If Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin were president of the United States, would Iran try to build a nuclear bomb? Would Pakistan provide covert aid to al-Qaeda? Would Hugo Chavez train terrorists in Venezuela? Would leftover nationalities with delusions of grandeur provoke the great powers? Just ask Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili, who now wishes he never tried to put his 4 million countrymen into strategic play.
In January I urged Americans to draft the Russian leader to succeed George W Bush (Putin for president of the United States, January 8, 2008). Putin's swift and decisive action in Georgia reflects precisely the sort of decisiveness that America requires.
Thanks to Putin, the world has become a much safer place. By intervening in Georgia, Russia has demonstrated that the great powers of the world have nothing to fight about. Russia has wiped the floor with a putative US ally, and apart from a bad case of cream pie on the face, America has lost nothing. The United States and the European community will do nothing to help Georgia, and nothing of substance to penalize the Russian Federation.
Contrary to the hyperventilation of policy analysts on American news shows, the West has no vital interests in Georgia. It would be convenient from Washington's vantage point for oil to flow from the Caspian Sea via Georgia to the Black Sea, to be sure, but nothing that occurs in Georgia will have a measurable impact on American energy security. It is humiliating for the US to watch the Russians thrash a prospective ally, but not harmful, for Georgia never should have been an ally in the first place.
The lack of consequences of Russia's incursion is a noteworthy fact, for never before in the history of the world has the world's economic and military power resided in countries whose fundamental interests do not conflict in any important way. The US enthused over Georgia's ambitions to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and encouraged Saakashvili to overplay his hand. Once it became clear that Russia would not tolerate a NATO member on its southern border, however, Washington had nothing to say about the matter, because no fundamental American interests were at stake.
Washington looks all the sillier for its failure to anticipate a Russian action that Moscow signaled months in advance. After the US and its main European allies recognized the independence of Kosovo from Serbia in February 2008, Russia warned that this action set a precedent for other prospective secessions, notably South Ossetia.
There is no longer any reason to put up with the tantrums of long-redundant tribes. If 3.7 million ethnic Georgians have the right to break away from the 142 million population of the Russian Federation, why shouldn't the 100,000 Ossetians living in Georgia break away and form their own state as well? Most of them have acquired Russian passports and want nothing to do with the Georgians.
The Ossetians have spoken their variant of Persian for more than a millennium and had their own kingdom during the Middle Ages.
If the West is going to put itself at risk for 3.8 million ethnic Georgians, roughly the population of Los Angeles, or 5.4 million Tibetans, or 2 million Albanian Muslims in Kosovo, why shouldn't Russia take risks for the South Ossetians, not to mention the 100,000 Abkhaz speakers in Georgia's secessionist Black Sea province?
Once the infinite regress of ethnic logic gets into motion, there is no good reason not to pull the world apart like taffy.