So far I have held back from a full blog post on the terrible and crucially important war between Russia and Georgia, because I think that the links I provided at the bottom of the previous post provide a great deal of important information and insight--and make it clear that this is not a black and white situation where Russia is simply the aggressor (although its actions have clearly been aggressive) and Georgia is the helpless victim (which would require ignoring Georgia's aggressive and provocative actions in South Ossetia.)
Indeed, even the mainstream media, including the New York Times, has handled this story with a lot of nuance and responsibility in the face of bellicose and ultimately empty statements from George W. Bush, John McCain, and others (with a little catchup from Obama, whose first diplomatic instincts were healthy but who does not now want to look weak in the face of all the testosterone currently flowing over the conservative side of the fence.)
But I couldn't help getting a real laugh out of Max Boot's opinion piece in today's Los Angeles Times, entitled "Stand Up to Russia." Boot, a foreign policy advisor to the McCain campaign, says that unless Russia withdraws from Georgia, it should be hit with sanctions, such as kicking it out of the Group of 8 and freezing its bank accounts. But according to Boot, that is not nearly enough:
We should also do more to help Georgia defend itself. Sending American troops is out of the question, but we can send American equipment. That's what we did in 1973 when Israel appeared on the verge of losing the Yom Kippur War, and it is a favor we should extend to our embattled ally in the Caucasus. The greatest bang for the buck would come from two inexpensive hand-held missiles: the Stinger to destroy Russian aircraft and the Javelin to destroy tanks. Pictures of long columns of Russian vehicles advancing slowly down winding mountain roads indicate that a few well-placed missiles could wreak havoc with their operations.
Doesn't this sound like a great idea? Give Georgia even more weapons than they have already been provided by the U.S. and Israel so that they can whip the Russian military and show who's boss? There won't be any American troops helping them, of course, and probably not any American airplanes or missiles either, but I am sure the plucky Georgians will give it their best shot. And when a Russian aircraft is shot down with an American missile? Hey, what me worry! I will bet that Boot's column has provided a lot of laughs for the equally testosterone infused guys at the Kremlin. Boys will be boys (and remember, despite the news coming out of the Olympics and Afghanistan, testosterone is the world's number one drug problem.)
All this really shows is that the days of the neocons, and their conceit that America will always be the world's only superpower, are numbered--and I mean in weeks, not months or years. To put it bluntly, the current situation now thoroughly exposes people like Max Boot for the blustering fools they have always been, if the Iraq war had not already done it.
For the moment, however, Russia may have saved the U.S. from itself, as news comes in that it has ordered a halt to military operations in Georgia--having, nevertheless, achieved its objective of making sure that Georgia has no further say in the future of South Ossetia. And somehow I don't think that Georgia will be joining NATO any time soon, which means that the entire episode is a blow to the Bush administration's inept and incompetent strategy in the area.
As I said earlier, over the past decades the U.S. has taught the rest of the world to use military force as a first rather than last resort, and its pupils have learned well. If the teacher now has a whole world full of unruly students on its hands, well, what goes around comes around.
PS--Pardon me for also pointing out that France, not the United States, has taken the lead in trying to resolve the crisis. Perhaps the Europeans will finally step up to the plate where the U.S. has repeatedly struck out, for example in the Middle East.
More Boot: Our Max has also expounded on the need to arm Georgia online in Commentary. Thanks to Grumpy Old Man on Marc Cooper's blog for pointing out this link.
Was Georgia the "October surprise" in August? That's the theory put forward by Robert Scheer on Truthdig, who suggests that the episode was stoked by neocons eager to make McCain look strong and Obama look weak: "Before you dismiss that possibility," Scheer writes, "consider the role of one Randy Scheunemann, for four years a paid lobbyist for the Georgian government who ended his official lobbying connection only in March, months after he became Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s senior foreign policy adviser." Interesting theory, but I don't give it much credence, for one main reason: The Georgian-Russian war underscored the bankruptcy of the whole Bush-McCain approach to foreign policy, and made them look weak rather than strong. Russia won, remember?
Israel's "peace" offer: The BBC, quoting Ha'aretz, reports that the Israelis have offered to give the Palestinians land in the Negev Desert equivalent in area to 5.4% of the West Bank in exchange for keeping 7.3% of the West Bank, including the largest settlements, all of which are illegal. The Palestinians rightly say they will reject this ridiculous offer. It is time for the U.S. and Europe to start twisting Israel's arms until it gets serious about making peace. And why not put those settlers in the Negev? If it's good enough for the Palestinians, it should be good enough for the Israelis (Beersheba is a very nice town, I spent a few days there some years back.)
The Anthrax Case: My Science colleague Martin Enserink delves into the science behind the FBI's case against Bruce Ivins. The link is free for 4 weeks from today.
Death in immigration custody: The August 13 New York Times carries a tragic and infuriating story about an immigration detainee who died in terrible pain while in custody, from cancer that was undiagnosed until 5 days before his death. Immigration authorities had refused to give him proper medical care, accusing him of faking. The level of cruelty and neglect detailed in the story is so severe that it makes me ashamed to be a member of the human race, let alone an American. One important aspect: After marrying an American citizen, the immigrant, Hiu Lui Ng, had to wait 5 years for a green card. This is really outrageous. When I married a European citizen and moved to France, I had my working papers in 3 months. The Times also provides links to a long series of articles about previous cases where immigrants have died in custody due to neglect and other absurdities of the immigration system.
It's the Stupidity Department (a new feature of this blog that, sadly, will be posted all too often): Family store in Los Angeles gets hit by graffiti all the time; family has mural painted on walls of store, graffiti stops; city says "too much signage" and paints mural over; graffiti is back. Too stupid to be true? No, read all about it in Steve Lopez's column in the Los Angeles Times.