Andrew Bacevich: Our foreign policy is not something simply concocted by people in Washington D.C. and imposed on us. Our foreign policy is something that is concocted in Washington D.C., but it reflects the perceptions of our political elite about what we want, we the people want. And what we want, by and large – I mean, one could point to many individual exceptions – but, what we want, by and large is, we want this continuing flow of very cheap consumer goods.
We want to be able to pump gas into our cars regardless of how big they may happen to be, in order to be able to drive wherever we want to be able to drive. And we want to be able to do these things without having to think about whether or not the book’s balanced at the end of the month, or the end of the fiscal year. And therefore, we want this unending line of credit.
The torrent of media commentary on the Georgia-Russia war has been characterised by near-obsessive geopolitical calculation, which – as so often where Georgia and the region is concerned – tends by default to view Georgia’s “lost” territories (if they are viewed at all) as nothing more than inconsiderate and irritating pawns on a global chessboard. For this reason – but mainly because Abkhazia and South Ossetia matter in themselves and are central to any resolution of the issues underlying the August 2008 war – it is useful to consider the arguments for taking them and their claims seriously.
A striking feature of the Georgian political landscape even in these desperate days of Mikheil Saakashvili’s humiliation is that there is very little recognition in the country of how deep are the scars inflicted by Georgia’s invasions of South Ossetia (1990-92) and Abkhazia (1992-93). It is only when Georgia can at an official level come to take responsibility for its own role in this period that progress in resolving these now so-called “frozen conflicts” can be made.
One vital ingredient of this rethinking is to recognise the longstanding residency-claims of South Ossetians and Abkhazians to their respective territories.
It’s a novel way to take your own life. Just as Russia demonstrates what happens to former minions that annoy it, Poland agrees to host a US missile defence base. The Russians, as Poland expected, respond to this proposal by offering to turn the country into a parking lot. This proves that the missile defence system is necessary after all: it will stop the missiles Russia will now aim at Poland, the Czech Republic and the UK in response to, er, their involvement in the missile defence system.
The American government insists that the interceptors, which will be stationed on the Baltic coast, have nothing to do with Russia: their purpose is to defend Europe and the US against the intercontinental ballistic missiles Iran and North Korea don’t possess. This is why they are being placed in Poland, which, as every geography student in Texas knows, shares a border with both rogue states.
They permit us to look forward to a glowing future, in which missile defence, according to the Pentagon, will “protect our homeland … and our friends and allies from ballistic missile attack”; as long as the Russians wait until it’s working before they nuke us. The good news is that, at the present rate of progress, reliable missile defence is only 50 years away. The bad news is that it has been 50 years away for the past six decades.
Some have said that the Kremlin is unpredictable. I always found the Soviet (Russian) leadership more predictable than the White House.
According to Vladimir Putin, the breakdown of the Soviet Union was the greatest disaster of the 20th century. If so, one ought to undo (or reduce) the damage, and Moscow is now in a position to do so.
In his view, this does not necessarily mean physical occupation. The Central Asian governments need Russian political and economic help in facing many internal problems; they have every interest to keep close relations with the Kremlin. The same is true with regard to Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Baltic republics on the other hand are weak but indigestible; military occupation is ruled out, the game is not worth the candle. Ukraine and Moldova will be more careful not to antagonize Russia following the events in Georgia.
For the first time since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, issues of national security no longer dominate political discourse. Rising energy costs, the subprime mortgage implosion, and other domestic imperatives now monopolize the national conversation. In a recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, Americans ranked terrorism as the country’s 10th-most important priority—behind healthcare, education, and the federal budget deficit. But even as attentions shift, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have become the longest U.S. military engagements in a century, with the exception of Vietnam. Around the world, terrorists have continued to strike with deadly effect—from Athens and Paris to Beirut and Baghdad. The upcoming presidential election presents the United States with a choice about how it will seek to combat this threat, even as, somewhere, terrorists might be plotting their next attack. Wherever the war on terror may exist in the public’s consciousness, there is no doubt that it rages on.
Oh, the spectacle of it all — and don’t think I’m referring to those opening ceremonies in Beijing, where North Korean-style synchronization seemed to fuse with smiley-faced Walt Disney, or Michael Phelp’s thrilling hunt for eight gold medals and Speedo’s one million dollar “bonus,” a modernized tribute to the ancient Greek tradition of amateurism in action. No, I’m thinking of the blitz of media coverage after Dr. Bruce Ivins, who worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland, committed suicide by Tylenol on July 29th and the FBI promptly accused him of the anthrax attacks of September and October 2001.
You remember them: the powder that, innocuously enough, arrived by envelope — giving going postal a new meaning — accompanied by hair-raising letters ominously dated “09-11-01” that said, “Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great.” Five Americans would die from anthrax inhalation and 17 would be injured. The Hart Senate Office Building, along with various postal facilities, would be shut down for months of clean-up, while media companies that received the envelopes were thrown into chaos.
For a nation already terrified by the attacks of September 11, 2001, the thought that a brutal dictator with weapons of mass destruction (who might even have turned the anthrax over to the terrorists) was ready to do us greater harm undoubtedly helped pave the way for an invasion of Iraq. The President would even claim that Saddam Hussein had the ability to send unmanned aerial vehicles to spray biological or chemical weapons over the east coast of the United States (drones that, like Saddam’s nuclear program, would turn out not to exist).
Today, it’s hard even to recall just how terrifying those anthrax attacks were. According to a LexisNexis search, between Oct. 4 and Dec. 4, 2001, 389 stories appeared in the New York Times with “anthrax” in the headline. In that same period, 238 such stories appeared in the Washington Post. That’s the news equivalent of an unending, high-pitched scream of horror — and from those attacks would emerge an American world of hysteria involving orange alerts and duct tape, smallpox vaccinations, and finally a war, lest any of this stuff, or anything faintly like it, fall into the hands of terrorists.