Richard Holbrooke and Ronald Asmus wrote a piece shifting all responsibility onto Russia. Make no mistake: they are not alone. But the original spur involved Georgian action taken in the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. That resulted in numerous dead, including Russian peacekeepers. Holbrooke and Asmus inexplicably paste this over, saying ‘exactly what happened in South Ossetia last week is unclear.' This is insincere: Georgia sought to reestablish the infamous ‘constitutional order.' Why would Georgia seek to reestablish an order it never established to begin with? The South Ossetian region has de facto run its own affairs for a decade.
Many say Russia wants regime change since Saakashvili is pro-Western. Does Russia love Saakashvili? Clearly not. But the US loved him because of his cool stance towards Moscow. The US encourages candidates that are pro-Western because they would interfere with Russian influence. I do not criticize this policy per se, but why is America ranting when Russia pursues the same policy in its own interests? Why should Russia not want friendly presidents along its borders? When Holbrooke writes that Russia wants a full-scale invasion this is irresponsible: the last thing Russia wants is to occupy Georgia. Only America views occupation as an effective strategy. Also, some truly insidious hyperbole is being used against Russia. US commentators and Saakashvili himself liken it to Nazi Germany. This is dangerous because it is false and makes Russia less cooperative.
Holbrooke and Asmus said that Georgia was responding to repeated recent attacks by South Ossetian separatists. This is exaggerated and under their own logic it still should not have justified killing innocent civilians and Russian peacekeepers. Saakashvili himself wrote to the Washington Post, positioning himself and his country as a shining beacon of democracy. Condoleezza Rice has supported this view. This is grossly ignorant: political and economic corruption plagues his regime and Georgia's democracy is unstable at best. The Georgian president obviously wants this conflict to become a Western issue. Russian intelligence figures are convinced Saakashvili wanted a strong response from Russia in order to play the Western card. Bush and Rice et al have taken this bait. We come across as too eager to portray Russia as a devil but cannot fathom Georgia being equally ready to deceive. Naïve.
Violence and killing is always the worst-case scenario. Let us not make this situation regress further by falsely characterizing it in distinct black-and-white terms. Continuing to do so only prolongs the violence and further pushes Russia away from the West. I know it is a strange concept to consider: the West is always worried about whether it can regard Russia as a real ally. The incidents in South Ossetia and the West's subsequent reaction to them vividly show why Russia is equally concerned with suspicions about us. The conflict in Georgia, something which has been building for years and not merely days, is clearly a deep and desperate shade of grey. We should recognize that fact and understand that transatlantic unity is not truly unity if it is just for the sake of isolating Russia. From what I can see, there are too many presently in Washington who want exactly that to happen.
Maj. Matthew Crosston, PhD is a specialist on National Security and a professor of International Studies and Political Science at the Virginia Military Institute.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Richard Holbrooke and Ronald D. Asmus: Only Transatlantic Unity Can Stop This War
- Marek Swierczynski: Russian Belligerence Will Strengthen Transatlantic Relations
- Wess Mitchell: How America Should Respond to Resurgent Russia