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August 09, 2008



I suppose this is the first real test of the Presidential candidate's worthiness to be president. This conflict may still be ongoing when the next President is sworn in, and these candidates need to have a plan now. McCain has the advantage here because, as a strong Bush supporter, he can just piggy-back on whatever Bush's response is, and all of his talking points will be created for him by the current administration. Obama will have a lot of problems with this issue unless the Democrats in congress craft a strong position for him to advocate. It will probably be most politically expedient for Obama and the Democrats to fall in line with whatever policy Bush enacts, a show of political unity against a historical foe that's still fresh in the memory. If the Democrats try to differentiate themselves from the Republicans too much on this issue, it will come back to hurt them in the coming election (assuming this issue takes any hold of the public consciousness).


So far, it would appear that the public is not conscious of it, which has shocked me a little, though I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised.

The key words in Obama's response so far is "territorial integrity." Within that framing, Russia has invaded a neighbor, and of course is the aggressor. However, one could almost use the same framing (with reversed parties) for Serbia in 1999, except for the accident that Nato did not commit ground forces. This is a detail, but if one introduces that detail, then we could as easily introduce the differences of there being no comparable massacres or ethnic cleansing of South Ossetians forcing Russia's intervention (if anything, the cleansing would seem to have gone the other way, at least in). On the other hand, the protection of one's citizens and forces is a classic casus belli.

I believe matters might have remained murky except for two cirtical matters. One, Russia is acting entirely unilaterally and without reference to any wider multilateral agreements, and two, Russia has widened its bombing campaign to encompass the whole of Georgian military and industrial infrastructure. With regard to the second point, striking Georgian air defense in Georgian territory is more easily placed in the context of a limited intervention rather than a full-scale invasion.

I would want to give Russia credit for only demanding that Georgia return to pre-conflict positions, rather than a further retrenchment. If I were not an American with an emotional instinct to back an ally, I would regard this as a Russian aggression, but not grounds for an actual intervention even if such was convenient. As it is, merely the unworkability of aiding the Georgians makes it easy for me to dismiss more than diplomatic measures. Considering the West's lack of diplomatic leverage, it seems rather clear that Russia's purpose in South Ossetia has been accomplished. With the facts on the ground placing Georgia at such a large disadvantage, any move to give Georgia a MAP will be stalled for the forseeable future. If Georgia pulls off a military miracle and can hold its positions for more than a week, perhaps this will not be the case, since then it will have something to work with in a cease-fire. More likely, however, the best Georgia can really do is be careful to maintain its status as a victim of aggression and so earn more direct military and economic support from the West. I don't know if their domestic politics will allow this, of course.

That's how things look to me, anyway.


Okay, I take back much of the credit I was giving Russia. Accusing Georgia of genocide, their wildly exaggerated refugee counts, and their crazy rhetoric about Saakashvili is drifting rapidly away from anything reasonable and into the kinds of wild claims you get from irresponsible parties.


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