With the end of the Cold War, many analysts and policy makers imagined that the developed world might actually move away from its irrational attachment to militarization and war. The most optimistic envisioned a huge, international peace dividend, shifting untold billions previously spent on conventional and nuclear weapons to tackling poverty and inequality around the world.
Alas, the U.S. had no intention of dismantling NATO. For the U.S., it was simple: NATO provided the sheen of legitimacy for the extension of U.S. power well beyond its original mandate of Europe.
But ironically the Bush administration -- the most imperial of U.S. governments in generations -- may well go down in history as the one that crippled NATO and effectively left the U.S. isolated.
If there is a silver lining to the grotesque destruction of human life in Iraq and Afghanistan and the inexplicably stupid adventure in Georgia, it is the possibility that the U.S. will lose its already reluctant EU partners in making the world safe for U.S. oil companies.
NATO risks, if not outright dissolution, then certainly a credibility crisis leading to political and military paralysis. NATO watchers repeatedly declare that losing in Afghanistan simply "isn't an option." But as virtually every analyst not on mind-altering drugs is saying, losing in Afghanistan with the current commitment of NATO partners is, in fact, the only option. The longer they stay, the more inept and indecisive they appear. To even maintain the status quo there needs to be a doubling of the troop levels, and this simply will not happen. European populations have no stomach for body bags from a war that is not in Europe's interests. France is now rethinking its existing commitment, despite its president's statement to the contrary.
When, not if, the EU members of NATO pack their bags, it will be the end of any extra-territorial adventures. The U.S. will be totally on its own, save for Israel and, regrettably, Canada.
Boosting Putin's popularity
The situation in Georgia presents even greater problems for NATO as it exposes a widening gulf between the dominant EU powers -- Germany, France and Britain -- and the U.S. While the U.S. and its client state Georgia have so far won the media war in framing the conflict, this does nothing to change the facts on the ground. The U.S. seems completely oblivious to a reality that everyone else recognizes: Russia is now the hegemon in the region and is back on the world stage with a vengeance. Bush's huffing and puffing and issuing of repeated empty ultimatums makes the "sole remaining superpower" look weak and confused. The Russian leadership, both Putin and Medvedev, show sneering contempt for the U.S. for one reason: they can. There is virtually nothing the U.S. can do.
To be sure, Putin is ruthless and authoritarian. But he is also enormously popular, about four times as popular as George Bush is in the U.S. Why? Because the U.S. and the West in their efforts to turn the former Soviet Union into a free-market wild west, humiliated Russia and created the conditions for a resurgent nationalism that Putin plays like a fiddle. Russians don't care that much if he runs roughshod over democracy if he re-establishes their pride in Russia a great power.
Winning the media spin might just be the worst outcome for the West as it will undoubtedly fan the flames of national grievance in Russia even more. The facts are clear enough. Georgian President Saakashvili unleashed a brutal, 12-hour assault with hundreds of rockets and artillery shells on the largely defenceless South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali, destroying apartment blocks, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure. It was utterly unnecessary destruction for the operation's stated purpose of occupying the territory.
Despite U.S. denials, it is inconceivable that the Bush administration did not know and approve of the invasion plans. The U.S. and Israel have hundreds of military advisors embedded at virtually every level of the Georgian army.
Georgia and the encirclement of Russia
Georgia was simply playing its assigned role as an outpost of U.S. neo-con ambitions to encircle Russia with free-market client states and isolate it. The media portrays Saakashvili as a democrat. There is no reference to his increasingly authoritarian rule -- the brutal put-down of peaceful demonstrations last November, the widely reported abuse of state resources, controls on the media, the arrest of opposition activists, and the suppression of civil liberties. Some democrat. There is also no reference to the fact that Saakashvili came to power in 2003 largely thanks to millions of dollars from the American Soros foundations poured into organizations that attacked former president Eduard Shevardnadze and promoted the pro-American Mr. Saakashvili for president.
For years, the U.S. could afford to dismiss Russian declarations that such encirclement was a threat to its national interests and would be resisted. Russia was weak. But the U.S. occupation of Iraq, instead of unleashing its huge oil supplies, and being a bonanza for American oil companies, has severely weakened the U.S. and contributed to the huge increase in oil prices -- giving back to the Russian state the financial power it had lost. The Bush administration, still addled by ideology, apparently didn't notice and continued to dismiss Russia as if it were still a bankrupt state.
The Georgian attack was either a wag-the-dog strategy to help the Republicans win the White House, or one of the most spectacularly incompetent applications of foreign policy in U.S. history. In either case, the U.S. miscalculated not only Russia's response, but more importantly, the entire geo-political balance of power in the region. Someone, such as the usually astute Israelis, should have told the U.S. that in this confrontation, Russia holds virtually all the cards.
Why the US needs Russia
The U.S. needs Russia much more than Russia needs the U.S. Russia actually supports America's determination to defeat the Taliban and allows non-lethal military supplies to travel through its territory. It continues to play a critical partnership role with the U.S. in persuading both Korea and Iran to abandon any plans for nuclear weapons. It co-operates with U.S. counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics efforts. And it has a veto in the UN -- an institution the U.S. has suddenly found very useful and which Russia can neutralize with the raising of a hand.
Russia has a huge arms export capacity and currently sells to Iran, Venezuela, and Syria. So far, it has not sold its most sophisticated weapons systems, like its S-300 anti-aircraft missile system. But that could change, as a worried Israel knows full well. In fact, Syria's President Bashar al-Assad met with President Medvedev in Russia on Aug. 20, less than two weeks after the Georgian assault, to talk increased co-operation. It was no coincidence. Al-Assad knows all about geo-political power imbalances and how they can be manipulated. As Russia criticized Israel for providing a wide variety of arms to Georgia, al-Assad attacked Georgia as the aggressor and declared publicly: "Our position is that we are ready to co-operate with Russia in any project that can strengthen its security."
But the biggest casualty of this historic U.S. blunder has already taken place. U.S. plans to expand Georgia's current role as a transit point for Caspian basin oil and gas pipelines to Europe is already in tatters. Private companies hate uncertainty, and it will be a long time, if ever, before they consider building another pipeline through a country with such unreliable leadership -- one possibly headed back into Russia's sphere of influence. This was the principal reason the U.S. poured so much military assistance into Saakashvili: European dependence on Russian oil and gas (now standing at 40 per cent of EU consumption) gave Moscow too much power.
The disastrous military adventure OK'd by the U.S. gave Putin the excuse he needed to declare the return of Russia as a regional power and nip American energy plans in the bud, with huge consequences. Now more than ever, the EU countries will be loathe to anger Russia. America's recent signing of the missile defence agreement with Poland has further angered Putin, and it is European countries that could suffer the consequences.
European members of NATO recently moderated the aggressive American push for membership for the Ukraine and Georgia by saying it would come "eventually." But that now looks to be a very long way off. Would the European members of NATO really want to engage in a war with Russia over another incursion into tiny Georgia? They would be obliged to do so if Georgia was a member.
U.S. foreign policy disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Georgia threaten to drive NATO -- corporate globalization's most legitimate policeman -- back into its old barracks and with its old, narrow mandate. So just as the U.S. is being forced to recognize that its superpower status can be regionally challenged, it could be virtually alone in trying to police the planet.
Ideology makes you stupid
The rigid adherence to ideology -- any ideology -- ultimately makes its adherents stupid. The neo-cons behind the Project for the New American Century -- Dick Cheney and company's blueprint for American global dominance -- so fervently believed in their project that they dismissively rejected the conventional approach to foreign policy. The PNAC, by simply believing the U.S. had the right to police the world, assumed that it could. The resulting doctrine of "full-spectrum [military] dominance" over the entire planet was effectively immune to any real-world evidence to the contrary. In part because the PNAC brain trust and their president had contempt for the role of government, they simply bypassed the judgment of conventional state institutions and replaced reason with faith.
One Bush aide ridiculed what he called the "reality-based community" which consisted of people who naively "...believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." He told American writer Ronald Suskind: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."
Indeed they do. But it is looking less and less like the one their faith led them to imagine.
Related Tyee stories: