The war in the Caucasus has been compared by some on the right to Germany’s seizure of the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia in 1938. Officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John McCain, the GOP presidential candidate, have argued for a forceful American response to the new crisis.
Others argue the United States helped trigger the war by leading Georgians to believe they could depend on American assistance in the event of a military showdown with Russia. And Georgians have been plainly bitter that such assistance has not been forthcoming.
What’s the right approach? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, jump into the fray.
Here’s something Americans don’t want to hear: There may be no good — or effective — U.S. response to the crisis in the Caucasus.
We can offer tough talk (and, perhaps, a presidential visit) to support the Georgians. We can even hit Russia with sanctions — although, given their status as an oil powerhouse that might hurt us more than it hurts them. Unless extraordinary circumstances develop, however, we’re not going to get into a shooting war with our old Cold War rivals. Even if our military wasn’t overstretched, it’s worth remembering that the Russians have lots of nuclear weapons. Nuclear powers quite wisely tend to avoid getting into direct confrontations with each other.
So we can’t simply make Russia act according to our wishes. It’s a frustrating set of affairs. And it’s a reminder that there are limits to American power. The last 20 years — the post-Cold War era, in which the U.S. had unrivaled ability to shape the world — were an illusion, a vacation from history.
America is still enormously powerful and influential. Short of war, we should use that power to help Georgia maintain its independence from Russia. But the war is a sign that history has returned; the United States must figure out how to navigate the new reality.
The Russian invasion of Georgia is a test of Western resolve in the face of the first real "war for oil" in this century. The Russians want to control the energy resources of Europe. Controlling the oil that flows through Georgia is a means to that end. The Russians also want respect. Moscow needs to remember that respect must be earned.
Fact is, there is plenty the United States and the West can do to exact a price for Russia’s imperial designs — if there is a will to do so. For starters, the seven civilized democracies that make up the Group of Eight should give Russia notice that it is no longer welcome in the club.
NATO established the NATO-Russia Council in 2002 to bring Moscow closer to the West. So much for that. And as for Russia’s desire to enter into the World Trade Organization: Not a chance.
The United States and Europe had no stomach for standing up to China’s support for atrocities in the Sudan and Burma by boycotting the Beijing games, a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi, near Georgia, should be the easiest call of them all.
Of course, none of those punishments needs to be permanent. Russia sent a message with its invasion of Georgia. It’s incumbent upon the United States and Europe to answer Russia’s bellicosity with real punishment — in the Kremlin’s pocketbook.
Vladimir Putin and the Russian regime want a shot at restoring the glory of the old Soviet Union. We beat them before. We can do it again.