Monday, August 11, 2008

Not nice people, those Russians

The Russians are not nice people, and what they are doing should not be glossed over. But beyond calling a spade a spade, should anything more be done? Russia is a great power, and is doing what great powers have always done to small countries on their borders that annoy them. This is not pleasant, not moral, but also, alas, the way of the world. This sort of situation is literally ancient, as anyone who has read Thucydides knows from the Melian dialog. As the Athenians told the Melians, when the Melians protested that their neutrality should be respected:
We shall not trouble you with specious pretences - either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede, or are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us - and make a long speech which would not be believed. In return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you... have done us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, holding in view the real sentiments of us both. You know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power. The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.
Anyone who thinks that the weak are going to stop being abused and dominated by the strong has no sense of either history or biology.

Let me also quote a little more from Larison, who puts in the proper perspective the absurdity of American claims that the Russians have no basis for their current actions:
Imagine the hysterical reaction [in Washington] if someone close to one of the major officials in the Chinese government said, "Does China want to live in a world in which the United States holds sway over Colombia and Haiti?" The absurdity of the question would be apparent to all. What if one of Medvedev's advisors said, "Does Russia want to live in a world in which the United States holds sway over Panama?" I suspect he would be laughed out of the room, or the question would be dismissed as irrelevant.
Exactly so. And yet the neocons and their arrant liberal fellow travellers are making exactly equivalent claims when they suggest that the United States somehow can't live with Russian aggression in a region that the Russians have dominated for centuries.

What is most likely to hurt the United States -- that is, our real interests, not our tender feelings -- are not Russian actions in their Near Abroad, but rather us making ridiculous claims which we patently cannot back up. Because such claims makes it apparent that we no sense of the real scope of our authority, power, or influence. (Or worse yet, we try to back them up -- sparking the 1914 scenario.)

You'd think that nearly seven years into the Iraq/Afghanistan debacle, we'd d have thrown overboard the policy intellectuals who can't wrap their heads about this kind of basic diplomatic, political, and military point. (Maybe we have from an actual policy perspective: even Cheney seems content to say merely that Russian actions in Georgia could "sour our relations" with Moscow.) Unfortunately, noisy idiots continue to clog the airwaves and the op-ed pages of "legitimate" opinion outlets such as the Washington Post, demanding that the U.S. "take action to stop Russia" on something which is, to be frank, of no importance whatsoever to anything but our personal moral sensibilities. As I say, these fools think it's always 1938. They ought to learn a little more history.

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