this, which seems relevant to the subject of the post:

The foreign policy adviser of US presidential candidate Barack Obama has called on the world community to isolate Russia in protest over its campaign in the Caucasus, likening its tactics to those of "Hitler or Stalin".

Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was the national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981, and is now advising the Democratic candidate, said the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, was "following a course that is horrifyingly similar to that taken by Stalin and Hitler in the 1930s". [...] Polish-born Brezinski, 80, who earned a reputation as a hardliner due to his anti-Soviet politics, said the world was now being confronted with the question as to how it should react to Russia and what he saw as its efforts to "reincorporate old Soviet areas into the Kremlin's sphere of control".

That's from The Guardian, reporting comments made to Die Welt.

Brzezinski - Lord have mercy on us! Why did Obama ever seek the advice of that doddering cold warrior?

I mean is your position really that Georgia should never be in NATO
Jesus, that's the position of any sane person. Georgia joining is entirely different than NATO expanding into Eastern Europe. Unlike E. Europe, an independent Georgia provides nearly no national security benefit to NATO members at all. Also unlike E. Europe, history's pretty clear that for the foreseeable future we can expect occasional military/paramilitary provocation from both sides between Russia and Georgia.

NATO is a defense pact, not a club like the EU. The whole point of it is deterrence; attack one of us and all of us will crush you. In order to work that threat at the core of NATO has to remain credible. Others have to believe you'll do what you say and if it's plainly in your interests to do it then it's easy for them to believe you will. If anyone even once calls NATO's bluff and we don't back it up the entire alliance is useless.

Adding Georgia would provide no security benefit. On the other hand, it would greatly increase our security risks by making war with Russia much more likely, the dissolution of NATO much more likely, and (since it's plainly NOT in our security interests to fight Russia in Georgia) diminishing credibility of the alliance's retaliation threat. Why in the world would we take on that risk when there's no benefit to doing so?

Brzezinski - Lord have mercy on us! Why did Obama ever seek the advice of that doddering cold warrior?

Well, I’ll take Brzezinski over George Clooney…

"It's a meaningless statement because the European members of NATO will never allow Georgia in."

Yes. This occurred to me. But I hate the idea that he was counting on that. Except that I hate the idea that he wasn't even more.

To the best of my knowledge, Brzezinski is one of a whole lot of people whose advice Obama seeks. He is not the main advisor, or (last I checked) in the smallish circle of closest advisors.

He is a very sharp guy, but my memories of the Carter administration tell me that he is way, way hawkish on Russia. (Hawkish here does not mean 'doesn't like Russia'; it means 'favoring more belligerent responses to it than standard'.)

Seems like we're skimming the top. Isn't Russia's interest in Georgia much more involved and the ethnic issues far deeper cut? What if Mexico's influence in southern California succeeded in the expansion of the Baja and LA's separation from the Union? Would our efforts to incur into our former federal partner be looked upon in the same fashion, say by the OAS? Or would it be considered nobody's business, except for the obligatory political saber rattling?

OCSteve: Well, I’ll take Brzezinski over George Clooney…

Well, the queue for Brzezinski is shorter...

To somewhat substantiate my horror of Brzezinski, here are some quotes, which shed light on his actions, his thinking and his morals:

On his support for Pol Pot (1981 quote):

The Khmer Rouge, whom the arch-moralist Jimmy Carter called "the worst violators of human rights in the world," became an instrument to drive the Vietnamese out of Kampuchea.

"I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot," recalled Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's National Security Adviser, in 1981. "Pol Pot was an abomination. We could never support him. But China could." The U.S., he added, "winked semipublicly" as the Chinese funneled arms to the Khmer Rouge, using Thailand as a conduit.


On his support for Islamists in Afghanistan (1998 interview):

Q: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs ["From the Shadows"], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?

Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.

Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it?

Brzezinski: It isn't quite that. We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.

Q:(...) You don't regret anything today?

Brzezinski: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic [integrisme], having given arms and advice to future terrorists?

Brzezinski: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

Q:Some stirred-up Moslems? But it has been said and repeated: Islamic fundamentalism represents a world menace today.

Brzezinski: Nonsense!(...)


He's incompetent, foolish and immoral. I don't think anybody should take advice from this guy. I understand that after 8 years of neo-con idiocy, a return to the neo-liberal "realism" of the cold war years might seem like an attractive option for some. But at the end of the day, a lot of these guys, and Brzezinski is a prime example here, were just as crazy, stupid and downright evil.

"I understand that after 8 years of neo-con idiocy, a return to the neo-liberal "realism" of the cold war years might seem like an attractive option for some. But at the end of the day, a lot of these guys, and Brzezinski is a prime example here, were just as crazy, stupid and downright evil."

This is why I feel the third party temptation every four years, but I think there are still enough differences to make the Democrats the lesser of two evils. But yeah, I don't think Bush/McCain are all that far out of the US foreign policy mainstream.

Incidentally, that interview in the Counterpunch article either needs to be discredited or if true, much more widely known. Here is someone in a position to know who essentially claims the Carter Administration deliberately and cynically tried to increase the chances of a Soviet/Afghanistan war. Perhaps I've just missed it, but in my experience mainstream accounts of how the Soviets came to invade Afghanistan never make reference to this interview, though one sees it in far left publications from time to time.

Someone in the comments was dismissing the idea that old school cold warriors were making policy. Well, they are, and in both parties.

This isn't pandering, it's diplomacy. As others have said, he doesn't say Georgia must join NATO now, he says he would press for them to start a process of joining NATO. In the carefully calibrated language of international diplomacy, that's a very different thing.

It's also a staking out of a negotiating position - which should never be your actual bottom line - but give you scope to compromise. And what you say in public, in the press, is part of the negotiation - you use it as counterpoint to what you say in private, in the negotiating room.

Seems like Americans have seen so little diplomacy for so long, they've forgotten how it works...

The parties are different on this issue, of course. The Democratic side is chock full of pols well described by Charles King in yesterday's interview with Glenn Greenwald:

The psychological component is that many of the opinion shapers in the United States - the folks who write on op-ed pages, editor page editors, and even really on-the-ground journalists - many of them spent a great deal of the early 1990s having quite legitimately a very hopeful attitude about Russia's future. They saw in Russia a country with this magnificent and ancient culture that was going suddenly to transform itself from a communist dictatorship into a Western style liberal democracy. And they put a lot of faith and hope in the Russian people and the Yeltsin leadership at the time, and in economic reformers this would happen relatively quickly.

It turned out to be a terrible disappointment and you now have in the United States in particular - and I should say you don't find this really in Europe or in Britain - a whole class of opinion leaders in the United States who are writing from a perspective of incredible disappointment with Russia, and therefore their views often become extremely acrimonious because they've been disappointed by the way that the Russians or the Russian leadership has handled itself, that Russia didn't become overnight the kind of liberal democracy that many of those working in and writing about Russia had believed that it would be.

The Soros-fueled industry of "soft" intervention is also a feature distinctive to the Democratic side.

I probably don't need to note that Zbig Brzezinski was not one of the disillusioned opinion leaders described above. However, his star rose again as disillusionment set in among the Clinton-era foreign policy elite, and rose further as he provided hawkish political cover for those opposed to the Bush debacle in Iraq.

Interventionists all. Georgia good, Russia bad.

It's enough to make you want to move to a country where the public isn't treated like children.

The one thing that stood out to me in this, and I may just be showing my lack of understanding of NATO, is "I have consistently called for deepening relations between Georgia and transatlantic institutions, including a Membership Action Plan for NATO." To me, that sounds like he wants them to apply to join, but that Georgia will have to fulfill certain goals to be accepted. I would be fine with Russia forming a Membership Action Plan, as long as they demonstrated a strong willingness to meet the human rights and other requirements the West would put on them.

To me, Obama's statement sounds like a measured political statement.

John J: it's certainly a lot more measured than McCain's plan, and more measured than a lot of what passes for commentary these days.

Still: a MAP has to mean one of two things: either you really do think that it would be a good thing for Georgia to be a member of NATO so long as they meet certain conditions, or you're stringing them along. And stringing them along has costs: e.g., in this episode, you hear a lot of people, including people in the Georgian government, seeming to assume that we'd be behind them. That's not just bad because of their dashed expectations; it might actually lead them to make stupid choices based on their expectations of what we'd do.

Incidentally, that interview in the Counterpunch article either needs to be discredited or if true, much more widely known. Here is someone in a position to know who essentially claims the Carter Administration deliberately and cynically tried to increase the chances of a Soviet/Afghanistan war.

The interview has been widely quoted, the original french version is available here on the Nouvel Obs site.

Also, Operation Cyclone is well known and it was authorized by Carter on July 3rd '79, i.e. half a year before the official Soviet invasion started. There is lots of context and links (to books mainly) here.

They reference Robert Gates' (yeah, that one) autobiography:

Robert Gates, who will become CIA Director in the early 1990s, will later recall that in a meeting on March 30, 1979, Under Secretary of Defense Walter Slocumbe wonders aloud whether there is “value in keeping the Afghan insurgency going, ‘sucking the Soviets into a Vietnamese quagmire.’”

A simple point. There are a lot of you here who are anti-Bush and in particular have a problem with Bush's cowboy rhetoric. I among them. You can't have a double standard here and dismiss the controversial things Obama says as mere gamesmanship and diplomatic maneuvering while holding right-wing feet to the fire.

ara, although I think you are right in principle here, Bush has proven again and again that his "diplomacy" is (at best) window-dressing. Until we see how Obama's actions compare to his rhetorics, I will abstain from judgement (which does not mean that you are wrong).

ara,

I never had a problem with Bush's cowboy rhetoric per se; what bothered me about Bush was the fact that pretty words were a complete substitute for understanding, well, anything at all. Smart people saying things that every real actor recognizes are meaningless but that appeal to stupid voters is fine with me IF those statements go along with a real policy and actual understanding. In Bush's case, there was nothing but pretty words and the green-lantern theory of foreign policy.

Perhaps you can point to specific people who have written that their primary problem with Bush is his rhetoric in and of itself?

I did have a problem with Bush's cowboy rhetoric, insofar as I think that words have consequences. (The 'axis of evil' speech being the most obvious example.) But I have always had a lot more problem with his conduct. Obviously, I'd willingly give him any amount of belligerent words in exchange for the actual Iraq war, and all its actual casualties, US, coalition, and Iraqi.

That said: I agree with ara on the general point of intellectual consistency. I also think that it's not quite as black and white as he paints it, since one can assess the likelihood that someone is sincere on the basis of everything else you know about him. It's risky -- you can end up explaining away all the things someone says that you don't like -- but not, for all that, impossible.

I just hate that insincerity seems to me, in this case, the best option.

So how should western countries respond? The question arises most immediately in relation to Nato, where Georgia hopes to take a step closer to joining by securing a membership action plan. Sceptics within Nato, like Germany, will see the conflict as evidence that Georgia is an unreliable partner best kept at arm's length. This is entirely the wrong way of looking at it. Georgia's security concerns are real, and Russia is the cause. The onus should therefore be on Russia to reduce the security fears that drive the desire for Nato membership by withdrawing unwanted troops and becoming part of a political solution to the frozen conflicts. If it will not do this, it has to accept the consequences

If it will not do this, it has to accept the consequences

And what consequences might those be? No one is going to start a nuclear war with Russia over Georgia. Do you believe that the US or any other NATO member has the military forces needed to invade Russia? Do you believe that economic sanctions against Russia could possibly be effective given the current oil markets and Russia's position as a major supplier of oil to European markets?

Seriously: your comment is full of bold talk, but that's all it is because WE DO NOT HAVE THE CAPACITY TO DO ANYTHING BUT TALK.

Unless I'm mistaken. If so, please explain what feasible actions we could take to compel Russia to behave differently.

Unless I'm mistaken. If so, please explain what feasible actions we could take to compel Russia to behave differently.

To reiterate what I said earlier, it seems to me that the main benefit of putting Georgia clearly on the path to NATO membership is that it affords the opportunity to delineate clearly that we will not intervene until they have met certain clear prerequisites.

Since Georgia seemed to think that they could receive some of the benefits of a defensive alliance (assuming they didn't attack first), then either the Bush Admin misled them and/or NATO seriously screwed up the message here -- a clear MAP could have prevented that.

Georgia is as gone as Russia wants, and will almost certainly be under the control of a puppet government within months if not weeks. The real question is how we stop the Ukraine from being next.

I don't have any idea.

Georgia's security concerns are real, and Russia is the cause. The onus should therefore be on Russia to reduce the security fears that drive the desire for Nato membership by withdrawing unwanted troops and becoming part of a political solution to the frozen conflicts.

That's an odd way of looking at things, since the Georgian president is an unapologetic radical nationalist, who claimed publicly on many occasions that he wished to retake the secessionist regions by force. He then attempted to do so late last week with what can best be described as a willful disregard for civilian casualties, but which many others made conclude was simply ethnic cleansing.

Russia then intervened to protect those areas, and even though it patently had the capability and opportunity to conquer all of Georgia at ease, showed no inclination to do so and was content to cease hostilities once the disputed enclaves were secured.

So I'm wondering, since Georgia started this conflict, and since Russia decided not to threaten Georgia's territory or government when it would never have a better moment to do so, how you regard Georgia as a country either requiring or deserving of the protection of the Western world?

To reiterate what I said earlier, it seems to me that the main benefit of putting Georgia clearly on the path to NATO membership is that it affords the opportunity to delineate clearly that we will not intervene until they have met certain clear prerequisites.

That's a mighty dangerous game we'd be playing. I mean, who decides whether or not the prereqs have been met? Obviously we do, but if Georgia decides to do something stupid necessitating our intervention, they can go to the international press and scream about how they've met every prereq, thereby creating a lot of political pressure that could put an American President in a bind. Remember how effective those huge payments by the Kuwaiti royal family to prominent PR firms before the Gulf War was? And it would be even easier for Georgia: lots of people hate Russia, the people of Georgia kind of sort of have a democracy, plus they don't wear towels on their head or ride camels. To top it off, the American press seem to have a total hard on for Georgia.

In any event, I don't see how putting Georgia on the path to membership would have helped avoid the current war. If you're on the path, then by definition, you're not a member, so no collective defense for you. Russia knows this, so being on the path wouldn't have served as any more of a deterrent than our current very friendly relations with Georgia.

Since Georgia seemed to think that they could receive some of the benefits of a defensive alliance (assuming they didn't attack first), then either the Bush Admin misled them and/or NATO seriously screwed up the message here -- a clear MAP could have prevented that.

Isn't there a third possibility: namely that the Georgians heard what they wanted to hear? I mean, this happens every day in relationships, and it seems to happen frequently enough in diplomatic engagements where participants might be separated by linguistic and cultural barriers in addition to feeling the need for some amount of deception. Robert Farley explains this theory in more detail here.

Look, when it comes to warfare, leaders often make mistakes. In fact, there are cognitive biases that increase the likelihood that they will. That is the fundamental problem, and having a clear MAP does nothing to resolve it. I mean, if Georgia's leadership thought this was going to be a cakewalk, how would a clear MAP have helped?

This is entirely the wrong way of looking at it. Georgia's security concerns are real, and Russia is the cause.

I would respond that Georgia's security concerns are, well, Georgia's concern not NATO's.

Do you really think Russia will roll over for NATO forever as it slowly gobbles up ever increasing amounts of territory?

Also, as far as compelling Russia to behave differently, the central thing that "we" could have done (the U.S., and perhaps the rest of the West, NATO, etc.) would have been to treat them seriously for the last ten years.

We went from a liberal Administration that pushed Russia around but still took it somewhat seriously (sent food aid, etc.), to an Administration full of harebrained neoconservatives who treated Russia like a third-world country.

It's obvious to anyone who pays attention that this Administration is deliberately condescending to Russia. For example, though our 'high-level negotiations' with Russia are supposed to be about how "Putin speaks wistfully about the Soviet Union and continues to consolidate power in what is looking more and more like a return to autocracy," (note that the linked article is three years old), what actually happens is this.

IOW, though we know that the former (current?) President of Russia is a hardcore nationalist, authoritarian, ex-KGB agent, but instead of giving him a seat at the international table, we send him the Boy Wonder. And it's not as if the Admin doesn't know the real score there, or couldn't send someone competent -- Russia is all most of them know; Condi Rice specialized in Russia while she was in academia; heck, Kissinger was sitting in the seat in front of Bush during the Olympics a few days ago.

At least during the struggle over Kosovo, the U.S. treated Russia as a worthy adversary -- but since the neocons came into power, that went out the window along with the ABM treaty (which was a big deal in Russia -- a bilateral treaty between the great powers), and for what? So we could build a BMD system that didn't work, still doesn't, and never will. Things like that send a huge signal.

Now, none of that is to say that we should countenance Russia's actions in Georgia (nor in Chechnya, Iran, or Kosovo, for that matter), but they should have a seat at the negotiating table and should be treated seriously -- they have legitimate interests in Eastern Europe (ethnic, strategic, economic, etc.) and have repeatedly showed that there's little they won't do to protect those interests.

If we're even going to think about assistance to Georgia or other countries (and we should), the entire process -- NATO included -- should be out in the open and Russia shouldn't be sidelined. We can disagree with them but we can't continue to ignore them for no good reason. (And of course it goes without saying that, say, somehow expelling Russia from the G-8 like McCain proposed is not exactly a recipe for success either.)

@hilzoy: Look at the people to whom Obama turns when he discusses foreign policy. He and they support NATO membership for Georgia.

He's not being insincere. He's being wrong, wrong in a way that is required to be one of the Serious People.

The real question is how we stop the Ukraine from being next.

Um, why exactly should we worry about the Ukraine? It has about ten times the population, ten times the land area, a far richer economy (even per capita), and a geography that makes the tactical situation somewhat different.

"Uh, I think you're just not understanding what he's saying. A plan to get them into NATO is not anything like wanting them to be in NATO as they are now. The way he phrases it, it sounds like he knows it's not workable to get them into NATO yet, but he's savvy enough to emphasize that he wants them in there."

Just an observation: Bill Clinton should be proud of the way Obama parses his words.

I wonder why he's not.

This does seem stupid of Obama. If he's trying to pander to jingoism, he is doing it far too mildly to have any real effect, and anyway his whole campaign was predicated on the idea that America wants a President who isn't reflexively interventionist. Maybe he's taking a minimum "tough talk" position just to get this issue off the table for the election?

If not, then I guess he's sincerely trying to isolate Russia, but why is that a good idea? Russia was a threat, it's still a rival for oil in the Middle East and the "stans," but it's not an active enemy yet. Why go out of our way to scare them?

Russia is not quite a superpower any more, but it remains a very strong regional power. Its adventure in Georgia is like ours in Latin America: big countries always need to dominate their hinterland for economic and security reasons. But Russia overreached, collapsed, and lost most of Central and Eastern Europe for good; countries like Poland, Hungary, the Baltics, etc. are too strongly enmeshed now with the EU to be dominated by a resurgent Russia. Georgia was still in the Russian sphere of influence, though. If we keep moving in on Georgia, we weaken, scare, and humiliate Russia, and to what end?

I dunno, maybe he's trying to play global chess, put Georgia in play and trade it off for less Russian interference in our Middle Eastern interests or something. But it's more likely to provoke Russia into stronger anti-American alliances.

I'm probably missing something.

Isn't there a third possibility: namely that the Georgians heard what they wanted to hear?

Sure, but the basic point is that we could have done a lot more to clarify things. The seemingly obviously thing to do -- speaking from my armchair and in hindsight, admittedly -- would have been to try to work proactively with Russia to try to resolve the "frozen conflict" that was purportedly standing in the way of NATO membership.

(Incidentally, Obama's mention -- in a previous statement predating the current conflict -- of internationalizing the "peacekeeper" force in Ossetia was quite prescient here.)

Instead, we just said that there were frozen conflicts and left it at that, all the while helping Georgia to train their military and accepting their assistance in Iraq.

This has been discussed at length elsewhere, but I think the notion that the Georgians simply misunderstood the U.S. can't be the entire explanation.

And, more importantly, any U.S.-Georgia misunderstanding is anterior to the error of shutting Russia out of the process completely. If there was really a "frozen conflict" between Russia, Georgia, and S. Ossetia, then that could and should have been dealt with multilaterally -- possibly at the NATO table, but at the very least including the U.S. since we've been supporting Georgia -- not unilaterally between the U.S. and Georgia alone. That makes no sense.

ade and John J,

"I have consistently called for deepening relations between Georgia and transatlantic institutions, including a Membership Action Plan for NATO."

Well yes, it is a measured and diplomatic statement. Probably right for a President. :)

But Obama is a candidate right now.
How will (less informed) American voters interpret it? As a measured diplomatic statement (with an open end concerning NATO membership) or as a call for Georgian NATO membership?

Is he saying one thing to foreign political leaders and saying another thing to American voters?

I mean how many people in the USA (and Europe too) know what a "Membership Action Plan" is? I bet most of them would answer something like getting your military up to NATO standards. With NATO membership a foregone conclusion.
How many countries were denied NATO membership once they started that Action plan?

I wonder how he is supposed to change his position if elected? Blame it on the European pussies?

"Um, why exactly should we worry about the Ukraine? It has about ten times the population, ten times the land area, a far richer economy (even per capita), and a geography that makes the tactical situation somewhat different."

Well to start, because Russia has already repeatedly intervened in the Ukraine, going so far as to poison one of the top candidates, and that was at a tactically weaker time than now.

Adam, I agree with nearly everything you said, but I'm really dubious about supporting Georgia. It's simply not that nice a government, Things started out well in 2003, but Saakashvili has since proven to be virulently nationalist (like basically everybody East of Berlin, to be fair), and no great democrat. Peaceful demonstrations are repressed with cudgels and worse, the media has been shackled, and he's deeply mired in mafioso self-enrichment. In short, he's not so very different from the Serbs in the 1990s. I doubt the next Georgian election would have been much more legitimate than those we see in Russia these days.

The only reason he gets good press is because he hates Russia, and the American authorities have decided that that equates to being a ponies and rainbows young democracy, just as all those wonderful murderous thugs in South East Asia and Latin America through the Cold War were "on the side of freedom" because the didn't like communists (or anybody else uppity).

Bedtime, since when do diplomatic statements not involve parsing words?

I think Obama's just being insincere. His advisors no well that there is zero chance of Germany et alia approving Georgian membership of a mutual defense treaty - they didn't before, why on Earth would they now? As I said elsewhere, extending NATO to Georgia would be the end of NATO, because the gesture would have no credibility and would unravel the basis of the entire alliance.

Unless of course, you think that the next time Georgia saunters into Ossetia or Abkhazia, they should do so with American troops at their side?

Turbulence,

Um, why exactly should we worry about the Ukraine? It has about ten times the population, ten times the land area, a far richer economy (even per capita), and a geography that makes the tactical situation somewhat different.

If Russia wants to make (more) problems in the Ukraine, they could. Probably very easily too.
If what I´ve read is right, the Ukraine is somewhat divided. A more pro-Russia East and a more pro-Western West Ukraine. Just look at this post with some maps.

They could start just with the Crimea.

Unlike E. Europe, an independent Georgia provides nearly no national security benefit to NATO members at all.

Given how much of Western Europe's natural gas supply is likely to be coming from countries around the Caspian in the future, I would have said that they have a strong security interest in that part of the world. An independent Georgia, as an alternative to a Georgia that does what Russia tells them, may be the best of a set of generally poor alternatives.

byrningman, human rights standards are a legitimate factor for consideration in NATO membership, too. I'd hope that would be on the table. Again, I emphasize that I don't think immediate admission into NATO would be a wise move, but that's not at all what Obama proposed.

That said, such transitional states have empirically been a big motivator for states to get their acts together. That's been especially true for states angling for EU membership -- moreso than NATO, even -- but Georgia wants that too, actually.

And, more to the point, I think the central issue is that there needs to be clarity and multilateral discussion. Obama's position seems to be "we need a clear plan for Georgia to join NATO." The alternative positions seem to be:

(1) "Georgia should be part of NATO now," which is not only stupid, it's not going to happen, and taking such manifestly unreasonable positions in general is part of how we got into this mess.

(2) "Georgia should never be part of NATO," which is as reactionary as (1), just in the opposite direction. Aside from the obvious problem of pulling support for Georgia even though Russia is clearly not without fault here (nor is the U.S.), we don't gain anything by taking this position. Since (1) isn't going to happen any time soon, arbitrarily adopting (2) would be a meaningless concession of even the small amount of diplomatic leverage that we still have.

I'm really not sure what the critique of Obama's position is here. Coloring his statement as a green-light to Georgia is just wildly inaccurate, even if you don't compare the statements being made by McCain, the GOP, the neocons, Cheney, et al. I think Obama's argument is actually not bad, especially considering the complexities of the situation and how it's playing domestically.

I forgot to mention that "we need a clear plan for Georgia to join NATO" is a desirable position because it should make clear that Georgia is not a member of NATO right now and, moreover, needs to behave if it ever wants to be. But saying "membership now" or "membership never" gains nothing over the status quo.

I forgot to mention that "we need a clear plan for Georgia to join NATO" is a desirable position because it should make clear that Georgia is not a member of NATO right now

Was there some confusion on this point? Who exactly are we making it clear to anyway? I'd guess that right now, the Georgians and Russians have a very good understanding of their non-membership in NATO, and they probably had a good one before the war as well.

and, moreover, needs to behave if it ever wants to be. But saying "membership now" or "membership never" gains nothing over the status quo.

But isn't there a third option, namely "eh, membership at some point in the vague future when Georgia has convinced the alliance that it can contribute something useful and not be a reckless danger and also be a bit more democratic"?

I guess I'm confused as to why we have to say anything. You sound as if the our policy regarding NATO admission for all non-member states must be either an absolute commitment to getting them in NATO, an absolute commitment to ensuring they don't get into NATO, or the belief that they must be on the path to admission. That seems like a strangely narrowed policy space to me.

How long before McCain reruns "The Bear" commercial of the Reagan era?

Michael Cain,

Sure but not if it involves this kind of war.

THURSDAY 7 AUGUST

Georgian forces and separatists in South Ossetia agree to observe a ceasefire and hold Russian-mediated talks to end their long-simmering conflict.

Hours later, Georgian forces launch a surprise attack, sending a large force against the breakaway province and reaching the capital Tskhinvali.

That pipeline was perfectly safe before Saakashvili started his "short victorious war".

From all I´ve read, South Ossetia is dirt-poor. There is a German proverb "Mit Speck faengt man Maeuse" roughly translated "Use bacon to catch mice". Good bait will catch good fish?

My totally non-expert advice for Georgia would have been:
- Do nothing right now. Argue for international peace-keepers in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. If that doesn´t work right now, mention it once again next year.
- Don´t react to provocations. Or if you do, small scale and blame it on smugglers. Mention once again international peace-keepers.
- Be patient and smile a lot. Try to be reasonable. Maybe acknowledge even that Gamsakhurdia or his supporters in the early 1990s might have been a tad too violent or oppressive against minorities?
- Use only some tax money for defense not most of it. It´s perfectly alright to use all the American money for defense though.
- Use the rest of the money to raise the living standards of ordinary people in Georgia.
- Assuming that works some South Ossetian and Abkhazian workers will look for work in Georgia sooner or later. Accept them. If possible offer to pay for some infrastructure works these regions too.
After all, these regions are still legally part of Georgia. :)
- Restore the autonomy of the Ajaria region in the South West. And reassure South Ossetia and Abkhazia that they will enjoy the same autonomy.
- Respect rule-of-law, at least some free media and if possible democratic rule.

Probably would take at least 10 years and success would be uncertain, I admit.
Still I think at least South Ossetia might be drawn back into Georgia. Not sure about Abkhazia though. They seem to have some natural resources. If however these resources only enrich a few...

I guess my point is, what is the rationale for Georgia joining NATO? Discussing whether Georgia should join NATO is not really about whether Georgia should be protected from Azerbaijan or Armenia, it's explicitly aimed at Russia. So the question is not "should Georgia be in the big Western European security umbrella?", but rather "should we continue to encircle Russia with an ever growing military alliance?" I can't really think why the answer to the second question should be yes. Does anyone really think Russia will invade Europe?

Probably would take at least 10 years and success would be uncertain, I admit.
Still I think at least South Ossetia might be drawn back into Georgia. Not sure about Abkhazia though.

Zero chance. There'll probably be a cursory vote and they'll join Russia as autonomous republics, South Ossetia probably merging with North Ossetia.

Russia's actually a very decentralized country, they'd fit right in.

Turb, I think the answer to most/all of your questions is that no, the relationship between Georgia and NATO wasn't particularly clear beforehand, and that was arguably part of the problem.

Georgia was pushing hard for membership, but NATO told them that they first needed to resolve certain "frozen conflicts" (Abkhazia and S. Ossetia, presumably) and then just sort of let that hang there. The conditions for proceeding were not all that clear from what I've seen, and meanwhile the U.S. was providing training and gushing with praise over Georgia's help in Iraq, which was a mixed signal to say the least.

The appropriate solution -- which is close to what Obama proposed before and now -- would have been to identify the conflicts clearly as well as any other impediments to membership (human rights is fair game under the NATO charter, IIRC) and then take proactive steps toward resolving them. AFAIK, we never even talked with Russia and Georgia about an international peacekeeping force to replace the Russian peacekeepers because we were too busy pretending that Russia didn't exist and that Georgia could deal with it on their own. Oops.

I think that there is a calculated ambiguity in Obama's statement that is throwing people for a loop -- when he says he wants a "deepening relationship," he's clearly not calling for unconditional membership, or he wouldn't be pushing for a membership plan at all. He's pointing out the need for better communication between Georgia and NATO rather than our current policy of calculated ignorance.

byrningman,

You might be right.
On the other hand South Ossetia is really, really poor. And that "very decentralized country" named Russia isn´t that famous for spending money on some unimportant region without any natural resources.
Not to mention that it´s pretty corrupt.

I might be biased since I´m a German. But advertising a better alternative was pretty successful in Central Europe. I´m not saying that it might work in the Caucasus but I don´t see any better alternative?

Adam,

Turb, I think the answer to most/all of your questions is that no, the relationship between Georgia and NATO wasn't particularly clear beforehand, and that was arguably part of the problem.

Sorry, the relationship was pretty clear.
Some European NATO members resisted US calls for Georgian NATO membership. End of file!
And certain other European NATO members are now very glad that Georgia wasn´t on the fast track to join NATO.
The UK comes to mind.

Maybe even some American politicians. Just to quote Matthew Yglesias:

Indeed, I get the sense that a lot of US politicians have gotten into the bad habit of taking bad-faith positions on Georgia’s NATO status, counting on Germany and France to block membership. People who don’t necessarily actually want America to guarantee Georgia’s security do want the United States to propose such a guarantee, thus putting us on the right side of the “moral clarity” line, while letting our European allies take the blame for the costs of pragmatism.

The conditions for proceeding were not all that clear from what I've seen, and meanwhile the U.S. was providing training and gushing with praise over Georgia's help in Iraq, which was a mixed signal to say the least.

Some European countries publicly rejected a NATO membership of Georgia right now. And the "U.S. was providing training and gushing with praise". May I submit that it wasn´t a mixed signal by NATO but a mixed signal by the USA alone?

I think that there is a calculated ambiguity in Obama's statement that is throwing people for a loop -- when he says he wants a "deepening relationship," he's clearly not calling for unconditional membership, or he wouldn't be pushing for a membership plan at all.

Calculated ambiguity for sure:
1) He calls for a "Membership Action Plan for NATO" for Georgia in the sure knowledge that some European countries will oppose it.
In fact did oppose it in the past before this war.
2) Knowing this, he proposes that plan in the sure knowledge that it won´t work. Hey, look at me I´m being tough against Russia!
3) How many American voters out there know what a "Membership Action Plan for NATO" involve?
4) His supporters will point to his ambiguity.
5) Did we ever deny any country NATO membership once they were in the "Membership Action Plan for NATO"?
6) If it doesn´t work, blame the Europeans.

From my point of view, Obama clearly is saying something different to his domestic and foreign audience. And I resent that knowing that he will pander to his domestic audience a lot more that his foreign audience.

Gorbachev's op ed in WaPo is worth a read. A rational analysis by the man the right probably now considers the only non-evil Russian. Sadly for John McCain, Gorbachev points out the obvious - the Georgians engaged in madness and the Russian response was measured and restrained.

I do expect public opinion on this to complete reverse in the coming days, as it's becoming more and more incontestable that the Georgians were out of control, and that the Russians (perhaps uncharacteristically given events in Chechnya) handled this pretty professionally.

I guess my point is, what is the rationale for Georgia joining NATO? Discussing whether Georgia should join NATO is not really about whether Georgia should be protected from Azerbaijan or Armenia, it's explicitly aimed at Russia. So the question is not "should Georgia be in the big Western European security umbrella?", but rather "should we continue to encircle Russia with an ever growing military alliance?" I can't really think why the answer to the second question should be yes. Does anyone really think Russia will invade Europe?

See, to me the crux of the question is, "does anyone really still believe that NATO is a defensive alliance?" No, no one really thinks that Russia is going to invade Europe. In fact, many people have been arguing for years that NATO is obsolete for precisely this reason. The most accurate description of NATO's current role is as a coordinated international peacekeeping force -- and under that rationale, bringing Georgia into the fold seems reasonable given their troop contribution in Iraq.

Now, granted, the most recent round of NATO admissions in 2004 did include countries that were initially put on the road to membership basically just to antagonize Russia. Of course, Russia is more than happy to flog that point, but the reality is that the move towards membership in all those cases has long since moved past any encirclement-related rationale.

Unlike Georgia, none of those six countries currently faces a major showdown with Russia -- and it seems likely that those countries wouldn't have been admitted without normalizing their relations with Russia. (Notably, the engagement between NATO and the new member states clearly created some momentum for settling conflicts with Russia peacefully, sometimes even by conceding territory.)

The "encirclement" rationale is a crock -- it's a lie perpetuated by Russian nationalists and American conservatives trading on Cold War-Era political grievances. The only colorably anti-Russian move NATO's made since the breakup of the USSR was in Kosovo, and that was only anti-Russian because Russian politicians like Zhirinovsky tried to start a war over it to score cheap political points.

Realistically, NATO's mission has become increasingly internationalist and decreasingly concerned with Russia as time has gone by, with no record of aggressive action toward Russia at all despite the engagement of some former Soviet states. That's simple fact.

To the extent that there has been any tension at all, it's been because of Russian and American hawks pushing intervention in places like Georgia or other proposed NATO member states. But that's not NATO encirclement, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy for creating conflict between Russia and NATO that's being pushed by people with interests in said conflict. The conflict in Georgia -- with hawks on both sides playing Russian and Georgian nationalism to manufacture a war -- is part of that policy, NATO engagement can be a part of the solution or part of the problem depending on how it's handled, but saying that NATO is a cause is not true. It's propaganda; geopolitical football.

I think the answer to most/all of your questions is that no, the relationship between Georgia and NATO wasn't particularly clear beforehand, and that was arguably part of the problem.

Um, if this was the case, then the quality of Georgia's governmental institutions is so low that they should be kept as far away from NATO membership as possible. A small government has no business engaging in provocative military escapades close to home unless it can affirmatively answer the question "will much bigger and stronger friends back me up if/when things go not precisely according to plan?". If Georgia was pushing hard for membership, it should have noticed that significant NATO members opposed its joining and that maybe the reasons for opposition were not precisely the reasons stated. After all, what kind of idiot assumes that diplomats always speak the clear and unvarnished truth?

Georgia was pushing hard for membership, but NATO told them that they first needed to resolve certain "frozen conflicts" (Abkhazia and S. Ossetia, presumably) and then just sort of let that hang there.

In the context of asking a bunch of countries to assume some responsibility for your security, I don't think a reasonable person would consider a request to resolve frozen conflicts as a request to provoke Russia. Consider the best case scenario: Georgia ejects the Russian troops and the Russians don't retaliate. Don't you think the Russians might undermine Georgian rule and foment dissent in those areas for years if not decades? Just because Russia might have decided that military intervention was too costly doesn't mean that they had no other options, and Putin isn't really the forgive and forget type.

The conditions for proceeding were not all that clear from what I've seen

Indeed. The conditions for me joining the US Women's Olympic gymnastics team are also not at all clear, perhaps because I'm not female and I'm not a gymnast. The point is, the mere fact that you want something does not guarantee that it is feasible for you to gain the wanted thing. We expect three year olds to understand this concept, so I don't see why we must assume the government of Georgia was too dumb to grasp it.

and meanwhile the U.S. was providing training and gushing with praise over Georgia's help in Iraq, which was a mixed signal to say the least.

How ignorant of US history can Georgia's leaders possibly be? Why on Earth would anyone blindly trust the word of George Bush, when he couldn't even get NATO to accede to his whims? You say it was a mixed signal, but what could the Georgians' think we were trying to signal? We had perfectly good reasons for giving them aid and training: as a way to tweak Russia, as a quid pro quo for adding a figleaf of multinationalness to the Iraq venture, or as a buffer force to deal with Islamic militants creeping over the border. None of those reasons suggest that we would so much as lift a finger if Georgia provoked Russia.

I can believe your assertion that the relationship between NATO and Georgia was unclear to Georgia's leadership, but the only way I can buy that is if Georgia's leadership was the most spectacularly incompetent set of leaders I've ever seen.

May I submit that it wasn´t a mixed signal by NATO but a mixed signal by the USA alone?

Actually, yes, I would agree with that. But to my mind, that's the point of Obama's position -- the issue of collective security needs to be out in the open and nowhere else. Pushing an IAP in NATO is a reasonable position regardless of whether the plan passes or fails; maintaining an independent side-channel policy is not acceptable.

the only way I can buy that is if Georgia's leadership was the most spectacularly incompetent set of leaders I've ever seen.

I respectfully submit that the entire problem is that they would, in fact, be in second place at best even among the current crop of world political leaders.

Adam, I strongly disagree on various points, but unfortunately don't have the time to really get into it.

In a nutshell, if the goal of NATO was now to promote peace and security throughout the former Soviet region, then Washington would looking to work with Russia, as it's patently ridiculous to speak of security-building institutions without the dominant regional power - unless you are defining the central security concern as being that very same power.

"See, to me the crux of the question is, "does anyone really still believe that NATO is a defensive alliance?" No, no one really thinks that Russia is going to invade Europe. In fact, many people have been arguing for years that NATO is obsolete for precisely this reason. The most accurate description of NATO's current role is as a coordinated international peacekeeping force -- and under that rationale, bringing Georgia into the fold seems reasonable given their troop contribution in Iraq."

I really disagree, which is unusual.

First, I think that however we see NATO, it's worth bearing in mind that Russia is likely to keep seeing it as an alliance aimed at them for quite some time. Old opinions die hard.

Second, I do see NATO as a defensive alliance. For starters, it is, and I do not support admitting anyone we cannot reasonably pledge to defend. But for another, I think I take the long view on this one. I think it took ages for it to become really unthinkable that France and Germany would go to war with each other, and more ages before it became unthinkable that Russia would invade Western Europe. When NATO accepted the Eastern European and Baltic countries, I took that to be a long-haul commitment to a similarly lengthy process, at the end of which, if all went well, it would be similarly unthinkable that Russia would invade them.

But that takes time. A lot of time. It is, according to me, the most important thing NATO is now doing: enabling that process to progress. And I am really opposed to anything that would imperil it, e.g. by destroying NATO as a credible defensive alliance (which, imho, admitting Georgia at present would do), or by provoking Russia needlessly. (For any conservatives reading this: I have no problem with provoking Russia when it is genuinely necessary for something. Needlessly is an important word here.)

I suppose that if one thought that the Baltics and E. European states had already been well and truly removed from danger, one might wonder: should we extend this same protection to other people? If so, who? Personally, I do not. (Which doesn't mean I don't want to do what other things I can to protect e.g. the Ukraine. Again, the phrase 'this same protection' matters.)

But hilzoy, the Baltic states (e.g.) have been on the table since the 1990s, and didn't get admitted until 2004 -- once outstanding issues with Russia had been largely cleared off the table. Georgia's current IAP has only been on the table since 2004 and hasn't been making much progress.

Under both your rationale and mine, saying that we should be pushing the IAP doesn't necessarily mean that we push for unconditional admission -- it can also mean that we should push for the conditions that would make admission feasible, as in the case of the most recent members, rather than leaving it on the table as we have been. Obama's statement is measured, but my feeling is that it clearly points to the latter scenario, not the former.

I have no problem with provoking Russia when it is genuinely necessary for something. Needlessly is an important word here.

This strikes me as the key point, really. w/r/t Turbulence's point as well, the U.S. contribution to the problem has been its constant tweaking of both sides on the apparent assumption that the "defeated" Russians wouldn't tweak back.

Clearly that assumption was incomplete -- Russia might not be willing to push back against the United States directly, but the tenor of their statements on the Georgia conflict seem to demonstrate that the move was partially intended to illustrate their willingness to push back against at least someone when they perceive a slight.

An interesting reference is the relevant Wikipedia article, which points out that while NATO rejected the MAP in Bucharest, after the conference there was a sidechannel communique to Georgia promising membership, and it was that assurance that provoked Russia's response. Again, pushing the MAP wasn't itself the issue -- it was the mixed signals being sent on the sidelines.

"Georgia should never be part of NATO," which is as reactionary as (1), just in the opposite direction.

I don't know about that. What part of the North Atlantic does Georgia protect? Should Bolivia or South Africa eventually be in NATO? What argument would allow in Georgia but leave out Bolivia?

==================

the Russians (perhaps uncharacteristically given events in Chechnya) handled this pretty professionally.

I have to admit, when this conflict first started, I found it a bit ironic that the Russians were SUPPORTING a breakaway area...

All things considered, how about a plan to admit Libya into NATO? It's closer to the North Atlantic than Georgia is, and definitely wouldn't proke Russia. Quadaffi has shown he's very interested in taking carrots, and if shown the benefits of joining NATO, would probably do a lot more wrt human rights, etc.

Jeff: That reminds me of the time Mozambique tried to join Comecon. (Really.)

As an aside (though not an irrelevant one, I think, leaving "how" as an exercise for the reader), it's interesting how infrequently NATO's interoperability mandate gets mentioned amidst the debates about expansion.

All NATO member nations are required to deploy equipment that can be used by other NATO countries -- manufactured in NATO member nations, of course -- and (perhaps coincidentally) NATO only ever discusses expansion into countries using (mostly legacy) Soviet military technology who are interested in upgrading.

Likewise, current NATO members are not a favorable market for Russia. When asking why certain countries are not NATO invitees, it may be worth looking first at where non-member countries import from in the first place, assuming there is a focused government procurement program. For example, Libya. See also here, here.

Jeff: That reminds me of the time Mozambique tried to join Comecon. (Really.)

According to the mighty wiki, Comecon was not restricted to Europe, or even nations adjascent to the USSR. Vietnam and Cuba were full members.

Finland, Iraq, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Mozambique had a nonsocialist cooperant status with Comecon ... In November 1986, delegations from Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Laos, Nicaragua, and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen) attended the 42d Council Session as observers.

I'm not sure that quite relates to Georgia and NATO.

Someone save me from the communist comment filter!

Adam: done. ;)

If you people's argument is that Georgia isn't "North Atlantic", then Turkey should never have been admitted either. FOR GOD'S SAKE -- Georgia has common borders with an existing NATO member state.

If geography doesn't convince you, then energy politics should -- Georgia provides the only energy pipeline to Europe that doesn't pass through Russia: for that alone it's of crucial importance.

You don't know how very glad I am to hear Obama support Georgia's eventual entry into NATO. It truly removes the last doubt I had about supporting him, since it was the one and only point where McCain's attitude was wiser than many democrats. But with this statement, Obama shows the strategic intelligence of understanding the necessity of defending Georgia, without descending to McCain's immature and irresponsible belligerence.

KUDOS to Senator Obama. I truly hope he doesn't go back on his words here.

FOR GOD'S SAKE -- Georgia has common borders with an existing NATO member state.

Well, that changes everything! We'll put it on the fast track along with Mexico, Syria, Iraq, Iran, etc. -- and of course Russia. So the goal is to have every country on the planet in NATO eventually!

KC, what do you have against island nations?

No, KCinDC, the goal is the one that NATO always had -- to be a defense against Moscow. The goal isn't membership for its own sake. NATO isn't a "club", it's an alliance with a specific purpose.

And Georgia right now needs this defense more strongly than any other nation. Hence Georgia is the country most in need of NATO, and the country most justifying NATO's existence. Ukraine comes second.

If you're in favor of dismantling NATO altogether, be honest about it.

But I for one support NATO's existence and the role it always had. And for that role (defense against Russia) to have meaning, Georgia and Ukraine ought be allowed to join.

In other words, your "FOR GOD'S SAKE" statement was completely irrelevant to your argument.

Your goal is to completely surround Russia with countries united in their opposition to it? How could Russia possibly not be hostile to that? Under that plan a never-ending cold war is the best we can hope for, but with no buffer it seems a hot war would be likely. In "the role it always had", NATO was not directly bordering the Soviet Union.

Unlike E. Europe, an independent Georgia provides nearly no national security benefit to NATO members at all.
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Given how much of Western Europe's natural gas supply is likely to be coming from countries around the Caspian in the future, I would have said that they have a strong security interest in that part of the world.
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Sure but not if it involves this kind of war.

Absolutely. No argument. No good choices. But I'll bet there are people in the UK who are now thinking, "Should have invested in wind, or wave, or nukes, or anything but those darned NG-fired generators. Should have sold less oil to the Americans and kept more for our own future."

First, I think Adam has a point about gamesmanship.

Second, I'm not sure what to do exactly regarding Georgia, the former Republics, NATO, etctera, in various configurations. And from a practical standpoint I don't think we want to militarily commit to Georgia in a contest with Russia at this time. But "No Georgia in NATO" does seem to skirt back into the territory of letting Russia have a sphere of influence defined as neighboring states it can invade if it wants to. If Georgia is aiming to become part of the West, as Turkey, it seems that allowing it the trappings that go with that could--assuming reasonable preconditions, like the status of its breakaway territories, are met--is not something that should be strictly off the table. Russia will be a major player in the next decades, given all the oil it's sitting on, but 9/11 should have taught us that the new conflict needn't look like the one you practiced on. (Terrorism finds more parallels in the nihilism, including numerous political assassinations, of the turn of the last century, rather than anything in the World or Cold Wars that followed. Similarly, the new situation with Russia will probably look like something, but the cold war isn't the only, or most likely, choice for historical analogue.)

We argued our own sphere of influence with nukes in Cuba in the 60s. But "don't encircle Russia with allies" does sound like ignoring what those potential allies are actually doing in favor of just never pissing Russia off; I don't think that's a good model.

I'm not talking about never pissing Russia off. I'm saying I don't understand how we can ever have better relations with Russia if we plan to organize all of Europe and parts of Asia right up to its border into a club defined by its opposition to Russia. If being "part of the West" has to mean joining NATO, then it seems like we're making Russia a permanent outcast.

Incidentally, I moved all the discussion of the McCain/NATO/Georgia connection to this thread but -- speaking with all possible humility -- I think it's worth checking out and I'd appreciate any additional thoughts. (Also collected everything here)

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