Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Monday, August 11, 2008

Russia And Georgia

I don't have anything truly profound to say on the issue, so I'll keep it short. While others have made good points about balancing the needs of the War on Terror with the ideals of democratization and self-determination, the bottom line seems simple to me. I'm perfectly willing to accept that Georgia was foolish to invade the disputed area in the first place. They probably should have anticipated that the presence of Russian peacekeepers would be a convenient excuse for Putin. But the fact remains that Georgia is a weak ally (in terms of their resources, not their commitment), while Russia is a strong sometimes ally/often rival. Georgia has 2,000 troops in Iraq, currently the second strongest commitment of any US ally. Given that their total active military strength is 28,666 people, that puts almost 7% of their armed forces in Iraq. That turns what would otherwise appear to be a respectable commitment into an almost superhuman one. They also offered up to 500 troops for Afghanistan earlier this year. For purposes of comparison, the UK, one of our strongest and most capable allies, has around 8,500 troops in Afghanistan and approximately 4,000 in Iraq, for a total commitment of 12,500 out of their 196,000 active-duty forces, about 6.4%.

So, to recap, Georgia is a Democratic US ally, who currently has troops putting their lives on the line to assist the US in a conflict that only peripherally affects them. Now they are engaged in what could become an existential conflict for them (Though I'd say this is unlikely. Far more likely is that Russia's design is to humiliate them and make it clear that they remain under the sway of the Russian Federation no matter what borders are recognized by the international community.). Is the moral calculus really all that difficult? Isn't one of the arguments for remaining in Iraq the idea that the US is harmed every time the world sees us as unwilling to stand by an ally?

On top of that, the practical calculus doesn't seem much harder. Russia will continue to work with us when it suits them, and oppose us, either actively or behind the scenes, when it does not. Why should we believe that allowing them to slap around a more faithful ally will convince them that working with us more often is beneficial to them?