I am relieved to hear the Russia has called off its invasion of Georgia, although whether actions on the ground will match the words emanating from Moscow remains to be seen. But I am very, very depressed at the pusillanimous reaction to Russian aggression in what used to be called the Free World. Far too many are rushing to blame the victims. A perfect example of this mindset is this column by Newsweek‘s Michael Hirsch. He begins, “There is no excusing Vladimir Putin’s bloody invasion of Georgia,” but then he proceeds to offer one excuse after another. “Since the cold war ended,” he writes, “the United States has been pushing the buttons of Russian frustration and paranoia by moving ever further into Moscow’s former sphere of influence. And we have rarely stopped to consider whether we were overreaching, even as evidence mounted that the patience of a wealthier and more assertive Russia was wearing very thin.”
My only fear at this point is that . . . we may goad the Bushies and neocons into finding some kind of military escalation that would bring in the US. The US has no rational basis to be as committed to Georgia as Russia is; and has very little moral standing to protest an invasion of a sovereign country.
This is very much the prevailing sentiment in Western Europe, where the elites think the current fighting was the fault of the Georgian government for daring to challenge the Russian bear. This Wall Street Journal article offers telling examples:
“In the minds of the Western European countries, Georgia has been rash “in trying to take control of South Ossetia through military force, said Sergio Romano, a former Italian ambassador to NATO and Moscow. “This will harden attitudes” in France, Germany and Italy.
Georgia’s military move last week was “not terribly wise,” said one U.K. official, who declined to be named.
There is no doubt that Georgia’s president, Mikhail Saakashvili, has made miscalculations. Certainly he did not intend for Russian troops to overrun a good chunk of his country. Perhaps he shouldn’t have responded to Russian provocations at all, but at some point Russian incursions would have become intolerable, with Georgian sovereignty lost bit by bit. The Kremlin clearly was spoiling for war, and it got what it wanted. Blaming the Georgians for not doing a better job of appeasing Moscow is akin to blaming the Czechs for not doing a better job of appeasing Berlin over the Sudeten Germans. Everyone understands the dangers of appeasement–but only in retrospect. In the present day it’s alive and well.