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Cock-up in the Caucasus

Your Humble Blogger isn’t some sort of Caucasus maven, but it does seem to me that the NPR people are doing a bad job of explaining this war between Georgia and Russia. Anyway, since the Georgians opened up a can of epic fail on the residents of their own nation, and the Russians (who seem to have had much more advance notice than the Americans) beat the crap out of them and sent them crying home to mother, there seem to me to be only a few really distinct outcomes.

  • The formerly Georgian regions will become part of Russia proper, allowing Russia to essentially annex them by a referendum held during Russian occupation. Not a good outcome.

  • The formerly Georgian regions will become nominally independent entities, with Russia providing all the infrastructure, enforcement and security. They will be satellite countries (or autonomous state-like things) totally under the control of Moscow. Not a good outcome.

  • The formerly Georgian regions will be some sort of demilitarized zone, with international peacekeeping forces providing structure, enforcement and security, technically within fictional Georgian borders but with no Georgian law enforcement, infrastructure or security forces. Presumably, there would be an autonomous government-like thing that will be unable to make any foreign policy decision, borrow money or manage trade over the borders. Not a good outcome.

  • The entire nation of Georgia will become a vassal state, with Russian forces moving unimpeded and a theoretically autonomous government that has its foreign and domestic policies dictated by Russia. Not a good outcome.

I think that’s it. There’s no plausible path back to the bad situation that they had before Georgia invaded itself, because there is no way that Georgian forces are going back into South Ossetia or Abkhazia, and there isn’t any plausible way that anybody else is going to commit enough forces to keep Russia out of those areas. It’s just possible that NATO (f’r’ex) will commit defensive forces to keep Russia out of Tblisi, but a push forward? Not so much. Oh, I should probably add the last plausible outcome, although I don’t really like to think about it:

  • NATO goes to war with Russia. Not a good outcome at all.

Two points come to mind immediately, or at least to YHB’s mind. First is that this was a notable and remarkable failure for Georgia. Yes, Russia is bad and should not have been, you know, arming the separatists all along, and shouldn’t have sent forces into the heart of Georgia, and shouldn’t have provided cover for Ossetians killing civilians and running amok. Yeah, yeah. Russia bad. But whether Georgia is sympathetic or not, the fact remains that they sent in troops to lay siege to a city within their own borders, were immediately repelled, left their armor on the field and are now in substantial danger of losing their independence. They have had to sign an agreement that gives the Russian not only unlimited power within South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but also the right to bring their tanks out of those regions and patrol the previously uncontested parts of their country. That’s just embarrassing.

Now, the U.S. has had a strong relationship with Georgia. Our Only President has spoken up for Georgia many times, has visited Georgia and met with President Saakashvili several times. Sen. McCain has a personal relationship with the President of Georgia, a close working relationship with Georgia’s lobbyist state, and he has visited Georgia many, many times. What the hell were they doing? I don’t mean that I blame Our Only President for Georgia’s failure. President Saakashvili is a big boy, and Georgia is (or was) an independent nation, and they get to claim responsibility for their own catastrophic failures. But if Sen. McCain is some sort of foreign policy genius, and he has a long and close relationship with the most outstanding pants-crapper of the last five years, well, how does that work exactly?

The other thing that came to mind is that for me, and I suspect for almost all of us who grew up in these United States, we forget that there are lots of places in the world that are not functionally parts of nations. They are within the internationally recognized borders, but the notional national government doesn’t send in the tax collectors, or if they do send them in, the tax collectors don’t come back. Perhaps because of our federal system, and perhaps because we really do have a strong government that isn’t on the verge of collapse, even a few houses anywhere in this country holding out against the revenooers constitutes a major news story, and is recognizable by name (Ruby Ridge, Waco) for a long time after.

Before the invasions last week, Georgia’s internationally recognized borders were largely fictional. The two regions called breakaway republics were largely outside the control of the supposedly sovereign government. That happens a lot. There are parts of Pakistan where the government doesn’t govern. Parts of India. Parts of many African countries, and a few South American ones and some Asian ones, too. For a decade or so, there was a province of Mexico that was governed by a guy in a ski mask. The Russians didn’t so much collect taxes in Chechnya for a while. And so on. China doesn’t send tax collectors into Taiwan, but the internationally recognized borders include it.

The thing is, we tend to think that the map is the territory. And the map doesn’t have blank spaces. It’s either in this country or it’s in that one. It’s either in Georgia or Russia, right? Depending on which side of that line it’s on. But the map isn’t the territory. It’s just the map.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

I am depressingly ignorant about this whole situation. I appreciate your roundup. Can you imagine what a good or at least not very bad outcome might look like, even if there's no obvious way to get there yet?


oops, that was me (Ruth)


Well, if I don't have to worry about how to get there, a good outcome would be a democratic, liberal, pluralist and federalist Georgia having full control within its internationally recognized borders, including South Ossetia and Abkhazia, with the residents of those regions feeling like full citizens, and nobody shooting anybody. Oh, and the Russians behaving like a normal neighboring country, without arming anybody or stirring up insurrection or anything.

Er, and with all the other former Soviet nations similar, also not having to worry about Russia arming separatist groups. Which means we could drastically reduce NATO's mission and resources. How does that all sound?

Actually, anything that manages to keep the fighting from spreading is fine with me. The first bad outcome that I describe wouldn't be that awful--it's not as if Georgia has some natural or traditional border that I think is inherently worth defending. The problem is that most of Eastern Europe, and certainly the former Soviet countries, will have again learned not to provoke the bear, because the bear can maul them without any serious consequences, and that will be bad for democracy and freedom (you know, the good stuff) both in those countries and in Russia itself (where its misbehavior will have been rewarded). When election time comes, I think anti-Russian pro-Western platforms like Mr. Saakashvili's may be less tempting to voters than it looked two weeks ago, but then, of all the problems in the world today, Eastern Europe is not where the weeping comes in.

Thanks,
-V.


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