That’s the way the world – or at least this presidency – ends, not with a bang but a whimper.
The Bush Administration’s incompetency in foreign affairs has reached its apogee with the debacle in Georgia.
Whatever the delicate rights and wrongs of the problematic borders there, and Georgia’s applicatio to join Nato, Bush and Rice’s foreign policy initiatives have been a model of inconsistency. First they encouraged Georgia to be ridiculously adventurous, then they failed to stop them when they overreached, and now all they can do is utter hollow threats at Moscow without any means to back it up..
Theodore Roosevelt’s dictum of talking quietly and carrying a big stick has been reversed:
Shout loudly and carry a wet fish
Two months ago, I was an hour away from Tbilisi, and my visit to the Caucasus then confirmed my feeling that this is a tinderbox as important as the Balkans, maybe even more so because of the oil reserves in the nearby Caspian.
Like the countries of the former Yugoslavia, the newly emergent Post Communist states there are riven with ethnic rivalries and contested borders. But unlike them, a nuclear power and a major army, smarting from humiliations abroad and a loss of prestige, and having suffered a decade of ethnic conflict in Chechyna, are eager to regain their dignity.
Into this tinderbox step Rice and Bush. How different it was with Clinton and Holbrooke in the Former Yugoslavia. Though they acted late in Bosnia, threats were followed through in Kosovo, and though the statelets there are still problematical and many issues remain unresolved, moderates are in power in Belgrade, Milosevic is dead and Karadjic on trial in the Hague.
Thanks partly to the fiasco of Iraq, Bush has squandered the careful alliance of Post Cold war allies and foreign affairs planning of the Clinton administration. Now their moral bankruptcy is spreading back out to the borders of Europe. And it’s not Bush or his administration who pay the price, but innocent civilians, encouraged by Republican bluster to believe all the rhetoric of democracy and self determination, only to be misled and eventually abandoned.
Russia’s claim that it has a right to defend ethnic Russians no matter in which country they live has a nasty echo of another regime not so long ago. I doubt whether Abkhazia or South Ossetia are the new Sudentenland or – that as some commentators say – Putin and Medvedev are reigning over Weimar Russia, but such mismanagement in the US Government, a combination of lack of diplomacy and empty sabre rattling, bodes ill for any country in the shadow of large oppressive neighbors.
Having promised to promote democracy in foreign affairs, one can only hope that the American electorate soon deploy their own democratic wishes to rid us of belligerent but impotent Republican rule