A Warmongering Version of Portugal

Yglessias’ hit piece on Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili is the same faddish blame-America’s-friend-first gargabe manages to be less balanced than Kos, but his post on Russia’s capacity is top-notch:

Via Robert Farley, Charlie Whitaker makes the important and too-often-neglected point that notwithstanding Russia’s evident ability to kick around a tiny country that borders it, present-day Russia is really a poor man’s peer-competitor:

Now that we can measure it,* we find that Russia’s GDP is approximately equal to that of Portugal (which is not to knock Portugal). Much of Russia’s wealth comes from resource extraction: in other words, Russia is not making stuff. Is it thinking stuff instead? Well, is there a nascent biotech or semiconductor industry in Russia today? (Or is there maybe some other, more esoteric kind of activity that hasn’t yet permeated popular consciousness?) How are Russian universities doing?

Russia is fairly populous, although no one would call it densely populated. However, its population is shrinking; in part, because it is not a healthy country.

Long story short, the whole “Russia’s Back!” narrative needs to be kept in perspective. There’s a lot of demand out there for “new cold war” scenarios featuring Russia or China or maybe both, but fundamentally that kind of talk is out of step with reality.

Matthew Yglesias » Russia’s Weak Fundamentals.

Indeed. Putin isn’t a new Stalin, or even a new Brezhnev. His country is much to weak for that analogy to hold. Putin’s a Saddam with nuclear weapons, a dangerous criminal whose power must be taken from him.

The Russian War

Robert Kagan, on the Russian War:

Historians will come to view Aug. 8, 2008, as a turning point no less significant than Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. Russia’s attack on sovereign Georgian territory marked the official return of history, indeed to an almost 19th-century style of great-power competition, complete with virulent nationalisms, battles for resources, struggles over spheres of influence and territory, and even — though it shocks our 21st-century sensibilities — the use of military power to obtain geopolitical objectives. Yes, we will continue to have globalization, economic interdependence, the European Union and other efforts to build a more perfect international order. But these will compete with and at times be overwhelmed by the harsh realities of international life that have endured since time immemorial. The next president had better be ready.

Robert Kagan – Putin Makes His Move – washingtonpost.com.

More is available from Dean Barnett, John McCormack, Jamie Sneider

While Kagan sees the Russia’s invasion of Georgia as similar to the fall of the Berlin Wall (in that it alters the enter political system), and I saw it as a re-run of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait

The war continues. Russia’s split Georgia in half, after seizing the Georgian city of Gori.

We should stand-up for Georgia, now. At a minimum, we should give a security guarantee to Ukraine, another country that Russia has revanchist claims toward. We should encourage Ukraine to sink the Black Sea Fleet if it attempts to occupy Ukrainian waters, and we should assist in destroying any Russian military equipment that are currently in Georgian territory.