was a day when history turned. On August 2, 1990, Iraq used the opportunity of American success in the Cold War to launch an invasion of a sovereign, recognized, and important country: Kuwait. On September 11, 2001, al Qaeda used the opportunity of the American-led extinction of interstate war to launch a direct territorial attack on the United States. And on August 8, 2008, Russia used the opportunity of apparent American success in Iraq to launch an invasion of a sovereign, recognized, and important country: Georgia.
In Vladimir Putin, we have Saddam Hussein with nuclear weapons.
The Long War against al Qaeda will continue after 8/8/08, just as America still led mop-up operations against communism after 8/2/90. Still, the world has changed. Russia’s invasion of Georgia opens the door to a world much more violent than aynthing we have seen in a generation. Interstate war, that nightmare of history that has been with us since the formation of strong stages, may be back as a tool of diplomacy between neighbors in important places.
There are many implications of this new time. After 8/2/80, men of goodwill naturally cheered the death of Iraqi soldiers in battle (as it weakened our enemy. After 9/11/01, we naturally were hopeful after every airstrike killed an al Qaeda operative. After 8/8, we must similarly smile everytime a Russian soldier dies, whether from a Georgian surface-to-air missile, a Chechen explosion, or a submarine accident. Obviously, we regret that this time of death has come. But the choice is Vladimir Putin’s. And the alternative is much worse.
Everything does not change overnight. For both better and worse, 8/8/08 does not have the emotional chock of 9/11/01. This allows us to finish up business in Afghanistan-Pakistan, without the smarminess that characterized our post-8/2/90 mop-up operations after 9/11/01. Occasionally we will have opportunities to do both at once, as the Iraq War both destroyed the Saddam regime that launched the 8/2/90 invasion and send feedback after 9/11.
An example of this might be separating the militant Islamists of central Asia from al Qaeda’s anti-Americanism. In southern Afghanistan and north-west Pakistan, this may come from co-opting the Taliban in the way that we co-opted Anbar’s tribes in the “Surge.” In Chechnya, this may be from working with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s ISI in arming mujaheddin. In China, this may mean stepping-up cooperating with China against the Turkestan Islamic Party, making Russia a more attractive target for Jihad than a Core country like the People’s Republic.
It’s wrong to say that “everything changed” on 8/8. But certainly priorities changed. Realities changed.
And the proper understanding of Vladimir Putin changed. By attempting to overthrow the peaceful global order, he is not merely a mafia captain, but rather a revolutionary chieftain. A Saddam Hussein with nukes.
I wonder how long it will be before Maria and Yekaterina meet Uday and Qusay?