Saturday, August 16, 2008

Putin's March Through Georgia: There Goes the Peace Dividend

The more Russia promises to cease firing and stand down, the farther Soviet forces advance into Georgia. Those forces bear the markings of the Russian Federation. But there's no doubt they represent an attempt to revive the Soviet Union, a confederation consisting of Russia as the Sun and surrounding "nations" as satellites.

It's difficult to predict when Soviet forces might pull back. They continue aggressive operations, destroying Georgian munitions, transportation facilities and military equipment. This, by any reasonable definition, constitutes the prosecution of war. Sure, Russian President Medvedev signed a truce agreement today (8/16/08). But is an agreement truly binding when the butler signs it? The Big Cheese (that Putin fellow) doesn't seem to think so.

Officials in Washington and Paris sputter their outrage. Putin is probably snickering into his sleeve. The Poles are somewhat more pragmatic, coincidentally signing up for some missile defense right after Soviet tanks again roll across a sovereign border. Poland seems to have learned from hard experience what works and what doesn't.

In the fading light of his lame-duckness, President George W. Bush has been exquisitely hoisted on his own petard. He chose Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili as an ally. That choice was, to say the least, a misjudgment. It would probably pay off handsomely to play poker with Saakashvili. He allowed himself to be snooked by South Ossetian separatists firing off a few artillery rounds into launching the Georgian military at Ossetian territory occupied by Soviet troops. What on Earth was Saakashvili thinking? Did he expect the Soviets to apologetically retreat? Even loonier, did he think the U.S. would send in military support? Never in the 45-year Cold War were U.S. troops ordered to make a direct attack on Soviet troops. What did Saakashvili think was so golden about his rear end that U.S. military personnel would be called upon to protect it?

But President George W. Bush's miscalculations didn't stop with a bad bet on Saakashvili. His little adventure in Iraq burned out U.S. military strength and U.S. goodwill in Europe. Both are badly needed in the current confrontation with the Soviets, who really do have weapons of mass destruction. But our military can't fight another war right now. And today's Western European leaders make Neville Chamberlain look like the picture of fortitude. At least Chamberlain understood that the little man with the funny moustache was a serious threat and authorized faster rearmament of Britain's military, including the construction of the Spitfire (a fighter plane that became the darling of the Royal Air Force during WWII).

That takes us to the point of this blog. The resurgence of the Soviet Union will lead to increased U.S. military spending. It doesn't matter who wins the Presidential election in the fall. John McCain won't back down from a Soviet threat. Barack Obama can't afford to let himself appear weak in foreign affairs, lest he prove the Republican charge and lest he weaken America's ties with energy producing former Soviet satellite states in Central Asia and with newly democratized nations in Eastern Europe (who are our best friends in Europe). The next president will have to deal with the central tenet of Soviet foreign policy: might makes right. W is very weak right now, and Putin feels like he has a free hand to march through Georgia. The U.S. won the first Cold War without having a face-to-face shootout with the Soviets because American military capabilities were always enough to prevail. To hold the Soviets in check now, the U.S. will have to have comparable capabilities. That will be expensive.

From an economic standpoint, that means greater U.S. military spending, higher taxes and a larger federal deficit. Other needs--universal health insurance, fixing Social Security and Medicare, investment in alternative energy, protection of the environment--are likely to diminish in importance. Perversely, the dollar may strengthen. After all, who wants invest in a Europe threatened by thousands of Soviet tanks--or even just the cutoff of Soviet natural gas? But the peace dividend--that sharp drop off in military spending that allowed President Clinton to reduce federal spending and balance the budget--is gone, gone, gone. Even if U.S. military involvement in Iraq decreases, dollars saved from that misadventure will be needed to corral the Soviet bear. And those savings won't be enough to pay for the hardware and technology needed to counter the Soviet ability to project strength almost anywhere on the globe.

Obviously, America and Americans don't want a confrontation with the Soviets. We have enough problems. But this problem has been brewing for a long time and will be with us for a long time. Vladimir Putin ain't going anywhere any time soon, whatever democratic processes Russia may have. Russia has become increasingly defensive and even paranoid as the U.S. has co-opted many of the former Soviet satellite nations into becoming U.S. allies. If Mexico, Canada, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and all of Central America signed up to become Russian allies, the U.S. would feel defensive too. The wounded Russian bear is snarling and lashing back. It would be inconceivable for the U.S. to try to kill the bear, but it cannot let it run loose either. It must contain the bear, and that will cost a pretty penny for a long time to come.

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