Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bullies, and a Moral Foreign Policy

I'm writing this as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announces a cessation of hostilities in Georgia, and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili claims that Russian troops continue their military activities. A small country pokes a stick in the eye of a neighboring bully, and then is surprised that it is invaded and punished for its actions.

I don't think anyone in the U.S. State Department believes the Russian claims of genocide in South Ossetia. Certainly, President Bush was understating the situation when he said that Russia's response to Georgia's military action was disproportionate. What's astonishing to citizens of the United States is that Georgia apparently expected western nations, including the U.S. to come to its aid.

And here's where a moral foreign policy falls apart. The United States is not going to war over Georgia. No matter that Russia provoked the war (or didn't, it depends whether you are Georgian or Russian), and no matter that Georgia was trying to assert state authority over its own territory; no matter that Georgia is a democratic state, and Russia is increasingly autocratic, no matter that Georgia may have the moral right on its side.

Russia will pull back some, but will impose some heavy terms on Georgia that may include the loss of its sovereignty. The U.S. will probably try to impose some moral nostrums and toothless sanctions on Russia, but the truth is, our allies in Europe depend on Russia for energy. Russia is increasingly nationalist and militarist. Russia is reasserting is influence over its neighbors, many of which are democratic states.

How is the U.S. government going to respond to this? How far is the U.S. willing to go in support of these democracies (particularly Ukraine and the Baltic states)? The U.S. is spread very thin around the world. Does the U.S. assert moral right, or realize that it has interests in other parts of the world that have to be protected, perhaps at the expense of friendly democracies that border a world-class bully?

George Washington told his young nation to steer clear of foreign entanglements. Dwight Eisenhower warned the U.S. about the dangers of a military-industrial complex. In light of the events of the last eight years, and of the last week, I hope our new president considers the limits of a moral foreign policy, and to what extent the U.S. can afford to impose order on an unruly and ungrateful world. Russia isn't the only bully; just ask the Iraqis.


Emilio Marty said...

A very thoughtful commentary. What a deep thinker you are, sir. --Chaz