Georgia, Russia, and the Question of the Good Guys

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Joe has a good point about the strange deja vu that accompanies the spectacle of Iraq war supporters rattle their sabers against Russia. Andrew Sullivan points out what’s different this time:

I’m struck by how Iraq still casts a shadow. On what grounds, after all, does the Bush administration condemn Russia? Launching a war without UN permission? Er … it’s not that easy for the US to go all high-minded at this point. How strong is the NATO alliance in reacting to this kind of provocation? Immeasurably weakened by the past seven years. Why is Russia so much more powerful than it was? Putin’s political skills and oil – whose value has sky-rocketed since the US invasion of the Middle East.

Georgia, alas, is within Russia’s traditional field of influence, and was provoking the kind of massive over-reaction they’re now getting.

To that last point, Glenn Greenwald directs us to a sober corrective to the idea that this is all Russia’s fault:

The emerging narrative, echoing across editorial pages and on television news programs in the US, portrays Georgia as an embattled, pro-Western country struggling to secure its borders against a belligerent Russia. Since coming to power in a bloodless revolution in late 2003, Saakashvili has certainly steered a clear course toward the West.

Russia must be condemned for its unsanctioned intervention. But the war began as an ill-considered move by Georgia to retake South Ossetia by force. Saakashvili’s larger goal was to lead his country into war as a form of calculated self-sacrifice, hoping that Russia’s predictable overreaction would convince the West of exactly the narrative that many commentators have now taken up.

This first person account certainly turns the narrative of the nasty Russians versus the noble Saakashvili upside down:

“We’re ready to defend. They say that [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili wants revenge. Today they killed my neighbor Yanik and his father. He’s left behind two children, a daughter and son, one and four years of age. I’ve found only 6 men from my platoon! The others are gone…. The Georgians are very inhumane. Today I saw them drive by and shoot a child in the chest. A father and child died from tank fire. They burned in the car. Only the mother survived. She was pulling her hair out, asking why she survived.”

UPDATE: Just to be clear, I’m not arguing that the Russians are the good guys. I’m just leery of anything Bill Kristol is for. Stringer is probably right that there are no good guys. Sometimes that’s true, which makes foreign policy harder than people who think in terms of “good” and “evil” believe it should be.