You can see the extremely bellicose statements of Vice President Cheney and Sen. McCain (soul mates on this issue) on the conflict in Georgia. And a number of Democratic-affiliated foreign policy hands are roughly on the same side of this issue, if not quite as utterly nuts and eager to get into a war with Russia as Cheney and McCain.

But let me briefly (I hope to come back to this later today) register my deep skepticism about a great deal of the coverage we’re seeing about what’s happening. We’re hearing analogies to Czechoslovakia and Kuwait (which was of course supposed itself to be a latter-day Czechoslovakia) and many other charged incidents of the past. But this strikes me as a lot of crap.

To the best of my understanding, the separatism in these ‘breakaway’ regions of Georgia is not something ginned up by Russia, though certainly they’ve exploited it in their effort to either reclaim or dominate parts of what was the Soviet Union. And the Georgians themselves triggered this crisis, however ‘disproportionate’ the Russian response may be.

This is a vexed part of the globe we’re talking about, with a host of overlapping ethnic and separatist conflicts that can make the difficulties of Kosovo and the Palestinian territories seem tractable by comparison. As the standard line goes, my point is not to justify Russian actions. And I should be clear that I have not researched the details of this conflict nearly as deeply as I would now like to. But we should be clear that there are small state actors in the region (Georgia being one of them) interested in making high stakes gambles vis a vis the Russians and they are trying to do it on our dime — that is, both literally on our dime but more importantly by trying to involve us militarily in their defense.

Meanwhile, there are players (largely, though not perfectly, overlapping with the folks who got us into Iraq) in the US who want to use this period of relative (though diminishing) Russian weakness to push American security guarantees (primarily NATO) not just to the borders of the old Soviet Union (which we’ve largely already done) but actually within the borders of the old Soviet Union (which we’ve begun to do in the Baltics). John McCain has been a supporter of inducting Georgia into NATO. And it is worth noting that had we done that we would currently be in effect in a state of war with Russia since we would be obligated to see the treat the attack on Georgia as an attack on us. Indeed, McCain is saying now we should move ahead quickly and bring them into NATO.

It’s worth asking McCain whether he thinks we should be sending American troops into Georgia because in the current circumstances the two moves are close to synonymous.

As I said, there are many complexities to this current situation. And the Russians have a crass and brutal way of expressing their pretensions to regional hegemony. But we need to think closely and carefully just whose defense we’re signing on to and whose risk-taking behavior we’re underwriting.

As I said, do you want to go to war with Russia over Georgia? John McCain, and unfortunately quite a few others, seem to be saying yes, they do. The hawks will say that the example set in Georgia will foreshadow that to be applied in Eastern Europe. But that’s a highly, highly questionable leap. We’re in the midst of being led very far astray.

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