Thursday, August 14, 2008

I have a dream about the latest crisis

Imagine if you can — yeah, I know you can't — that the President of the United States steps up to the microphone at the news conference and says:

"Good morning. I've just met with my national security team to discuss the crisis in Georgia. We concluded that it is an unfortunate situation in which various groups that have been at odds with one another for hundreds of years are in conflict. We'd like to see them sort it out with no more violence.

"However, my national security team tells me that there is no national security issue for the United States. Therefore, it's none of our business. Thank you."


Taking that position would not prolong the crisis for one additional minute. The sides would settle it however they are going to settle it anyway. The world, which perceives the United States as a worldwide whip cracker and knuckle rapper, might cut us a little slack for once. And no one involved in the conflict would feel seriously that we had taken the other's side.

Bush can bluster, as he did yesterday, "
We insist that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected," but no one believes the United States is going to go to war with Russia over a former patch of the Soviet Union that most Americans confuse with our own southern state.

Bush's insistence means nothing. Russia knows it, Georgia knows it, Japan knows it, New Guinea knows it, anyone who bothers to notice knows it. All Boy George has done, once again, is antagonize another country (Russia, in this case) for the sake of the neocon fantasy of "democratization."


I am more hip to the politics and sociology of former Soviet republics than 95 percent of other Americans, including Congress and national security experts; I had even heard of South Ossetia before this latest flap. Not that I have any academic or professional background in the region; I read about South Ossetia in a novel by John le Carré.

That's not much, I agree, but it still gives me a little edge. And I say that this is a fight between the usual political gangsters, with the usual helpless ordinary people caught in the field of fire. Georgia is not Belgium being overrun by Germans in 1914. It is no more the plucky little democratic state victimized by Russia than Russia was a beacon of democracy victimized by Germany in 1941.

I'm not arguing for pacifism or isolationism, or that there can't be threats to U.S. national security half a world away. But we should get over our spring-loaded tendency to think we must fix every problem, and support the "right" side, wherever there is trouble. And we should get over our latent anti-Russian bias left over from the Communist era. Russia is no model of good government, but it's no worse than a hundred others. No doubt it has its own latent anti-American paranoia. We don't have to feed it.



leadpb said...

Rick, thanks for that. The second day or so after the tanks rolled I formed exactly the same opinion, that we would act our noblest if we not only stayed out of it but proclaimed this stance publicly and unequivocally. I don't see this situation as much different than if we interjected ourselves into tribal disputes in the Philippines or Bolivia's drive for a piece of the Pacific coast. I realize we are always acting everywhere quietly, behind the scenes, but does anyone in Washington have a sense of limitation as to our international obligations?

Staying out of more of these things would be a conspicuous non-action that could bring interesting and positive results. We need to resist our impulse to lay down the law every time someone acts up.

Who might lead an administration so disposed? Anyone already born?

Rick Darby said...


I'm glad there are two of us keeping our heads when all about us are losing theirs.

Can't remember if I've asked you before: Does your nom de blog have something to do with the element lead? It seems element-ary, since pb is its chemical symbol (from Latin plumbum, which has survived 2,000 years and more to find its way onto ads on the covers of modern telephone directories).

-J said...

Make that three. I couldn't agree more with your position re Georgia.

An item that does concern me is today's story about our agreement with Poland regarding missile defense systems over Russia's strenuous objection.

Call me paranoid, but I keep seeing echoes of 1914 in contemporary tensions and conflicts.

leadpb said...


Yes, but had I known about the radix "plumbum" I would have used that without doubt. When there is a choice I tend to favor weightier things-- old telephones, trucks vs. cars, furniture, etc. For me all the hype about light weight and efficiency translates into flimsiness and unreliability-- sure it works, but will it be in a landfill in 20 years?

Rick Darby said...


If it's 1914 again, why isn't popular music better?


I would urge other readers not to take your views lightly.

Rick Darby said...


I realize my earlier comment borders on the incomprehensible. I left out a key element: plumbum is the source of our word plumbing.

leadpb said...

Somehow I got it, in a muddled way, with the phone book reference. Don't let it weigh you down, though-- you just plumb forgot to elucidate.