How serious is the Russian invasion of Georgia?

It strikes me as obvious that the Russian invasion of Georgia is far more serious than, say, Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb. I’d be happy to give Iran nuclear weapons in exchange for Iranian on-the-ground assistance in building up anti-Russian militias and political parties, for example.

Still, how do we prioritize containing Russia, now that it’s reverted to its invade-neighbors strategy of territorial growth? Is accelerating the decline of Russia more important than winning the Pakistani civil war? Defeating al Qaeda?

While Iranian-backed anti-Russian death squads are fanciful, covertly arming the Islamists in Chechnya is not. So where do we draw the line?

23 thoughts on “How serious is the Russian invasion of Georgia?”

  1. Pakistan is a far more serious situation mainly because we run the risk of nukes failing into the hands on non-deterrables such as the Taliban. In a worst case scenario Russia would be deterrable if we drew clear red lines (i.e. if we had admitted Georgia into NATO this would not have happened).

    “Defeating Al Qaeda” is probably not possible, (i.e. they’ll never go away, just be degraded until they become a fashionable campus cause no more or less dangerous than other anti-globalization wackos) but it is important that we deny them states from which to operate and access to nuclear and biological weapons. Again, they would be non-deterrable.

    So Russia comes after both of those situation in importance, but containing Russia can be designed with stategic side effects that help us with in other ways.

    In order to contain Russia we should aim for:

    #1. Reproachment with Iran. This would have been most useful to us in the run up to the war in Iraq, but better late than never. A truly Nixonian foreign policy for the U.S. would have us give a wink and nod to Iranian strategic nuclear ambiguity as a way to push the Russians out of Iran. Now picture something, imagine a President (be it Bush, Obama, McCain, whoever) suddenly sent an emissary to Iran. Imagine what happens in Moscow when they see Henry Kissinger, James Baker and/or fmr. President Bush and Clinton get off a plane in Tehran.

    #2. A closer relationship with China. The last time the Russians went tear-assing around invading countries (the Brezhnev Doctrine) it pushed America and China into an economic partnership. This time it should push us into a military one.

  2. Mark
    I could be way off in and the author of the article you cited could be dead on. I don’t speak a word of Farsi so I could never claim to an expert on Iran. But I didn’t see anything in the article that makes me think the Iranians are more dangerous than Maoists era China and we eventually came to accept that situation.

    One downside of opening a formal relationship with Iran might be buttressing Ahemedinajad’s regime, but it might be worth it if we could gain their cooperation in A-Stan and scare the hell of the Ruskies.

  3. Brent

    Assume that the mullahs running Iraq are not religious wack jobs determined to exterminate the Little Satan and provoke the Great Satan into triggering the end of the world which will bring back the Hidden Imam. Assume that they are just a bunch of kleptocratic thugs that just want to stay in power.

    What can we offer them for their cooperation? They know that the US is an unreliable ally. Every election cycle they face the risk that somebody like Jimmy Carter might get elected who will throw them over the side like the Shah. The Russians are much more predictable allies. Besides which, Russia and Iran share the twin goals of raising oil prices as high as possible and screwing with the United States.

    I believe that the way to deal with both Russia and Iran is to make oil less valuable.

  4. yarrrrr,

    The violence appears to have begun when S. Ossettian (Russian client) forces destroyed a Georgian BMP-2. Russia then responded to Georgian self-defense by invading Georgian territory with even more soldiers, as well as attacking a Georgian port, destroying Georgian apartment buildings [2], and so on.

    What I take as your essential point, that Russian forces were violating Georgia’s territorial integrity even before this round of fighting, is of course correct.

    Brent,

    Agreed on advantages with both Iran and China. Iran has not invaded any neighbors, though their specops forces have been able to hurt or help us depending on how bargaining with the regime is going. (The relationship with China is obviously better than that.) Compared with Russia, which is instigating interstate war, Iran is a much better regime to deal with.

    Mark in Texas,

    Making oil less valuable is a worthwhile goal. We certainly should pursue it. [3]

    That said, Russia is able to push back against our efforts by encouraging the Iranians to be intransigent in our confrontational dealings with Tehran. If our relationship with the Islamic Republic was not so acrimonious, there would be less room for Russia to maneuver.

    [1] http://catholicgauze.blogspot.com/2008/08/russia-and-georgia-go-to-war-over-south.html
    [2] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/08/09/russias-campaign-of-state-terror.html
    [3] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2005/04/01/a-modest-geogreen-gas-tax-proposal-5gal-gas.html

  5. Mark

    No argument that in the long term America’s best national security strategy is to pursue some combination of a nuclear/solar/bio-fuel/hydrogen/whatever future.

    In the short term, possible carrots might include: Supporting Iran’s entry into the WTO, guaranteeing not to attack/invade (even though we accept their status as an undeclared nuclear power) and offering them access to American technology for oil exploration.

  6. I think it is unlikely that we can reach any useful understanding with Iran. Furthermore, Iran is in bed with Russia – why should they want to help us against their friends?

    We cannot know if the Iranian leadership is serious about their apocalyptic views, but we also cannot take the chance that they might be. Iranian behavior has so far matched their rhetoric. They are trying to acquire nukes, working on increasing the range of their IRBM’s and developing ICBMs. They support terrorist groups with a history of attacking Americans, killing hundreds, and are directly fighting with us in Iraq, and have even helped Al Qaeda – despite religious differences.

    Russia, at least, is deterrable. We know that Putin doesn’t want a flaming end to the world, just money and power. That makes him more predictable and hence less dangerous. Russia is going to cause us a lot of trouble, as they view us as an enemy and will work to weaken us. But they aren’t crazy enough to directly attack us.

    Iran has already attacked us overseas, helped those who attacked us in our homeland, and shows no indication that they won’t do more if they gain more power.

    it’s too late to stop Russia from getting nukes. It is not yet too late for Iran. Not yet.

    It isn’t a matter of Iran or Russia. Both are dangerous in different ways, and both are clearly enemies of the US.

  7. Brent,

    I agree with everything you said.

    John,

    Furthermore, Iran is in bed with Russia – why should they want to help us against their friends?

    To expand their influence, improve their economy, and protect their security.

    We cannot know if the Iranian leadership is serious about their apocalyptic views, but we also cannot take the chance that they might be.

    If you are serious about this view, the only rational course of action is a massive nuclear bombing campaign to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in whole.

    I know you’re not, though.

    Certainly as we look at Iran’s foreign policy orientation, the military and the Supreme Leader are problem the ones to focus on: not an elected leader in a sham election who reports to the latter and has little control over the former.

    even helped Al Qaeda – despite religious differences.

    What is your evidence of this?

    Certainly Iran has not turned over the al Qaeda terrorists we have arrested — as we have not turned over the People’s Mujahideen we have arrested.

    it’s too late to stop Russia from getting nukes. It is not yet too late for Iran. Not yet.

    Nuclear weapons are a defensive, not an offensive, weapon. Focusing on them as opposed to a regime’s fit with the wider global order is dangerous.

    Iran has been a part of the Russia-Iran-India axis in central asia. With the nuclear deal that Bush negotiated, India certainly appears to be swinging over to our column. It’d be far better for India — and US — if we could bring along Iran too.

  8. Improved relations between India and the US have more to do with the changing situation in India although it required that the US administration recognize this change. It is kind of like when Nixon went to China. Those diplomatic moves might not have worked quite as well if China were not engaged in a shooting war with the Soviet Union along their Siberian border at the time.

    I simply don’t see any change that makes the US look like a more attractive ally to the Iranian mullahs than Russia.

    Yes it would be good if we could return to the pre-Carter administration situation where Iran was a US ally who opposed the Soviet Union and kept the security of the Persian Gulf region. It would be good if we had some of those solar technologies you have linked to already in commercial production. It would be good if I had six pack abs. None of those things is true right now.

  9. Mark,

    I simply don’t see any change that makes the US look like a more attractive ally to the Iranian mullahs than Russia.

    Several reasons have been given to you. You haven’t addressed any of them.

  10. Staying in power is the top priority for the Iranian mullahs. The lifelong pursuit of Pinochet through the European courts as well as the arrest of Milosovic and Karadich demonstrate that there is no good way for them to ever relinquish power. Improving their economy, while nice and probably within their top ten priorities since it would reduce the effort required to keep a lid on the population comes a long way behind. Since the examples of Antonio Somoza, their own Shah and of course, the Republic of Vietnam demonstrate that American support is fickle, we cannot offer them anything worth turning against the Russians.

    Giving the Iranian mullahs what they want in their local diplomatic sphere would inherently be a betrayal of Iraq. So by making that part of an offer to Iran we would be implicitly demonstrating our unsuitability as allies.

    So to sum it up, we cannot credibly offer the Iranian mullahs what they want, which is to stay in power at home and to expand their power over the Persian Gulf. If we throw away the lives and treasure expended in Iraq they way we abandoned Vietnam, the mullahs will have the expanded influence they want but given the nature of the American political system, we can never offer them credible help to stay in power. The Russian can credibly offer that. So can the Chinese, for that matter, but the Russians share a border.

    All other considerations are a distant second.

  11. Mark in Texas,

    You outline the dangers of Iran integrating itself into a center-left association of Spanish speaking countries. Such a fate is unlikely for Iran.

    Giving the Iranian mullahs what they want in their local diplomatic sphere would inherently be a betrayal of Iraq. So by making that part of an offer to Iran we would be implicitly demonstrating our unsuitability as allies.

    Considering that the largest Iraqi political parties (Dawa, SIIC, KDP, and PUK) have been clients of Iran longer than the US, allowing them to be clients of both without Iranian-US conflict is hardly a betrayal!

    So to sum it up, we cannot credibly offer the Iranian mullahs what they want, which is to stay in power at home and to expand their power over the Persian Gulf. If we throw away the lives and treasure expended in Iraq they way we abandoned Vietnam

    This makes no sense. This is like claiming we “betrayed Japan,” bcause the post-War Japanese government ended the early (1945-1950) ‘Revolution from Above’ development strategy.

    The Russian can credibly offer that. So can the Chinese, for that matter, but the Russians share a border.

    Eh?

    Besides being geographically suspect, this claim ignores the 100k+ troops on two countries which actually do share a border with Iran, not to mention larger and potentially hostile American Naval and Air assets in the region.

  12. I wrote:

    We cannot know if the Iranian leadership is serious about their apocalyptic views, but we also cannot take the chance that they might be.

    tdaxp wrote:

    If you are serious about this view, the only rational course of action is a massive nuclear bombing campaign to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure in whole.

    I know you’re not, though.

    Certainly as we look at Iran’s foreign policy orientation, the military and the Supreme Leader are problem the ones to focus on: not an elected leader in a sham election who reports to the latter and has little control over the former.

    I am serious about that, but doubt that a “massive nuclear bombing” campaign is necessary. Bombing, yes. Nuclear? Unnecessary.

    Furthermore, contrary to your assertion, the “elected leader” is not a puppet – he has a substantial independent power base – loyal to him – in the Revolutionary Guard and the Quds Force.

    Also, he is not the only one throwing around nut-case ideas: his” bosses,” the top two Ayatollahs (the Supreme Leader and his #2, Rafsanjani) have both made similar statements.

    Remember, it is the Islamic Republic of Iran.

    Although we would like to treat foreign countries as rational players, that is not always possible. History is replete with leaders and countries starting wars that were not in the rational self interest. To complicate things further, appearing irrational is a useful strategy (practiced by Reagan per US MAD doctrine, for example).

    So are the Iranian’s pretending or are they serious about their willingness to create an apocalypse? There is enough evidence for the latter that we cannot take a chance.

    If Iran is not rational, they need only the ability to launch one primitive nuclear weapon above our country in order to do vast damage (EMP), or to have one of their terrorist proxies set it off in, say, downtown Manhattan.

    Iran is probably the least rational of the potential nuclear powers at this time. Russia appears to be far more rational.

  13. Cute, Dan. No, what I am pointing out is that the option that persuaded Baby Doc Duvalier, Ferdinand Marcos and Augustino Pinochet to leave power without enormous bloodshed i.e. the option of living out their lives in retirement unmolested and free to enjoy their ill gotten wealth, is no longer available. With the International Criminal Court now regularizing the function that was previously performed by rogue Spanish prosecutors, dictators now must fight to the last cartridge, or at least until they are winkled out of their spider holes.

    Any agreement that the Iranian Mullahs are likely to find acceptable is unlikely to include 100k + American troops on two of their borders.

    And the goal of an Arab democracy or even an Iraq that is not hostile to the US seems unlikely if Iran is allowed to dominate Iraq as would seem to be a basic requirement of an agreement with the Iranian Mullahs. I find it hard to see that as anything other than a betrayal of the Iraqis who trusted us and of the Americans who sacrificed their lives, limbs and service in Iraq. This seems to me to be a significantly more important moral issue than whether or not Russia gets to keep South Ossetia.

  14. John Moore,

    Furthermore, contrary to your assertion, the “elected leader” is not a puppet – he has a substantial independent power base – loyal to him – in the Revolutionary Guard and the Quds Force.

    Certainly one can assert that President Ahmadinejad has managed to unseat the Ayatollahs as, say, the effectice commander-in-chief of the Islamic Republic. I don’t know how you would support this claim, though.

    Although we would like to treat foreign countries as rational players, that is not always possible. History is replete with leaders and countries starting wars that were not in the rational self interest.

    So are you arguing such behavior is usual, or not?

    To complicate things further, appearing irrational is a useful strategy (practiced by Reagan per US MAD doctrine, for example).

    This argues for the importance of not being taken by such appearences.

    So are the Iranian’s pretending or are they serious about their willingness to create an apocalypse? There is enough evidence for the latter that we cannot take a chance.

    Is there any more evidence for this than, say, that the Israelis are about to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians out of Israeli controlled territories?

    If Iran is not rational, they need only the ability to launch one primitive nuclear weapon above our country in order to do vast damage (EMP), or to have one of their terrorist proxies set it off in, say, downtown Manhattan.

    Perhaps, though I’m not sure how many irrational 29 year old regimes survive to till 30th birthday. Nor how many of those regimes radicalize over time.

    Mark in Texas,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I’m confused why you think that encouraging the leadership of the Islamic Republic to give up power is a good idea. We did not do that with China, another authoritarian nut that’s hard to crack.

    Any agreement that the Iranian Mullahs are likely to find acceptable is unlikely to include 100k + American troops on two of their borders.

    Quite true. Again, however, as we largely have the same client-base in the area, switching support for their anti-Qaeda/nti-Taliban efforts from Washington to Tehran would be relatively smooth.

    And the goal of an Arab democracy or even an Iraq that is not hostile to the US seems unlikely if Iran is allowed to dominate Iraq as would seem to be a basic requirement of an agreement with the Iranian Mullahs.

    Certainly not if we insist on being hostile to Iran, and keeping Iran hostile to us.

    I find it hard to see that as anything other than a betrayal of the Iraqis who trusted us and of the Americans who sacrificed their lives, limbs and service in Iraq.

    Why?

    This seems to me to be a significantly more important moral issue than whether or not Russia gets to keep South Ossetia.

    Clearly when one works up from the individual level of analysis, it’s hard to see war as anything other than systemized murder.

    Working down, however, we have in Russia a use of interstate conventional war as a tool of diplomacy: a bad behavior that Iran is not expressing.

  15. I’ll assume that I was unclear in stating my position rather than assuming the less charitable view that you are just screwing with me for your own entertainment.

    The primary concern of the Iranian mullahs is to stay in power. Part of how they do this is by the alliances that they make. If they make alliances with nations like Russia or China which do not care what the mullahs do to the Iranian people they can pretty much depend on those alliances as long as the interests of Russia or China are satisfied. If the mullahs find themselves in a position where their continuing in power depends on an alliance with the United States rather than Russia or China, their position is much more precarious. The administration can change every four years. The majority in Congress can change every two years. Many of the prominent players in US politics do not seem to have much idea of what constitutes American interests or much sympathy for those interests so there is not even that level of stability.

    It is not that we would require the mullahs to leave power (the way we did for Pervez Musharef) that would be a problem for them. It is that we are too unreliable an ally for them to place their fate in our hands.

    When so much of this website includes discussions of 5th generation warfare where the losers don’t even realize that they have been in a war, the contention that war is nothing more than systematized murder seems bizarre.

    Iran has been involved in an asymmetrical war against the United States for almost three decades. They have captured and blown up American embassies. They have kidnapped and murdered American officials in Lebanon and Iraq. They have fielded, supplied and directed insurgents in Iraq who have killed a significant number of Americans. My judgment is that Iranian bad behavior towards the US has been worse than anything the Russians have done towards us since they became a nation in 1992.

    Every American administration has made overtures to the Iranians since 1989 but all of those overtures have been rebuffed. Since the embarrassment of Robert McFarlane and his key shaped cake, the overtures have been somewhat more reserved, but the end result has always been the same. The Iranians don’t want to play with us. For whatever reasons they have, rational or irrational, the Iranians don’t want better relations with the United States. I wish it were otherwise but I do not think that is going to change any time soon.

    Yes, I agree it makes our life harder than if things were not as they are.

  16. Mark in Texas,

    Thanks for the reply. Josh SN has added his own thoughts. [1]

    The primary concern of the Iranian mullahs is to stay in power. Part of how they do this is by the alliances that they make. If they make alliances with nations like Russia or China which do not care what the mullahs do to the Iranian people they can pretty much depend on those alliances as long as the interests of Russia or China are satisfied. If the mullahs find themselves in a position where their continuing in power depends on an alliance with the United States rather than Russia or China, their position is much more precarious

    What’s being said here is that it’s dangerous for any regime to be so weak that its existence to depend on the good will of another. That is certainly true. You then outline the particular ways in which its dangerous for a weak government to be a US client. This is true. There are other particular ways that it’s dangerous to depend on Russian, or Chinese, good will.

    When so much of this website includes discussions of 5th generation warfare where the losers don’t even realize that they have been in a war, the contention that war is nothing more than systematized murder seems bizarre.

    Why bizarre? That a group may not realize it’s been victimized doesn’t mean that some pawns aren’t dead.

    Iran has been involved in an asymmetrical war against the United States for almost three decades. They have captured and blown up American embassies. They have kidnapped and murdered American officials in Lebanon and Iraq. They have fielded, supplied and directed insurgents in Iraq who have killed a significant number of Americans. My judgment is that Iranian bad behavior towards the US has been worse than anything the Russians have done towards us since they became a nation in 1992.

    Ending symetrical threats does not seem possible now. Indeed, as they by definition attack where one is strong and the other is weak, they are perhaps the hardest form of war to eliminate.

    Interstate war, by contrast, had been virtually extinguished until now. Putin decided to bring it back. This is worse than anything Iran has done.

    Every American administration has made overtures to the Iranians since 1989 but all of those overtures have been rebuffed. Since the embarrassment of Robert McFarlane and his key shaped cake, the overtures have been somewhat more reserved, but the end result has always been the same. The Iranians don’t want to play with us. For whatever reasons they have, rational or irrational, the Iranians don’t want better relations with the United States. I wish it were otherwise but I do not think that is going to change any time soon.

    You would likewise say the same thing about the present administration?

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/08/10/iran-starting-to-back-georgia.html#comment-119209

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