Some observations on the Caucasus kafuffle, not deeply informed, but heartfelt and perhaps useful.
- A considerable number of people who had homes and lives until last week no longer do. That's wrong. People need urgent help -- and the global mechanisms for providing aid in a way that doesn't fuel the conflict are probably broken.
- In the 1990s, it became something of a truism in circles I ran in that nationalism had become dangerous to human thriving. We were looking at the post-Yugoslavian Balkans among other examples. Since 2000, the emphasis of concern has turned to places that were becoming "failed states." After all, U.S. military might created failed states as fast as possible in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the Caucasus, nationalism is back with a vengeance. And it is deeply destructive to all parties.
- At the beginning of the 21st century, probably the only places left that really believed that the U.S. was in the business of "democracy promotion," rather of our own empire, were those that had suffered under the Russian empire. They counted on the U.S., probably none more than the nationalistic Georgians who clearly believed they could bait the Russians and would get U.S. support. Now in Georgia
- The U.S. has clearly been shown up as overextended and led by incompetents, if anyone in the world had any doubts after Iraq and Afghanistan. After Iraq, it is hard to claim that recognized borders should protect any country from invasion. For those of us who already knew that, the clear demonstration can feel satisfying. But evidence of U.S, impotence does not translate into global betterment.
- John McCain is a complete wackjob, obviously unsuited to become President. Not only is his "top foreign policy advisor" a paid flack for the country of Georgia, but McCain can only respond to conflict in the Caucasus by trying to wedge events into the old Cold War paradigm. He demonstrates zero ability to discern what is actually going on; rather, he seems to welcome the opportunity to go back to the framework he grew up with: all the world's ills are the mean Ruskies' fault. Bomb them. The guy is dangerous.
- The rest of Washington's leaders are suckers for the Cold War framing with McCain driving it. Even Bush showed some signs of sanity at the beginning of this crisis, indicating that Georgia's provocation and the Russian response called for no more than verbal admonitions. Now McCain's bellicosity is raising the ante for all of them. Now Obama is adding to the silly chorus suggesting bringing Georgia into NATO, a sure way to drag the U.S. into future iterations of this nasty little nationalist squabble.
* This article, probably through unconscious appropriation, shares a title with an excellent piece by Scott Horton of the Atlantic who has actually been to the region and knows some of the players.