It should come as no surprise that I differ often with William Kristol. His world view and mine dart off in different directions more times than not. Today, however, we meet and agree concerning the ongoing invasion of Georgia by Russia. While I certainly understand the larger implications of our assisting in any fashion the government and people of Georgia, I also understand the message it will send if we do not.
The timidity of not acting underscores how America is viewed in the world. The fact that our government has reacted like a deer in the headlights does not place us in good standing with others in the shadow of Russia. Some may see this as an attempt to beat up on President Bush. It is not, though it would be hard for anyone to think this weekend was one of his finer attempts at world leadership.
I am never the first to suggest rash actions when it involves sending military assistance, in one form or another. Most times I tend to think diplomatic measures are more prone to achieve a better result. But there are times and places when it is too late for diplomacy to work. As Gori is reported to have fallen to the Russians, and the nation of Georgia appears to about to be split, one must understand why Kristol and I agree today. The Russian goal of removing President Saakashvili in Georgia must not happen.
But Georgia, a nation of about 4.6 million, has had the third-largest military presence — about 2,000 troops — fighting along with U.S. soldiers and marines in Iraq. For this reason alone, we owe Georgia a serious effort to defend its sovereignty. Surely we cannot simply stand by as an autocratic aggressor gobbles up part of — and perhaps destabilizes all of — a friendly democratic nation that we were sponsoring for NATO membership a few months ago.
For that matter, consider the implications of our turning away from Georgia for other aspiring pro-Western governments in the neighborhood, like Ukraine’s. Shouldn’t we therefore now insist that normal relations with Russia are impossible as long as the aggression continues, strongly reiterate our commitment to the territorial integrity of Georgia and Ukraine, and offer emergency military aid to Georgia?
Incidentally, has Russia really been helping much on Iran? It has gone along with — while delaying — three United Nations Security Council resolutions that have imposed mild sanctions on Iran. But it has also supplied material for Iran’s nuclear program, and is now selling Iran antiaircraft systems to protect military and nuclear installations.
It’s striking that dictatorial and aggressive and fanatical regimes — whatever their differences — seem happy to work together to weaken the influence of the United States and its democratic allies. So Russia helps Iran. Iran and North Korea help Syria. Russia and China block Security Council sanctions against Zimbabwe. China props up the regimes in Burma and North Korea.
The United States, of course, is not without resources and allies to deal with these problems and threats. But at times we seem oddly timid and uncertain.
When the “civilized world” expostulated with Russia about Georgia in 1924, the Soviet regime was still weak. In Germany, Hitler was in jail. Only 16 years later, Britain stood virtually alone against a Nazi-Soviet axis. Is it not true today, as it was in the 1920s and ’30s, that delay and irresolution on the part of the democracies simply invite future threats and graver dangers?