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If Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin were president of the United States, would Iran try to build a nuclear bomb? Would Pakistan provide covert aid to al-Qaeda? Would Hugo Chavez train terrorists in Venezuela? Would leftover nationalities with delusions of grandeur provoke the great powers? Just ask Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili, who now wishes he never tried to put his 4 million countrymen into strategic play.
In January I urged Americans to draft the Russian leader to succeed George W. Bush (Putin for president of the United States, January 8, 2008). Putin’s swift and decisive action in Georgia reflects precisely the sort of decisiveness that America requires.
Thanks to Putin, the world has become a much safer place. By intervening in Georgia, Russia has demonstrated that the great powers of the world have nothing to fight about. Russia has wiped the floor with a putative US ally, and apart from a bad case of cream pie on the face, America has lost nothing. The United States and the European community will do nothing to help Georgia, and nothing of substance to penalize the Russian Federation.
Contrary to the hyperventilation of policy analysts on American news shows, the West has no vital interests in Georgia. It would be convenient from Washington’s vantage point for oil to flow from the Caspian Sea via Georgia to the Black Sea, to be sure, but nothing that occurs in Georgia will have a measurable impact on American energy security. It is humiliating for the US to watch the Russians thrash a prospective ally, but not harmful, for Georgia never should have been an ally in the first place.
The lack of consequences of Russia’s incursion is a noteworthy fact, for never before in the history of the world has the world’s economic and military power resided in countries whose fundamental interests do not conflict in any important way. The US enthused over Georgia’s ambitions to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and encouraged Saakashvili to overplay his hand. Once it became clear that Russia would not tolerate a NATO member on its southern border, however, Washington had nothing to say about the matter, because no fundamental American interests were at stake.
Washington looks all the sillier for its failure to anticipate a Russian action that Moscow signaled months in advance. After the US and its main European allies recognized the independence of Kosovo from Serbia in February 2008, Russia warned that this action set a precedent for other prospective secessions, notably South Ossetia.
There is no longer any reason to put up with the tantrums of long-redundant tribes. If 3.7 million ethnic Georgians have the right to break away from the 142 million population of the Russian Federation, why shouldn’t the 100,000 Ossetians living in Georgia break away and form their own state as well? Most of them have acquired Russian passports and want nothing to do with the Georgians. The Ossetians have spoken their variant of Persian for more than a millennium and had their own kingdom during the Middle Ages.
If the West is going to put itself at risk for 3.8 million ethnic Georgians, roughly the population of Los Angeles, or 5.4 million Tibetans, or 2 million Albanian Muslims in Kosovo, why shouldn’t Russia take risks for the South Ossetians, not to mention the 100,000 Abkhaz speakers in Georgia’s secessionist Black Sea province? Once the infinite regress of ethnic logic gets into motion, there is no good reason not to pull the world apart like taffy.
Forget the Kosovo Albanians, the South Ossetians, the Abkhazians, Saakashvili and the Dalai Lama. These are relics of an older world that might deserve their own theme park, but not their own state. Precisely what are 3.8 million freedom-loving Georgians supposed to contribute to American strategic interests with its US$2 billion a year of exports consisting (according to the Central Intelligence Agency World Factbook) of “scrap metal, wine, mineral water, ores, vehicles, fruits and nuts”? Georgia’s hope was to lever its geographical position on the Russia border by making itself useful to the American military.
If it had not been for America’s insistence on installing a gang of trigger-happy pimps and drug-pushers in Kosovo, Russia might have responded less ferociously to the flea bites on its southern border. Make no mistake: the American-sponsored Kosovo regime is the dirtiest anywhere in postwar history. Writing in the Spiegel magazine website last April 24 , Walter Mayr described Kosovo as “a country ruled by corruption and organized crime.” For example, Mayr reports,
Ramush Haradinaj is a former KLA commander who later became prime minister of UN-administered Kosovo. His indictment in The Hague consisted of 37 charges, including murder, torture, rape and the expulsion of Serbs, Albanians and gypsies in the weeks following the end of the war in 1999. Carla Del Ponte, former chief prosecutor of the UN War Crimes Tribunal, called him a “gangster in uniform.” He returned to Kosovo this spring, after his acquittal on April 3. 
America’s wag-the-dog war against Serbia in 1999 over alleged ethnic cleansing of Muslim Albanians in Kosovo won the undeserved support of Republicans as well as Democrats, to the extent that too many people on all sides of Washington politics risked their reputation to admit that the whole business was a stupid mistake. Washington has simply dug itself in deeper, joined at the hip to a government less savory than any banana republic dictatorship that enjoyed American favor at the depths of the Cold War (See The inconvenient Serbs, Asia Times Online, April 17, 2007.)
America remains so committed to the myth of moderate Islam that it is prepared to invent it. Kosovo, like the Turkey of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, supposedly embodies a moderate, Sufi-derived brand of Islam that will foster an American partnership with the Muslim world. The US intelligence community knows perfectly well that the networks that traffic prostitutes through Albania into Italy and the rest of Europe also move narcotics, weapons and terrorists from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Grozny in Chechnya to Tirana in Albania and Pristina in Kosovo.
The Russians know better. As I wrote in my January 8 endorsement of Putin for president of the United States:
Putin understands how to exercise power. Unlike Iraq, the restive Muslim province of Chechnya now nestles comfortably in Putin’s palm, albeit with about half the people it had a decade ago. Russian troops killed between 35,000 and 100,000 civilians in the first Chechen war of 1994-96, and half a million were driven from their homes, totaling about half the population. But that is not what pacified Chechnya. Putin bribed and bullied Chechen clans to do Russia’s dirty work for it, showing himself a master at the game of divide-and-conquer. Working from a position of weakness, Russia’s president is the closest the modern world comes to the insidious strategic genius of a Cardinal Richelieu. That is the sort of strategic thinking America needs.
Half the world’s population now resides in the world’s three largest countries, namely China, India and the United States. These are not multi-ethnic, but rather supra-ethnic states, whose identity transcends tribe and nationality. There is no “clash of civilizations,” for Confucian, Hindu, American and Orthodox civilization cannot find grounds for a clash. As for the European community, its global ambitions succumbed to geriatric disease a generation ago.
The number of flashpoints for violence in the world has grown in inverse proportion to their importance. The world is full of undead tribes with delusions of grandeur, and soon-to-be-extinct peoples who rather would go out with a bang than a whimper. The supra-ethnic states of the world have a common interest in containing the mischief that might be made by the losers. China, which has an annoying terrorist problem in its Westernmost province, has plenty of reason to help suppress Muslim separatists.
Unfortunately, modern weapons technology makes it possible for a spoiler state to inflict a disproportionate amount of damage. China recognized this when it cooperated with the United States to defuse the North Korean nuclear problem. The most visible prospective spoiler in the pack remains Iran. If America wants to recover from its humiliation in the Caucasus, it might, for example, conduct an air raid against Iran’s nuclear facilities, and justify it with the same sort of reasoning that Russia invoked in Georgia. Contrary to surface impressions, Moscow wouldn’t mind a bit.
1. See The Slow Birth of a Nation Der Spiegel Online, April 24, 2008.