12 August 2008

Georgia: The Lesson of Iraq

"Of course, Saddam Hussein ought to have been hanged for destroying several Shiite villages. And the incumbent Georgian leaders who razed ten Ossetian villages at once, who ran over elderly people and children with tanks, who burned civilians alive in their sheds -- these leaders must be taken under protection."

That's Prime Minister Putin of Russia mocking what he perceives as American hypocrisy regarding the crisis in South Ossetia, as quoted by the McClatchy news service. Some Americans inevitably will respond by suggesting that Putin is a liar, because authoritarian types like him inevitably lie. He may indeed by lying, but it will be recalled that people still accuse the Bush administration of lying, not about Saddam's atrocities against Shiites, but about the imminent threat of WMD that supposedly necessitated the American-led invasion of Iraq. The truth, which Ron Suskind suggests was known by the government, no more deterred President Bush than it has deterred Putin and his stooge, President Medvedev, from their plainly punitive attack on the republic of Georgia.

It was inevitable that someone Americans don't like would draw an analogy with "Operation Iraqi Freedom" to justify an intervention against another country. Americans who thought it wouldn't happen are fools, and so are those who think it'll make a difference if they can prove that their country acted in good faith, and that Russia has not. There is nothing in the doctrine of "regime change" that says that only good guys can do it, no matter what the neocons may claim. So now Russian officials hint that nothing short of Mr. Saakashvili stepping down from the Georgian presidency will resolve the present crisis.

From the Russian perspective, Saakashvili is an oppressor of minorities just as much as Milosevic was in Yugoslavia and Saddam was in Iraq. We certainly can hold on to our suspicion that Russia is less interested in protecting the Ossetians and Abkhazians than in punishing Georgia for aspiring to NATO membership, but when the facts are stated plainly it's natural to ask why Americans are less likely to support the aspirations of minorities within Georgia than they are elsewhere. For that matter, Americans should ask what transpired between Saakashvili and Condoleeza Rice at their meeting on July 10, when tensions were already high and Georgians reportedly were already building forces near South Ossetia. Everyone should ask why Saakashvili launched so foolhardy an attack on the Ossetians last week. Did he perhaps think that Russia would do nothing because of the Olympics? Or did he have other reasons to believe, falsely if so, that he could act with impunity? Whatever the answers, we can safely assert that Saakashvili is no Saddam Hussein, even if he's not such a democrat as he and his American friends proclaim. Nevertheless, he may be destined to share Saddam's fate in a new world order made in the U.S.A.

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