Archive for NATO

U.S. Humanitarian Activism: Libya and Syria

Posted in Middle East and US Election, Middle East Conflict, Obama foreign policy, US Domestic Politics, US Values and Freign Policy with tags , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2011 by whatafteriraq

The remaining hot spots from the Arab Spring are in Libya and Syria. In both cases, popular uprisings erupted against tyrannical governments inspired at least patrially by the Arab Spring events that began in Tunisia and moved quickly to Egypt and elsewhere. Distinguishing characteristics of these two cases, however, have been the continuing brutality of the regime against its dissidents and the dogged organized resistance to the regime’s actions by those seeking change. This level of resistance and the need for continued bloody suppression distinguishes Libya and Syria from places like Bahrain and Yemen, where dissidence was fairly quickly suppressed and things returned to fairly quickly to whatever passes for normalcy.

Libya and Syria are different from one another and from the others. Their duration sets them aside from other Arab Spring events. Libya has produced a full-scale revolutionary movement that, with the considerable assistance of NATO air forces, may be closing in on the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime; the effort in Syria has been less organized and militarized, but worldwide publicity has resulted in a steady drum beat of international demands for the resignation of Syrian president Bashir al-Assad that are increasingly difficult for him to resist.

The level of violence, even savagery, of government oppression of resisters in both countries has raised both to the level of international humanitarian disasters or crises–situations where there is widespread atrocity against or abuse of a country’s citizens by its government. One response to such a situation is humanitarian activism, which I define as intervention (including military force as its most dramatic manifestation) in humanitarian crises by other countries to end the conditions defining the disaster. The United States has a long, if uneven, record of action or inaction in such situations; in both Libya and Syria, however, the United States has adopted a fairly passive form of opposition to the disasters, preferring to defer leadership to others. Why?

It seems to me that to understand when the United States does and does not become personally invested in these kinds of situations requires looking at three variables. The first is American mood at the time. Is the United States feeling especially optimistic about its internal situation and place in the world, in which case it is likely to become internally activist, seeking to spread its own message and gospel to others? Or is the United States feeling insecure and recessive, turning inward and evincing a sense of isolation from world events that is part of the U.S. historical DNA?

Second is the nature of the international environment in which any proposed action might occur. Partly, this assessment reflects Americans’ self-assessment and confidence in themselves, their ability to shape the world, and their confidence in their world role. At the same time, this assessment includes the competing demands on American national security resources elsewhere in the world: can the United States afford to divert scarce resources (especially military) to humanitarian missions that can or might be needed elsewhere?

The third variable is geopolitics, and it also has at least two facets. One is the American relationship with the country in which the disaster is occurring. There were, for instance, no shortage of what now are called humanitarian crises in countries with which the United States was allied dring the Cold War (Central Africa and Central America offer fine examples) where the Unied States did not condemn the harsh treatment of populations by “friendly” rulers; given the dangers of Cold War escalation, however, all we did with similar events in the communist world (e.g. Cambodia) was condemn them. Context may be everything. At the same time, the attitude and willingness of friends and allies is also a geopolitical factor: the United States almost certainly would not have dispatched and kept force in the Balkans in the 1990s and beyond were it not for the insistence of NATO allies.

Different periods of recent history can be gauged in these terms. During the Cold War, there was basically no such thing as humanitarian activism, because geopolitical, Cold War considerations precluded it. The term entered the lexicon after the Cold War ended, and there was a spate of such activism by the United States in the 1990s, when all the variables aligned favorably: the American mood was confident and expansive, the rest of the environment was fairly placid and undemanding, and there were few geopolitical inhibitions to preclude identifying and stomping on the bad guys who abused and denied the rights of their citizens.

And then there is now. The United States has not acted decisively in either the Libyan and Syrian cases. In Libya, we play a very limited supporting role (that has had opposition anyway), and beyond leading the verbal condemnation of Assad, have done very little in Syria. Admittedly, these are two countries where the U.S. has few interests and even fewer levers of influence it can apply, but it has clearly not been an instance of any kind of humanitarian activism by any measure.

The three variable help explain this. Two of them are negative. In the current economic climate, the United States is not feeling good and positive about itself, and were the Obama administration to propose any more than what it is doing, it would be accused of taking its “eye off the ball” of our real priorities, of trying to divert attention away from its internal problems, or both (most likely both). At the same time, the United States is still heavily invested in military adventures elsewhere in the region that strain resources; the American people would hardly embrace a new Middle Eastern military adventure. The only positive variable is international support for activism. Europe, after all, is devoting resources to Libya (which it arguably cannot afford), and even other Middle Eastern countries have condemned the Syrians. In a sense, this willingness of others to take the lead relieves the United States of any pressure it might otherwise feel to get out front on either crisis.

Libya and Syria may or may not represent the long-term future of American humanitarian activism, but they are likely to be models for the next few years, until American prosperity and self-confidence reappears and we are looking at the world differently than we are today. If one is against such interventions anyway, then “let the bad times roll,” since they are keeping us from doing what we have no business doing anyway, as Ron Paul would argue. If the United States is the shining city on the hill (Reagan’s typification) and should be ready and willing to help transform the world, wait for a better day.


Afghan Withdrawal by 2014

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan and Election, Afghanistan War, U.S. defense budget, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on November 21, 2010 by whatafteriraq

The NATO summit occurred this past week in Lisbon, and the major news that came out of it was that NATO ministers agreed to continue the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF, the technical name of the mission there). According to the comminique at the end of the meeting, the focus of the agreement was to continue the commitment of declining numbers (unspecified) into 2014, when all combat tasks will have been turned over to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), leaving only a residue of NATO noncombatants (including American troops) behind. In other words, an Iraq-style drawdown and post-combat situation whre the U.S. is out but not out simultaneously.

This settlement, as it is chewed upon, regurgitated, and swallowed, is likely to please nobody, most of all the Afghans themselves (the Taliban has already called the decision “irrational”). People (myself included) who believe the active involvement of the United States should end much faster, are going to maintain that leaving NATO forces on the front lines will accomplish little substantively and simply represent greater human and material sacrifice for the troops and the Afghans themselves while not materially improving the prospects for the post-war peace. If one believes the war is unwinnable, as I do, three or more years of combat is a tragic waste. The NATO conferees anticipated this reaction (which will be more pronounced in other NATO countries than in the U.S.) and offered the bone that “if circumstances agree, it (withdrawal of combat troops) could be sooner.” How about tomorrow?

Critics on the other end of the spectrum will also be unhappy because of the simple fact of establishing any kind of deadline. Their consistent refrain about such deadlines (in Iraq, for instance) is that they simply encourage the opponent to wait out whatever the deadline is, wait for us to leave, then seize the moment. In their minds, setting a deadline is little more than a deferred form of surrender. 2014 is sufficiently far enough away so this objection will not be loudly raised at this point, but as the date grows nearer, it will. This criticism, of course, is only valid if one accepts the proposition that the war is in fact winnable in some sense, if one is perseverant enough to pursue it long enough. We are, after all, still hearing this argument about Vietnam, which has been over for 35 years.

The designation of 2014 also must be viewed through the lens of 2012–the next presidential year. It is a curious choice that, like so many the Obama administration has made recently, appeals neither to his core constituency or probably to the independent middle. Obama supporters on the left are pretty uniformly disappointed in Obama’s Afghan policy and want out now. The “shallow” withdrawals that NATO describes for 2011 are going to make them unhappier than they already are. It will not drive them into the arms of the Tea/GOP candidate, who is likely to adopt a “stay the course” position on Afghanistan, but it could make them less enthusiastic supporters of the campaign or even, at worst, cause them to sit out the election. The date is also unlikely to win any support from the right, which opposes any specification of withdrawal dates and would not vote for Obama if he promised to stay in Afghanistan for another 50 years.

That leaves the swing vote in the middle. They voted for Obama in 2008 and against him in 2010. Nobody seems to want to court them very badly. They are almost certainly going to be repelled by the Libertarian nut jobs the Tea Party has foisted upon the Congress, and they are generally less than enthusiastic about the deficits the administration is running up–part of which, of course, are powered by the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Which way they go in 2012 will determine who enters or stays in the Oval Office in 2013. The shape of the economy (and especially the unemployment rate) will likely determine who they vote for, but Afghanistan will play a part as well, on two grounds. First, budget cutting/balancing is going to be a major part of the 2012 campaign, and by then, the public may well have figured out that anything like a balanced budget is impossible without a major defense contribution. But where does that contribution come from? Since Americans also overwhelmingly say they favor a robust defense, they will not support major cuts in ongoing defense expenditures. If that is true, where can one look for cuts? Afghanistan virtually jumps off the page of candidates. Second, if the war continues to go poorly (as it likely will), the middle may decide overwhelmingly that they want it to end. Would Obama buck such sentiment?

The most hopeful interpretation of the 2014 deadline is that those who chose it did so because they know they are going to exceed it. The Afghans fairly clearly do not want us around for three more years, and most of the NATO allies join American public opinion in that assessment. A 2014 withdrawal date is dismal news–the worst case–and if we can exceed that expectation and bring the troops home sooner, wouldn’t that be grand? And wouldn’t we be grateful when we enter the voting place (assuming much of this happens before November 2012)? Does this all sound kind of cynical? Yes it does, but given the mess we are in right now, any shard of hope is to be grasped.

The Law of Unintended Consequences in Afghanistan

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War with tags , , , , , , , , on November 8, 2008 by whatafteriraq

One of the first foreign policy problems the new Obama administration will have to confront is the war–or, more precisely, two wars–the country is waging in Afghanistan. To summarize previous comments in this space about the effort, it is a mess. The United States and its NATO allies are simultaneously attempting to confront and eliminate Al Qaeda (especially its leadership) and to support the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai by assisting in the government’s efforts to thwart the Taliban attempt to overthrow it. Neither is going well, and in neither case is it even vaguely likely that continuing the present course, even if tweaked with more forces, will result in an acceptable outcome for the United States.

The problems are multiple, but at heart the reason failure is assured is that the two goals the U.S. and its allies are pursuing are contradictory at the operational level, and actions taken to accomplish one goal have the unintended consequence of making the other worse. Presently, the United States is concentrating its efforts on supporting the Karzai government. That is not working and is making it less likely that the U.S. will get the kind of local assistance it needs to run down and smite Al Qaeda.

The heart of the dilemma is the position of the Pashtuns, about whom I have commented in previous postings. To reiterate, the Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan (about 40 percent of the population) and the largest minority group in Pakistan. Historic Pashtun lands lie on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border (the so-called Durand Line, which Pashtuns do not accept or honor). The Pashtuns form the heart of the Taliban movement seeking to overthrow the government in Kabul, which makes them our opponents. The Pakistani territory where Al Qaeda is imbedded is similarly Pashtun territory. Since one of the major problems the United States faces in getting at Al Qaeda is finding them, the cooperation of the local tribesmen in Pakistan (meaning the Pashtuns) would certainly simplify that effort considerably. That, in turn, would seem to militate toward befriending the Pashtuns. Washington, we have a problem here!

This situation creates a conundrum for U.S. policy. If the major U.S. goal in Afghanistan is eradicating Al Qaeda, that suggests coopting the Pashtuns, a course that would require denouncing (or forcing the major reconstitution) of the Karzai government. The reason is that the Taliban (and thus their Pashtun supporters) reject Karzai (a former Pashtun war lord) as a turncoat who has formed a government that is disproportionately non-Pashtun, especially in the security area and army, which are heavily ethnic Tajik and Uzbek. The Pashtuns think of themselves as the Afghans, and thus many support the Taliban as the representatives of the Pashtuns, despite some of the Taliban’s strange policies and behavior. The Afghan civil war is really a Pashtun-anti-Pashtun affair, and the United States has chosen its side.

This means, of course, that the Pashtun must consider the United States the enemy. If they need any further proof of the anti-Pashtun character of the United States, all they have to do is to point to where the United States stages its operations in Afghanistan from: leased bases in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. This latter arrangement demonstrates particularly clearly the law of unintended consequences in operation. The United States did not negotiate bases in those two countries because we are anti-Pashtun, but because we needed a staging ground from which to support operations in Afghanistan. The other countries bordering Afghanistan are Turkmenistan, Iran, and Iran. The selection of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan was expedient, not principled, and although there is little record on the subject, there is virtually no indication that anyone considered the possibility that choosing bases in these countries would actually make it harder to get Al Qaeda than it would have been otherwise. But it almost surely has.

The hope of American policymakers has been to reconcile the two wars: propping up a “democratic” government in Afghanistan will make that country impervious to Al Qaeda and make its capture and destruction easier (it will have less places to hide). Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out that way. Instead, Pashtuns must think the United States is their enemy, following in a long line of foreign invaders to be repulsed. As long as an appreciable number of Pashtuns feel that way, they are going to oppose the United States in both its wars: the Taliban will continue to assault the Afdghan government, and the Pashtuns will continue to provide safe haven for Al Qaeda. That is certainly not what the United States intended as it crafted its policies, but it certainly has been the consequence. Figuring a way out of this conundrum is the major Afghanistan burden the Obama foreign policy team faces.

Afghanistan and the Presidential Campaign

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan and Election, Afghanistan War, War on Terror with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 5, 2008 by whatafteriraq

The war in Iraq has largely fallen off the table among issues being contested in the presidential election campaign, but America’s “other” war in Afghanistan, has begun to attract more attention, at least in part because of increased U.S. casualties in that theater. Since the economy will almost certainly continue to dominate election concerns between now and the first Tuesday in November, what is being said about Afghanistan is hardly likely to be critical in who wins the White House. Whoever does win, however, will to some extent be stuck with what he has already said on the matter. In that sense, the debate does matter.

The candidates are in agreement on two matters. The first is that the effort is important because of the terrorism problem, although Obama tends to place more emphasis on this theater because it drives home his point that Iraq diverted attention from this more impotant problem. They also both agree that at least part of the solution is more American troops to Afghanistan.

They disagree on other aspects of the issue, and their positions are more problematical than is typically discussed.

McCain argues that the United States can prevail in Afghanistan because in a McCain administration, the emphasis would be on transferring the Petraeus “doctrine” of cointerinsurgency (COIN) to Afghanistan. This formulation is questionable on at least three grounds.

First, it assumes the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan are similar enough that what worked in one would also work in the other. Aside from both being in the same general part of the world, that is an assumption for which the supporting evidence is less than overwhelming. Iraq, in other words, probably is NOT Pakistan (more in a subsequent posting). Second, it assumes that the COIN strategy with which Patraeus’ name is attached is a balm for the current problem in Afghanistan. One can argue that other factors, not COIN, have improved the situation in Iraq. Effective COIN (in those cases where it works) requires huge numbers of forces to protect a population being pacified and coverted to the cointerinsurgents’ cause. Even then, the outcome is not assured. The necessary levels of force are unlikely ever to be available for textbook COIN in Afghanistan. The analogy fails.

Third, in present circumstances, General Petraeus, McCain’s man on the white horse, does not even have operational control or responsibility for Afghanistan. NATO is (largely at American prodding) a NATO operation, and General David McKiernan (or is it McClellan?) does not report to CENTCOM commander Petraeus, but to NATO. The United States has recently called for a reorganization of the NATO effort to put the Americans under CENTCOM, but that has not happened and is opposed by many in NATO (see Sengupta article). Before McCain can even try his proposed strategy in Afghanistan, he will have to negotiate a change in the NATO command structure in Afghanistan, a move that could easily create as many problems as it solves.

The Obama approach is also not without controversy. The heart of Obama’s message is that the United States erred in diverting is efforts to stomp out Al Qaeda by going into Iraq and that once the Iraqi diversion is over, it can successfully reorient itself to Afghanistan. To his credit (or is it the Biden touch?), he has admitted that much of the reorientation must be improved political relations with Afghanistan and Pakistan lubricated by significant amounts of developmental assistance to improve conditions on the ground as a way to compete for the “hearts and minds” of the mostly Pashtun population (which forms the base of the Taliban) along the border area between the two where Al Qaeda is encamped.

The Obama approach is also subject to questions. First, it has been elusive about what exactly constitutes success in Afghanistan (McCain hasn’t said either): how will we know we’ve won? Second, Afghan history does not encourage the use of military force/occupation as a successful strategy against the Afghans–ask a long history of invaders of that land. Third, he has not explained how the United States, in its contemporary economic situation, is going to find the money to pay for all the economic assisance that is supposed to “buy” support for the Karzai regime (or, for that matter, how to avoid the Afghan government from stealing most of it). Can money “buy you love”, in the words of an old Beatles song.

Nobody is questioning the candidates closely on Afghanistan now, because it does not seem terribly critical to the election. Afghanistan policy is, however, going to be sitting near the top of the in-box for the new president in January, and it is a policy area with all the potential corrosiveness of Iraq or even Vietnam. What the candidates think and say now could come home to bite them in the future.

Kim Sengupta, “US Seeking Sole Command of NATO’s War against the Taliban.”, September 18,2008.

Are We Losing in Afghanistan?

Posted in Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, Diplomacy, Foreign policy and 2008 election, Global War on Terror with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2008 by whatafteriraq

With public attention understandably directed at the election campaign and the credit meltdown, the war in Afghanistan has faded from the public view. Only a trickle of press reports are being published, and the news they contain is not particularly good. Are we losing the war in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has, of course, been a minor “theater” in the election campaign “wars.” The Obama campaign has made a point of arguing that we have “dropped the ball” in Afghanistan by diverting attention from there to Iraq. Obama proposes roughly 8,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to correct the problem. McCain acknowledges the need for more forces in Afghanistan as they become available during an Iraq drawdown, but, as a champion of the Iraq war, he can hardly agree the problem was Iraq.

Will additional American forces in Afghanistan make a decisive difference in the effort there? The answer is that it depends on what the problem is, and what can be done–if anything–to correct it.

The problem in Afghanistan is conceptualization. What is the United States (and the NATO allies) doing there? There are two possible answers. One is that the United States is engaged in a counterinsurgency campaign against the Taliban, who are attempting to overthrow the Karzai government the United States helped put in power and now supports. The other is that the United States is engaged in a counterterrorism campaign, the object of which is the destruction of Al Qaeda. The two are by no means the same thing, either as a concptual objective or as a military problem. In fact, they may even be contradictory goals if pursuing one makes the other worse (which it may well be doing).

What is the political objective in Afghanistan for the United States? Since, as Clausewitz taught us nealy two centuries ago, the objecives in wa are always post-war political situations that we favor, the answer is important both for framing our actions and telling if we have achieved them (or “won”). If the objective is defeating the Taliban, the news is not very encouraging: the Taliban is resurgent, claiming control over widening amounts of territory, and issuing a broader appeal than it did in the past. If it is the destruction of Al Qaeda, the news is not much better.

What is the problem here? Assuming the two goals (effectively countering the Taliban insurgency and pursuing Al Qaeda) are compatible, the problem is not an ambiguity of objectives (part of the problem in Iraq), but rather how to develop military obejectives and (especially) strategies to achieve the objectives.

The cointerinsurgency (in the vernacular, COIN) problem is more familiar and is the subject of FM 3-24, the Army and Marine Corps’ doctrinal statement issued over David Petraeus’ name. Successful COIN requires control of territory (denying it to the insurgents) and the transfer of loyalty from the insurgents to the government. The former requires lots of toops (far more than is proposed) and is problematic even under the best of circumstances. The simple fact is that COIN efforts only succeed when the insurgency has very little support (Che Guevara in Bolivia, for instance). If the insurgency has the support of a goodly part of the population and its suppression is attempted by foreign, racially distinct forces, those efforts have never succeeded since 1945 (see Snow, Distant Thunder, for a detailed explanation). Moreover, Karzai is widely viewed as an American puppet, further undercutting his appeal. The COIN being proposed smells decidedly like South Vietnam. If it is achievable, the strategy that will achieve is not evident; FM 3-24 does NOT provide the guidance to ensure its success.

If the real objective is destroying Al Qaeda, the problem changes. Seven years of experience suggests that we do not know how to carry out an effective counterterror effort in the peculiar circumstances that surround the hunt for Usama bin Laden. Military efforts have failed and havecaused more ill will than anything else: botched bombing attacks that kill civilians and produce new Taliban and Al Qaeda recruits, incursions into Pakistan that violate that country’s sovereignty and create anti-Americanism within the government and the people. It is possible that military efforts are simply “feel good” exercises with little prospect of success. In that case, would it not be better to pull back and negotiate with the governments to provide the assistance needed to suppress the terrorists?

It is entirely possible that the missionary zeal quite naturally created by 9/11 has put the United States in an untenable position in Afghanistan. The situation is untenable if there is no realistic way the political objectives–either defeating the Taliban insurgents or destroying Al Qaeda–cannot be translated into effective strategies that will accomplish those goals. That aspect of the problem deserves a much more thorough airing than it has gotten to this point. It is time to quit breast beating and to face the problem of Afghanistan more soberly.

During the Vietnam War, Richard Rovere borrowed the lyrics from an old work song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” to describe America’s deepening involvement there. As the song put it, “We’re waist deep in the  big muddy, and the damned fool said to go on.” In Afghanistan, we are at least thigh deep. Should we wade deeper, or turn around and go back to shore? 

Donald M. Snow, Distant Thunder (2nd ed). Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1997.

Pamela Constable. “A Modern Taliban Thrives in Afghanistan.” Washington Post (online), September 20, 2008.

Palin’s ABC Interview: Flunking Foreign Policy

Posted in Foreign policy and 2008 election, Georgian Invasion, Russia, South Ossetia and Georgia with tags , , , , , on September 12, 2008 by whatafteriraq

Republican  Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin gave her first unscripted interview yesterday to ABC’s Charlie Gibson. The major topic of questions was the Governor’s preparation for dealing with foreign and national security policy. Based on her public responses, she could scarcely have failed more miserably.

Palin’s responses were revealing in two ways. The first was that they displayed her virtually pristine lack of knowledge of foreign affairs and U.S.policy toward the world. She clearly has never heard of the Bush doctrine, which has been the guiding “principle” of U.S. policy since 2001 (she described it as Bush’s “worldview”: that would get you one or two points for a nice try on a ten-point scale in one of my classes). She blithely replied that the Russian invasion was totally unprovoked. Whether it as justified is one thing; that the Georgians did nothing to provoke the Russians is simply not true. She came out in favor on Georgian and Ukrainian membership in NATO, including acceptance of the commitment to defend them militarily if they were made members. She accepted the prospect of war with Russia arising from these acts as essentially no big deal. And here most of us thought the purpose of the Cold War was to avoid just that outcome.

In some ways, the more frghtening aspect of her performance was its embrace of neo-conservative doctrine about the world. This was particularly obvious in her bellicose remarks about encircling Russia with NATO and closely reflects similar attitudes expressed by John McCain. Most Americans have repudiated the neo-conservative creed which, among other things, provided the rationale for Iraq, raised the utopian goal of global democratization to a central place in U.S. policy, and has militarized much of America’s stance in the world. With the possible exception of the Likud faction in Israel, no one outside the United States endorses this world view. Four more years?

Demonstrating that the election campaign is about electing politicians and not debating public policy, the GOP has gone on the counteroffensive. Palin is qualified as commander-in-cchief because she commands the Alaska National Guard (although not when it is engaged in military operations), can see Russian soil from one of the Alaskan islands, has traveled overseas once, and knows something about energy policy (extrapolated to energy security). Joe Biden, on the other hand, has the skinny resume of being chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Quite a comparison.

One may choose to vote for McCain-Palin for a variety of reasons, but please do not insult our intelligence by saying that preparation for the role of head of state and commander-in-chief is among them, at least not in the case of Sarah Palin. She must not have taken a course in American Foreign Policy while she was getting her political science degree from the University of Idaho, or if she did, she must not have passed it.

Poking A Georgian Stick in Russia’s Eye

Posted in Diplomacy, Georgia and NATO, Georgian Invasion, Missile defenses and Russia, Russia with tags , , , , , , on September 5, 2008 by whatafteriraq

While most of us were busy admiring the work that Aunt Bea’s hairdresser did on Sarah Palin’s hair in St. Paul this week, Vice President Cheney was skulking around Georgia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. Some of the things he said and promises he suggested were alarming, to put it mildly.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani hinted at the mischief in decribing a quote he ascribed to GOP nominee John McCain: “We are all Georgians.” We are? Clearly the attempt was to suggest a solidarity between the United States and Georgia akin to that between Americans and Berliners, but does the analogy hold? And if it is accepted, what are the implications of this newfound brotherhood and synergy?

Amongst the nuggets that Cheney held out to the people of Georgia was the prospect of NATO membership (he suggested that Ukraine fell in the same category). As noted in an earlier entry, discussion of adding these republics to NATO has been under discussion in Brussels but has been shelved for the time being. There are at least two good reasons that this initiative should remain where it is: buried in NATO’s in-box.

The first reason is suggested in the title of this entry. Cheney suggested in Georgia that the Russians should not fear the inclusion of former parts of the Soviet Union along is border into the military alliance that faced it throughout the Cold War, because “NATO is a defensive alliance. It is a threat to no one.” The Russians, of course, do not see it quite that way. When combined with the recent agreement to install missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic (missiles in one, radars in the other), the suggestion of adding Georgia and Ukraine to NATO seems ominously like hostile encirclement to Russia, a possibility that no significant power could possibly embrace. Given the disagreement about who was actually the provocateur in the recent Georgian-Russian confrontation, taking up the cudgel so aggressively at this point can only seem very antagonistic, boredering on aggressive, to the Russians. Indeed, it is akin to poklng the bear in the eye.

The other reason to wonder about this proposed commitment is the question of whether it is in the interests of the United States to commit itself to the defense of Georgia through NATO membership. As also noted in an earlier entry, NATO members agree that a threat (or aggression) against one is a threat (or aggression) against all that obligates members to come to one another’s aid. Article 5 of the treaty (the operative article) does not specify that such a response will be military, but that is the normal expectation.

Does the United States really want to make that kind of commitment to Georgia? When the question of NATO expansion was first raised in the 1990s, the question of commitment to places where there were no previous important interests was lively, and many people argued it was not in the best interests of the United States to become committed to such places. High among the counries where this question was raised were the sucessor states to the Soviet Union. The United States does, of course, have an affinity for struggling democracies like Georgia, but does this translate into a mandate to defend them with military force against their traditional adversaries (the Russians)? In the spirit of no-conservatism idealism, such a case can be made, Through the lens of traditional realism, the case is by no means obvious.

Russia has already responded, grumbling about cutting oil production and the flow of natural gas to Europe, and these threats may well dampen what little enthusiasm there is for Cheney’s initiatives among the other members of the alliance. In the meantime, Cheney skulks around the world, carefully being excluded from St. Paul, looking and acting like Burgess Meredith playing the Penguin in the old Batman television series. In the wings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has added her two-cents-worth, intoning “The free world cannot allow the destiny of a small independent country to be determined by the aggression of a larger neighbor.” Of course it can, and of course it has and will in the future. Let’s hope the election campaign does not get infected with this sappily sentimental thinking.