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.

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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. Kassandra–

    The ethics of the Georgia-Russia conflict matter. But on which side lies justice? On the one hand, the Georgian people should be free to determine their affairs, free of Russian control. On the other hand, the South Ossetian people should have some right to self-determination as well.

    The U.S. press has omitted to discuss this second issue. The media rarely mentions the wishes of the people of South Ossetia. It also omits their prospects of fair treatment at the hands of the Georgian majority if they are reincorporated into Georgia. I think their prospects of fair treatment are very poor. Georgian discourse about the South Ossetians is generally contemptuous, and the South Ossetians can expect to be treated harshly if Georgia brings them back into its fold. This should weigh in our thinking about what solution to this crisis is just.

    Peter is right, discussion of the Georgia-Russia-Ossetia conflict in the U.S. press is markely one-sided and incomplete. It reflects the shaping influence of the Georgia lobby in Washington, which is very well-oiled.

  2. Yes, both articles you cite were thought-provoking. Krugman’s, though interesting, was considerably less sophisticated than Mahbubani’s.

    No question the U.S. is overstretched; some of us have been saying so since the the Clinton administration decided to go into the Balkans. I wonder though if Western primacy in the world really is coming to an end. We may be witnessing an episode rather than an actual trend. If we reject the neocon view of the world (say, under an Obama presidency) the wounds probably can be healed.

    Both Russia and China have very rickety social and state structures – ditto for the nations of the Islamic world. It is by no means clear that these states can hold themselves together, much less wax greater than they are now. Huntington quoted somebody in his book – was it Lee Kuan Yew? – to the effect that the US and the EU, if united, could dictate terms to the rest of the world. That probably still holds true.

    Not that I’m advocating such a course! The US desperately needs to retract its worldwide presence. The nation is being weakened by our spending too much effort and money abroad, while pressing problems here at home are neglected.

    Personally, I’m very worried by McCain’s “We are all Georgians” remark. This election will tell us a great deal. If McCain is elected, we should expect to see the U.S. learn some hard lessons over the next four years.
    We may need to sink lower before we can begin to come up again.

  3. Did President Buh reprimand Vladimir Putin for invading Georgia because he wants to keep the right to invade other countries a US monopoly?
    Shouldn’t the US learn from the debacles of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq that if they want to invade another country successfully they shouldn’t pick on any that is any bigger then Panama,Granada or Haiti.

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