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New Op-Ed Up at Pajamas Media

Entitled Let’s Not Rush into Cold War II:

…In the earnest desire to help a beleaguered ally and perhaps longing for the good old days of Reagan Doctrine moral clarity, conservatives may be losing sight of something important – namely America’s strategic interests. Moreover, their silence in regard to grave failures by our national security establishment in this crisis is bewildering. The results of the Russo-Georgian war are a debacle. Either our State Department, CIA, and the Pentagon failed to accurately assess a likely Russian reaction to an attempt by Georgia to retake South Ossetia by force – an act that provided Moscow with a pretext to attack Georgia – or the war caught us completely by surprise. The former possibility is worrisome; the latter is inexcusable.

President Bush should be commended for his very firm but restrained moves to try and end this crisis and in the process salvage Georgia’s sovereignty and Mikheil Saakhashvili’s position as president of Georgia, both of which were close to being lost, mainly through Saakashvili’s own incompetence. Unfortunately, the president does not have much leverage to work with, having been maneuvered into a dispute with Russia at a time and place of Putin’s choosing rather than ours – a game where Putin and Medvedev hold all the good cards and can deal from the bottom of the deck.

Amusingly, some of the commenters there seem to believe that I am a) a liberal and b) a Russian shill and c) fit to be a member of The New York Times editorial board, perhaps the unkindest cut of all. šŸ™‚

Sorry boys, if the Georgians had bloodied the Russian invaders, I’d have stood up and cheered with everybody else. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and that reality needs to be accepted on it’s own terms withoutĀ pretending the Russian military is now ten feet tall. Giving limited aid to Georgia here is fineĀ but the urgeĀ to rush in American troops to fight Russia for Saakasvili, as some would like to do, while the Europeans and Georgians sit and watch is simply asinine.


Similar viewsĀ from William LindĀ and Thomas Barnett. See also Spengler.


Much thanks to Glenn Reynolds for linking to my PM post – Nice! ( Hat tip to blogfriendĀ Purpleslog in the comments)

26 Responses to “New Op-Ed Up at Pajamas Media”

  1. Lexington Green Says:


  2. Dan tdaxp Says:

    Yeah, confusing strategies with high variance in outcomes (which is rational for a player in a weak position) with incompetence makes people wonder about your motives. šŸ˜‰

  3. eddie Says:

    Thank you for standing up amid the hubris!  
    Then again, you cannot reason with most of those who believe Iran’s nuclear capability will be 1938 all over again.

  4. Jonathan Says:

    A thoughtful post.

    The idiotic comments on the Pajamas site make me despair of blogging.

  5. zen Says:

    Hi Dan,
    "Yeah, confusing strategies with high variance in outcomes (which is rational for a player in a weak position) with incompetence makes people wonder about your motives"
    Strategies in high risk situations – where the possible negative consequences outweigh the status quo – are only good if you have a reasonable chance of executing them.  The Georgian state and Saakashvili were not a good bet to run a  complex military campaign  and those who advised the USG that they were are not competent in their judgment. 
    Thanks Lex, Eddie, Jonathan

  6. eddie Says:

    If elements in the US essentially green-lighted this, how similar is this to the failures of our egging on Ethiopia in Somalia and Israel in Lebanon (who devastated Lebanon’s infrastructure and economy to the extent that Hezbollah and its allied easily rolled over their enemies shortly after). What does this tell other US allies about our judgment?

  7. A.E. Says:

    I agree fully. But the problem here (judging from the comments) is that anything more than RUSSIA BAD, GEORGIA GOOD, RED ARMY ON THE MARCH is a bit too complex for the PM commenters to handle.

  8. Dan tdaxp Says:

    <i>Strategies in high risk situations – <b>where the possible negative consequences outweigh the status quo – are only good if you have a reasonable chance of executing them</b>.  The Georgian state and Saakashvili were not a good bet to run a  complex military campaign  and those who advised the USG that they were are not competent in their judgment. </i>

    That statement seems pretty vague.

    Perhaps a better way of putting it is that a risk-inducing strategy is worthwhile if the predictable outcome of the status quo is unacceptable.  This may certainly have been the case for Georgia, where being outside the EU and NATO, as well as not having a security guarantee with any western power, but under partial Russian occupation, is easily worse than changing any of of those.

    To riff on AE, the problem here (judging from the comments) is that anything more than "anything more than RUSSIA BAD, GEORGIA GOOD, RED ARMY ON THE MARCH is a bit too complex for the PM commenters to handle" is too complex for many commentators to handle.

  9. purpleslog Says:

    Zen, it is a good post. I  have been away somewhat and having been trying to digest the Georgia V. Russia events. A good first thought for the US: show patience, don’t over re-act and commit to something we’ll regret.

    The comments are pretty funny. I usually don’t read comments at the larger sites/blog because they are mostly noise. Only on smaller sites are the comment worthwhile (or worth participating in).

    Instapundit.com is linking to the PM post, so congrats!

    The key takeaway for people I think is (as you point out) is that Russia is not the Soviet Union (amateur/nostaglic Cold War Kremlinologist must remember that). What did TDAXP write on his blog? Russia is essentially an Aggressive Portugal with a declining population that has a good infusion of money from oil sales.

  10. Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » Qote of the Day Says:

    […] also a post on his site with additional comments and […]

  11. eddie Says:

    What about Russian arms? Given what they could sell to our enemies (like the advanced air-defense system to Iran) and to other troublemakers around the world if they decided WTO membership was off the table, rushing to isolate them without getting anything out of it would seem hasty.

     Are you arguing it was better for Georgia to risk the probable sacrifice of even more of its land to attempt to beat the Russians on the first blow and hope the threat of Western intervention would be enough to hold the Russians back?
    If so, perhaps it would be best for the Pakistanis, facing continued occupation of what they consider their land (Kashmir) and the continued deterioration of their alliance with America, to risk it all and invade Kashmir?

  12. NYkrinDC Says:


    I for one have to say that that your liberal bias is beginning to grate on me. šŸ˜‰

    Congrats on the op-ed. I’m with most here on the subject, and on the comments at PM.  When a comment begins with "Typical lib" or other such descriptors (for the left and the right),  you essentially know what type of noise is coming your way.

    With regard to the specifics of the post, one thing that seems to have escaped much of the media is just <a href="http://www.isn.ethz.ch/news/sw/details.cfm?ID=19313">how many problems the Russians had</a> with even such a limited deployment; an event they had been expecting and actively pushing for, through their instigation of Saakashvili, for some time.

  13. A.E. Says:

    We should get Mark a "Love Me, I’m A Liberal" sticker.

  14. Jay@Soob Says:

    How, exactly, did President Bush preserve Saakashvili’s presidency? Certainly the Russian invasion might have thrown domestic support behind a shady president, but where does Bush factor in here?

    Of the possible "threats and punishments" being bandied about, which would overshadow reassertion of Russian hegemony in the region and give Russia pause? Bear in mind the most painful for the Russians will likely be as painful for those that exact it.

    Russia’s military may not be ten feet (or was it miles?) tall but I’d opine their intentions are. In the long run, Russia adopting an expansionist imperial strategy in an effort to combat American "soft," neo-Imperialism is bound to fail. But that long run is likely decades and in the mean time a rather messy situation could be brought to bear if the West continues to push toothless threats.
    Why, we could well find ourselves in yet another Cold War. Which would be great for deterring another World war, but a real pisser for global economic growth.

  15. S Says:

    New rule: if you mention a specific weapons platform in a discussion, you should be immediately ignored.

  16. Mithras Says:

    Good god. Do the commenters over there at PM actually get to vote

    We need, at the highest levels of government, to sit down and take the long view of what America’s strategic policy toward Russia should be …

    Great point. What is that long view, though? That Russia is and has been an authoritarian state with an inferiority complex, neither of which we can do much to change?
    Also, what is NATO for anymore? Is it part of the "long view" to expand its membership, or even keep it around at all? Does its continued existence make the prospect of Russian aggression more likely, less likely, neither?

  17. Dave Schuler Says:

    Additionally, I wonder what the strategic advantages of "expand NATO now" over "expand NATO eventually" are.   Or

  18. zen Says:

    Hi everyone,
    Jay – Saakashvili was preserved by sending U.S. troops to be a "red line" tripwire & by implication, making it clear to Georgian elites that continued U.S. help ran through "Misha", that he still has the juice, at the White House.
    Mithras & Dave – Kinda unusual for me to be called a Communist in a comment section. Been called a "fascist" many times but today was a new experience for me. In regards to your question, our optimum long term goal should be a peaceful, liberal democratic Russia that is a part of NATO – at which point NATO ceases to function as a military alliance. Don’t laugh, that vision was only a decade away circa 1992.  Today, it is a lot more distant but not impossible.
    The Russians are 80 % responsible for the mess they were in during the 90’s but our inability to refrain from helping ourselves to the goodies from the great Russian firesale contrasts very poorly with what we did in the late 1940’s with the Marshall Plan.

  19. Dave Schuler Says:

    I’m not laughing.  My view 17 years ago was that NATO should have been dissolved and reconstituted under another name. 

    our inability to refrain from helping ourselves to the goodies from the great Russian firesale contrasts

    Yeah, that’s pretty much what I’ve been complaining about over at my place. And that the reason for cultivating a healthy relationship with Russia is not for the Russians but for us.

  20. eddie Says:

    S @ Comment #15,
     Perhaps you should discuss that with the pilots and intel specialists of Carrier Air Wing 2 (CVW-2) attached to the USS Abraham Lincoln Strike Group who were floating in the Persian Gulf earlier this year. They had a vested interest in the various weapons and air defense systems the Russians could sell the Iranians and discussed the potentially lethal prospects of such a sale on a regular basis.

  21. Galrahn Says:

    Mark, great work, really enjoyed the piece.

  22. Scott Bergstrom Says:

    A well-considered piece.  Given that the U.S. didn’t see this coming, it only makes sense that the U.S. *gasp* stop and consider its response before acting.  We too easily lose sight of U.S. strategic interests, arguing that we should come to the immediate defense of any Tom, Dick, or Saakashvilli willing to take on a million Russian conscripts.  

  23. Maarja Says:

    Congrats on your getting your essay up at PM, Mark.  I saw it thanks to the link at the New Nixon website which you won’t be surprised to hear I check frequently.  The site is associated with the Nixon Foundation.  See
    for the link to your essay.

  24. Sean Meade Says:

    congrats, buddy! one of the most popular posts on PM right now and 138 comments (although so many are barking mad i can’t read them šŸ˜‰

  25. zen Says:

    Maarja, your comments at the Nixon website were extremely kind, thank you. I want to thank all of you -Sean, Galrahn, Scott ( great blog name BTW), eddie, NY, AE, Dan, Dave, Mithras, Jonathan, Lex, Jay, Purpleslog for your comments. That kind of a response is what makes putting all the time on blogging worth the effort!

  26. David C. Says:

    Your PM article is an interesting analysis but I disagree with a couple of your points.  You write:

    "Calls for a new Cold War with Russia because we have been embarrassed by the inept performance of a client state are wrongheaded, at times venal but certainly detrimental to American national security."

    If anyone is trying to restart the Cold War it is Russia, which is behaving in ways simliar to the old Soviet Union.  Just look at the propaganda coming from Moscow lately.  The combination of outright lies, threats and bluster are eerily reminiscent of the bad old days.  

    Also, you write:

    "But to declare Russia our enemy…"

    Again, in my opinion you put way too much emphasis on the U.S. reaction as opposed to what the Russians themselves are doing.  Russia has to decide whether or not it wants the U.S. as its enemy.  The U.S. doesn’t need to overreact, but if the Russians continue to act like they are our enemy, they should be treated as one.  

    I agree that the U.S. has had no cohesive policy with regard to Russia, and has been content to largely ignore it — despite that fact that Russia alone has the nuclear capability to completely anniilate the U.S.  We appear to have lost the opportunity to integrate Russia more fully with the West.  But now we have to deal with them as they are,  not as we would like them to be.  Unfortunately that may mean realizing that Russia is again our enemy, or at least mostly hostile to our interests, and adjusting our strategic outlook accordingly.

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