27 August 2008

Reverse Psychology for Russia?

Hah! You Russians think you're strong now because you've beat up a bunch of Georgians, but that only proves that you're weak! A really strong nation doesn't have to throw its weight around like that....That seems to be the reasoning of an American undersecretary of state, according to the Washington Post. The diplomat makes it clear that the U.S. doesn't want Russia to have a sphere of influence in the Caucasus. The Bushies blithely assert this policy, probably without realizing how revolutionary it actually is. The Caucasus region has been a Russian sphere of influence for the last two hundred years or more. It remained that way throughout the Soviet era. It's not for the U.S. or any other power to say that Russia cannot have influence there; to the Russian mind, to say that is actually to take it away from them. That's why they perceive American moves to consolidate relations with nations like Georgia as an aggressive form of encirclement, despite the assertion of another American official that "it is not the U.S. that has done things to them; it's that they have done things to themselves."

This is not to say that their attitude is rational or even just. But every time I see a story like this online, I have to emphasize that it is hypocritical of the United States to assert that no other county has a right to a sphere of influence. If Americans want to stand on principle, let them renounce the Monroe Doctrine once and for all. That policy dates nearly as far back as Russian rule over the Caucasus, but is no more or no less legitimate by virtue of its age -- and definitely no more legitimate because we try to justify it ideologically as a defense of "freedom." If neither Bush nor McCain nor Obama is willing to renounce the Doctrine, then they may as well say that Russia is our enemy and that we oppose their assertion of influence in the Caucasus for no other and no better reason.

At least the assistant secretary doesn't completely whitewash Georgia. "Georgia is a flawed democracy, a democracy in construction." he told the Post, "You don't help them by whitewashing their problems or defending a bad decision. But you don't want it crushed," This isn't unreasonable, but it still remains to be seen whether Georgia is to be "crushed." From an objective perspective, suffering a punitive attack is bad enough, and it's worse for some Russians to echo American rhetoric about regime change, but fears of a complete Russian conquest of Georgia still seem exaggerated. Even in the worst case, however, protests should be left to those with higher ethical standing to judge from.

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