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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Containment with Russia the Best Way to Go?

That's what David Ignatius seems to think is the best strategy.

In the days after the Russian invasion of Georgia, the world had a chance to examine the different foreign-policy styles of John McCain and Barack Obama. It was a telling comparison that offered some clear signs of how the two candidates would react to crises.

The contrast was between hot and cool; between quick action and cautious deliberation; between a man with his eye on military and strategic issues and another who is focused on diplomacy.


Within hours of the Aug. 8 invasion, McCain was voicing his indignation and demanding that Russia unconditionally halt its military operations and withdraw its troops. Three days later, he called the attack "a matter of urgent moral and strategic importance to the United States of America" and urged a series of measures to check Russia. Most important, he argued that NATO should reverse its April decision and approve Georgia's request for prompt membership -- a move that would commit the alliance to go to war if Georgia were attacked.

Obama's first reaction was more measured: "Now is the time for Georgia and Russia to show restraint," he said on Aug. 8. He had sharpened his tone by Aug. 11, but the focus was still on diplomatic solutions. "Let me be clear: We seek a future of cooperative engagement with the Russian government," he said.


The Georgia crisis, in truth, shouldn't have surprised anyone. It has been coming at us in slow motion for several years. The Russians, far from hiding their intentions, have warned repeatedly that U.S. attempts to bring Georgia into NATO were unacceptable to the Kremlin and would have consequences; the Bush administration didn't respond to Russia's statement of its interests in a way that might have deterred Moscow. It didn't make clear in advance the consequences Russia would pay if it attacked. Instead, the U.S. tried to play both sides of the street -- encouraging Georgia's NATO hopes, but not just yet.

Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili, kept poking the Russian bear -- and finally launched the attack on South Ossetia that gave Russia a pretext for its devastating response. The administration knew Saakashvili was walking into a trap, officials even told him so privately -- but not with a decisive, high-level intervention that might have checked the disaster.

The notion that we are locked in a new Cold War is the most dangerous misjudgment of all. That's what is driving Putin: He feels threatened and encircled by a NATO that, in fact, has no hostile intent toward Moscow.

Now, whenever I read someone that proposes "soft power" toward Russia, as Ignatius (of the Washington Post), I am always struck that these plans are always full of criticism of hard power but lack any specifics of their own. This is no different. Ignatius seems to think that Putin sees the attack of Georgia as some sort of demented defensive move. Putin, in Ignatius' view, sees NATO as threatening, and sees the inclusion of more and more of his neighbors as a threat. Ignatius believes that what the U.S. needs to do is convince Putin that NATO is not a threat to him.

To me this is Putin's trojan horse. The invasion of Georgia was a purely offensive geopolitical move. NATO is only a threat in that the more former satellites join NATO the less of them he can dominate. Putin rattles sabres everytime anyone around him reaches out to the West or takes on a defensive posture. He claims to view these geopolitical moves as some sort of aggressive action against Russia.

In his warped mind, you could say that it is. That's because when his satellites reach out to the West or take on a missile shield, it is more difficult for him to dominate them. Ignatius says that in order to deal with Putin the West must

allies in a careful but firm process of containment. In drawing lines, we need to make sure they are realistic and sustainable -- and that the promises we make are ones we can keep.

Of course, if the invasion of Georgia has taught the world anything it is that Putin will not abide to any lines set by the world. Russia has not only kept troops in country for weeks, with impugnity, but they have now officially recognized the two breakaway provinces. All of this is in direct violation with the latest lines the West set (in the form of a ceasefire).

What Ignatius, in my opinion, fails to realize is that when someone like Putin, consumed with the accumulation of power, confronts the rest of the world, the rest of the world has no choice but to stand up to this confrontation. The problem with containing someone like Putin is that every inch you give him will be used to grab more. Until and unless you confront him, he will continue to expand his power as he did in Georgia.

Now, I am of the opinion that the best way to confront Putin without military force is through a worldwide effort to energy independence. Putin's entire source of economic power comes from artificially high oil prices. Over the last several years, high oil prices has expanded wealth in his nation which sits on a large reserve of oil and natural gas. If the West makes a real effort to energy independence, the Economic house of cards will crumble internally. As long as Europe gets 25% of their domestic energy from Russia (as they do now), Russia exerts geopolitical influence throughout Europe and the world. Take away that source of extortion and you take away all of Putin's power. Of course, that is a long term process, but we can start now by announcing here in America that we are on the way to energy independence by announcing that we are going to drill internally and do it immediately.

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