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The Russian Bear has shown its teeth. The armed invasion of Georgia is a direct challenge to international law and the international community. The invasion came in response to a provocative Georgian attempt to retake militarily the break away province of South Ossetia. But the reality is that Russia has attacked a sovereign nation, a member of the UN, and is issuing Russian passports to residents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, presumably as a prelude to incorporating them. And now, the attacks on the Georgian capital suggest the Russians may be intent on overturning the Georgian government.
This is reported as a direct affront to the United States. The Bush administration had praised the budding democracy of Georgia. It had suggested that Georgia might join NATO. Two thousand Georgian troops fight alongside Americans in Iraq. America has been stationing US troops in Georgia. Mr. Bush apparently had occluded vision when he famously looked into Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s heart.
Can imitation be an affront? It is said to be the sincerest form of flattery. And it’s hard to escape the reality that the Russian invasion of Georgia is a bad imitation of the American invasion of Iraq.
Once more a powerful nation is invading a weaker country. Once more, the power employs “shock and awe” bombing to stun the invaded country. Once more, it spurns international law and international opinion. Once more, oil politics lie at the center of the matter.
“Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher” wrote Justicer Lewis Brandeis, one of our greatest Supreme Court justices, “For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law.”It is hard to escape the sense that the Bush administration’s unfounded war of choice on Iraq provided precedent for the Russian treatment of Georgia.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, of course. The neo-conservatives surrounding Bush and Cheney touted America as the new “unipower.” They scorned the “reality-based community, because as one told Ron Suskind, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.... We’re history’s actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
Welcome to that new reality. When the leading power in the world scorns international law and opinion, others “study what we do.” The neo-conservative assumption, of course, was that other nations wouldn’t dare because the US military was so powerful that it could police the world. The debacle in Iraq put lie to that. Now the military is overstretched and depleted, and is short of troops for Aghanistan, much less taking on the Russians in Georgia. Even the neo-cons like Bill Kristol settle for urging international sanctions, and arms aid to the Georgians. Good luck with enforcing economic sanctions on Russia, Europe’s vital source of natural gas and oil. Despite all the loose talk of making Georgia a NATO ally, Georgians are discovering that they are on their own.
Putin, Russia’s strong man, has systematically eroded democratic freedoms inside of Russia. As oil revenues have improved Russia’s fortunes, he has started to re-assert pressure on the former Republics of the old Soviet Union—with a particular eye to consolidating Russia’s oil economy. He is now taking advantage of America’s exhaustion. And he’s demonstrating that he, like President Bush, is prepared to trample international law to assert his power. Once more, innocent civilians will bear the costs of this “demonstration.” Once more, lawlessness makes all of us less safe.
Reverend Jackson n can be contacted by e-mail at