One thing is for sure. This week's operation in Georgia has displayed the failure of the west's policy of belligerence towards Vladimir Putin's Russia. The policy was meant to weaken Russia, and has strengthened it. The policy was meant to humiliate Russia with Nato encirclement, and has merely fed its neo-imperialism. The policy was meant to show that Russia "understands only firmness" and instead has shown the west as a bunch of tough-talking windbags.In other words, Simon Jenkins sees a moral equivalent between the U.S. deposing a tyrant like Saddam Hussein and the naked aggression shown by Vladimir Putin. He then uses this moral equivalency to not only spew vile at America, not Russia, but then ultimately propose a policy of appeasement.
Georgia, a supposed western ally and applicant to Nato, has been treated by Russia to a brutal lesson in power politics. The west has lost all leverage and can do nothing. Seldom was a policy so crashingly stupid.
Putin would die laughing if he read this week's American newspapers. The president, George Bush, declared the Russian invasion of Georgia "disproportionate and unacceptable". This is taken as a put-down to the vice-president, Dick Cheney, who declared the invasion "will not go unanswered", apparently something quite different. Bush says that great powers should not go about "toppling governments in the 21st century", as if he had never done such a thing. Cheney says that the invasion has "damaged Russia's standing in the world", as if Cheney gave a damn. The lobby for sanctions against Russia is reduced to threatening to boycott the winter Olympics. Big deal.
The difficulty is that entitlement and good sense are rarely in accord. Georgia may have been entitled to act, but was clearly unwise to do so. Russia may have been entitled to aid its people against an oppressor, but that is different from unleashing its notoriously inept and ruthless army, let alone bombing Georgia's capital and demanding a change in its government.
What is clear is that the Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, is a poor advertisement for a Harvard education. He thought he could reoccupy South Ossetia and call Russia's bluff while Putin was away at the Olympics. He found it was not bluff. Putin was waiting for just such an invitation to humiliate a man he loathes, and to deter any other Russian border state from applying to join Nato, an organisation Russia had itself sought to join until it was rudely rebuffed.
Saakashvili thought he could call on the support of his neoconservative allies in Washington. Tbilisi is one of the few world cities in which Bush's picture is a pin-up and where an avenue is named after him. It turned out that such "support" was mere words. America is otherwise engaged in wars that bear a marked resemblance to those waged by Putin. It defended the Kurdish enclaves against Saddam Hussein. It sought regime change in Serbia and Afghanistan. As Putin's troops in South Ossetia were staging a passable imitation of the US 101st Airborne entering Iraq, Bush was studiously watching beach volleyball in Beijing
In other words, what Jenkins wants to make clear is that there is no black and white here. There is only gray. Georgia is wrong and so is Russia. Someone like Jenkins can do this because rarely is there is a situation in geopolitics where one countries' action are totally above any criticism. It is a matter of debate whether or not Georgia should have engaged the rebels in South Ossetia, however it is not a debate that this was an internal Georgian issue. Russia not only meddled in another nation's civil war but furthermore, their military operation quickly expanded beyond the scope they originally proclaimed.
Yet, to Mr. Jenkins, there is moral equivalency. Again, this constant moral equivalency fed by the complicated nature of the conflict, the history, and the lack of purity on both sides, leads Jenkins to the worst sort of conclusions.
I retain an archaic belief that the old UN principle of non-interference, coupled with a realpolitik acceptance of "great power" spheres of influence, is still a roughly stable basis for international relations. It may on occasions be qualified by soft-power diplomacy and humanitarian relief. It may demand an abstinence from kneejerk gestures in favour of leaving things to sort themselves out (as in Zimbabwe). But liberal interventionism, especially when it leads to military and economic aggression, means one costly adventure after another - and usually failure.
The west has done everything to isolate Putin, as he rides the tiger of Russian emergence from everlasting dictatorship. This has encouraged him to care not a fig for world opinion. Equally the west has encouraged Saakashvili to taunt Putin beyond endurance. The policy has led to war. If ever there were a place just to leave alone, it is surely the Caucasus.
In other words, Jenkins proposes that we all take a hands off approach and allow Putin to do as he pleases. This is appeasement pretending to be non intervention. Yesterday, I pointed out a similar view from some in the left wing press in America. Unfortunately, there are some in America and the world that want more to see America, George Bush, and some ideologies get humiliated rather than see peace in the world. Jenkins is wholly unconcerned with what this invasion will do the position of power that Putin wants. Rather he uses it as another opportunity to point out the futility of intervention.
I said in the other piece that Putin is counting on exactly such a sort of "useful idiot" to help muddy the waters on this debate. Rather than focus the world's attention on how to confront this mad and evil tyrant, Jenkins spends most of his time attacking American foreign policy. He follows it up by suggesting appeasement. The longer this conflict goes on the closer Putin gets to achieving his necessary victory. The more commentary like that of Jenkins' the closer he gets to that goal.