Mr. Peepers is back from vacation today and eager to probe Mr. Right for his opinion on the South Ossetian crisis. He may or may not have known that Mr. Right had already expressed himself on that subject. As anyone who knows him or reads his columns might have predicted, Mr. Right is outraged that "the left" would dare equate Russia's Georgian expedition with the invasion of Iraq. We'll return to those comments in a moment, but they're echoed in Mr. Right's response when Mr. Peeper, just as predictably, promptly equated Georgia with Iraq.
"Well, if you want to draw a moral equivalence between Vladimir Pyootin and George W. Bush, go right ahead," Mr. Right replied sarcastically. I didn't catch what Mr. Peepers said next, but it gave Mr. Right an opportunity to explain what had happened this month.
"Why do you think the Soviet Union fell?" he asked. Knowing Mr. Right, I half-expected him to say that, once upon a time, Ronald Reagan had shouted, "Tear Down This Wall!" with the force of Joshua's army at Jericho, and the wall had come down. Instead, he explained, "They could not compete financially with us."
Mr. Right is well aware that the Georgian crisis is at least partly about oil. Georgia would form part of a long-desired pipeline from Azerbaijan that would get oil out of Central Asia while bypassing Russia. Putin supposedly doesn't want such a pipeline to undercut Russia's bargaining position as the main source of oil to Eastern Europe. The correct response to Russia would be, "too bad if it does," but Putin has the power to prevent it, and no one seems to have the power to stop him if he wanted to reduce Georgia to a state where the pipeline would be unsustainable.
That much, at least, is realistic, but Mr. Right compulsively expands the scope of Putin's ambitions. Recalling that the prime minister was a "high-ranking" KGB official during the last days of the Soviet Union, Mr. Right attributes to him an understanding of his own insight on the USSR's collapse. Mr. Right posits that Putin wants to control all the oil out of the Caucasus and Central Asia "in order to destroy the American economy."
Notice the consistent chauvinistic or narcissistic emphasis on Russia or the USSR as a competitor with the United States. It won't do to say that the USSR fell because it was unsustainable in its own right; they have to have "lost" a competition with the U.S. Moving to the present, Putin is also presumed to be interested primarily in a competition with the U.S. Indeed, he must be seen as seeking America's destruction, even though he has said nothing along those lines beyond desiring a "multipolar" of the sort David Brooks dislikes, in which Russia would have freedom of action in its sphere of influence without interference from the U.S. and its allies.
To people like Mr. Right, even to desire such "multipolarity" is a symptom of what he calls "moral relativity." This is the sin of critics who suggest that what Putin and President Medvedev have done is no different (leaving out no better or no worse) from what America and the "coalition of the willing" did in Iraq. Mr. Right believes he can disprove any such argument by an appeal to facts. Iraq had violated UN resolutions; Georgia, to his knowledge, has not. Saddam Hussein and his sons personally murdered and raped people; Mikheil Saakashvili has not. Saddam was believed to have WMD; Saakashvili is not. Moreover, switching the comparison to Russia and the U.S., Mr. Right asserts that the Russians have killed "several thousand Georgian civilians," while the U.S. "absolutely [did] not" willingly kill Iraqi civilians.
Since this is a typical echo of Bushie and neocon talking points, it probably should not surprise you that the only time the words "South Ossetia" appear in this column is in a quote from Senator McCain, who said that the Russians were more interested in regime change than in restoring order to the controversial region. It should be obvious that Mr. Right has no interest in taking the claims of South Ossetia seriously, since they'd complicate the simplicity of his Georgians-good-Russians-bad narrative. That should be our cue not to take any of his arguments on the subject seriously, either. I present them here for entertainment purposes only.