Tuesday, August 12, 2008

AUGUST 11, 2008

We appear to be having an old-fashioned war--not us versus terrorists, as in Iraq, or us versus a guerilla army, as in Afghanistan, but one large country, Russia, beating up on a smaller one, Georgia, with infantry and tank attacks, bombing raids on Georgian cities, the whole old-fashioned ball of wax.
And what can the United States, former leader of the free world, do about it? We are theoretically Georgia's ally but the evidence so far is, we can't do much.
We're certainly not going to invade Russia. We'd have to do it from the sea or the air--there's no land border--and that would probably take weeks to organize. And anyway, we don't have the troops to do it; they're tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan. We, and our NATO allies, can fuss, can urge cease-fires, can deplore. But none of that does any good if the Russians don't want to listen. So far, they don't. It's a reminder, if we needed one, that force works if used promptly and firmly. Moral persuasion, being the good guy, doesn't. As Joseph Stalin once famously remarked, 'How many divisions has the pope?'
Over the longer haul, of course, the U.S. and its NATO allies can and perhaps will impose sanctions on Russia. This can cause economic pain, maybe enough economic pain to make the Russians wonder if they really want to annex Georgia after all. We can break off diplomatic relations, bat Russians from coming here, and so on. But all of that takes time.
In the short term, force works, as Adolf Hitler demonstrated. What beat him in the end was not diplomacy, but more force mustered against him than he could cope with. It was a very costly, big war. In the end, we--the Soviets and the other allies--won by force of arms.
Lessons for this time? No easy ones.

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