Two Articles on Georgia Crisis Well Worth Reading

I’m still on vacation but, like everyone else, have been quite amazed at the ongoing Georgia crisis, particularly the failure so far of the administration and the campaigns of the two presidential candidates to absorb its potential significance and the need for Washington (and the West more generally) to fundamentally reassess its global position and how over-stretched it has become. (Remember that Georgia was one of Rumsfeld’s first foreign destinations after 9/11 and was followed by a significant deployment in early 2002 of U.S. Special Forces — over Russian protests — there in what was clearly part of a much larger strategy to use the “war on terror” to build the military infrastructure for the “New American Century” in and around Eurasia.)

Two articles — both quite provocative — have appeared in the mainstream press since the crisis broke that have underlined the potential historic significance of the ongoing crisis. While they are not completely convincing, they nonetheless are well worth reading and meditating over. The first is Paul Krugman’s “The Great Illusion” which appeared in the NY Times August 15. It suggests that the latest events may herald the curtain’s fall on the second great age of globalization, the first having taken place from the end of the 19th century to August, 1914. Of course, the comparison of the two ages — with respect to terrorism (then anarchism), vast social dislocations caused by industrialization and imperialism, as well as the high degree of economic integration — is hardly new, but Krugman’s thumbnail analysis is, as I noted, thought-provoking.

“By itself, …the war in Georgia isn’t that big a deal economically,” Krugman writes. “But it does mark the end of the Pax Americana — the era in which the United States more or less maintained a monopoly on the use of military force. And that raises some real questions about the future of globalization.” The article brings in a number of pertinent examples of rising nationalism in the economic, as well as the strategic and political spheres, that today’s policymakers, politicians and publics might well consider before reflexively taking Georgia’s side. Serb nationalists had a pretty good case against the Austro-Hungarian Empire back in 1914, too.

The second article, by former Singaporean diplomat and veteran provocateur Kishore Mahbubani, appeared in today’s Financial Times under the headline “The West is Strategically Wrong on Georgia.” Mahbubani, who notes the hypocrisy of U.S. outrage (and how it appears to publics in Latin America and the Islamic world, in particular) over Russian actions, is particularly succinct about the strategic choices faced by the U.S. and the West at this juncture and argues for a fundamental strategic reassessment based on an understanding that the West can no longer “dictate terms” to the rest of the world as it has assumed it could do since the end of the Cold War. In fact, he argues, both the U.S. and the West have become terribly isolated from what the Bush administration loves to call “the international community.” His analysis of what strategic choices are now available to the West –it can afford only so many enemies and so should be much more discriminating in its choices — is particularly acute. Interestingly, Mahbubani, author of ‘The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East’ (2008), ends on a more optimistic note than Krugman (although I, presumably like Krugman, believe that nationalism in Asia is as likely to undermine the burgeoning “Pacific Century” as U.S. over-extension and arrogance have wreaked havoc with Bill Kristol’s and Bob Kagan’s cherished but chimerical “New American Century”.)

While the notion that the Georgia crisis takes us back to the end of the Cold War and the “return of history” has become a cliche among most of the commentariat (while some neo-cons predictably compare it to the Sudetenland, Munich and 1938), both columns see the present moment as signaling much deeper historical and even epochal challenges to U.S. and western hegemony in what is now, ever more clearly, a multipolar world that rejects Pax Americana. And, if U.S. leaders, actual and imminent, continue to insist on a hard line toward Russia, that rejection will very likely extend to Europe, as well. Indeed, western (or “old”) Europe, in particular, has some major strategic decisions of its own to make, having seen where its habitual deference to Washington has gotten it.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. Once again – brilliant. An eye-opener. In particular Mahbubani. It’s not so easy for Europeans to learn this lesson … Hopefully we are better prepared to learn it nevertheless.

    Europe will have to learn – gradually, step by step – to establish more distance to the USA; maybe, in the end, some neutrality concerning the conflicts of USA – Russia – China – India – Islamic World.

    I wonder whether we Europeans will have enough understanding to achieve the necessary unity in foreign politics.

  2. Neoconservatives favor strong U.S. support for Georgia against Russia over Ossetia. They also favor other U.S. policies that are sure to provoke Russia, especially NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia and the installation of ballistic missile defenses in Poland.


    My speculation: the neocons see a chance to further their pursuit of an American empire in the Mideast. A long-term U.S. confrontation with Russia will bolster U.S. public support for building up U.S. military forces. Those forces are then available for the Mideast adventures that the neocons want to pursue. Russia and the Caucasus states are useful tools in a larger neocon game directed at the eastern Arab world–Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia–plus Iran.

    Perhaps my suggestion is overly conspiratorial. But neoconservative motives for supporting a U.S. confrontation with Russia are not obvious and need explaining. A confrontation with Russia is profoundly against U.S. interests. The neocons surely know this. So what are they up to?

  3. Pat Buchanan has op-ed that which was right on the money.

    West only knows one strategy which is divide and conquer.
    Unfortunately West used up its Oil Reserves during the 20th century
    and now has to maintain its supremacy thru bullying and beleaguering.

    Europe can get the gas that is needs only from Russia or Iran using pipelines that
    go thru Caucasus which is in Russian purview. So it the Great Game all over.
    See history does repeat itself. It just that China and India are involved.

  4. Because US’ hypocrisy is apparent, it doesn’t by default excuse Russia’s actions in Georgia. Russia had been gearing up for an invasion of Georgia for some time: where did that overwhelming mass, some say close to 100 000 military, come from? It is not simple to build up such a force, nor to keep it in a battle-ready mode. Some months ago the Russians started repairing the So. Ossetian railway, and importing “railway workers”. So. Ossetia started evacuating its children to Russia. The previous low-level bombing of Georgian villages intensified. The Georgians were left with few options.

    Is the world returning to the “spheres of influence” mode, where small countries exist only at the good will of the larger ones? Are the smaller countries not permitted to choose whose “sphere of influence” they want to belong to?

    The Russian propaganda machine is working overtime. Here’s the latest example from the Moscow Times, wherein the Russian military said in a statement distributed by the Kremlin that the Georgians are preparing a “mass provocation using corpses to create an impression of deaths among civilians”.(!) And that “work is being done to the bodies as if to provide documentary evidence of the existence of victims among the civilian population”.

    Perhaps the US should take note and dress those Afgan children it recently bombed to look like little binLadens. The world has gone nuts.

  5. Kassandra,

    You may be partially right about Russia, but if you really want to see first-class propaganda, look no further than US and UK. This was simply absurd. Saakashvili made a statement almost every day which was happily reprinted by all MSM, without any verification. Examples: the Russians are bombing Tbilisi, killing and pillaging, etc etc etc. Most of them turned out to be false, the next day, but apparently nobody bothered to print a retraction – the damage was already done and that’s what they were going for.

    The proportion of quotes and views given to the Georgian side was on the order of 80-90%. The Russian side was afforded almost no quotes.

    The fact that no matter how you slice it Georgian forces did, in fact, kill a lot of people was either not mentioned or glossed over in articles. The propaganda machine working was consistently projecting it as a conflict with only one aggressor – Russia and one “savior” – America. Newspapers were filled with cartoons depicting bears in various states of anger.

    This was both from the “liberal” (NYT) and “conservative” media. Seems like when it comes to Russia, they’re united in their hatred and desire to help the administration cast it as the enemy. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad and so many people didn’t actually buy this.

    The situation was quite different in Europe. I happen to read French and I was impressed by how much more balanced French editorials and reports were. Saakashvili was not granted monopoly on interviews and they even included plenty of images of South Ossetian refugees.

    In other words, Russia has a long way to go to match the US/British propaganda machine.

Comments are closed.