Lawrence Auster has initiated a lively thread for discussion of the Russian-Georgian question, and its relation to American foreign policy, posting numerous substantive comments from many of his regular correspondents. For the moment, I'd like to highlight what is, in my estimation, the most perspicacious of the lot, written by Sage McLaughlin:
I'm in the midst of a master's thesis that concerns this subject, and I've really struggled with the conflicting commentary and analysis while I have conducted my research. I really, really don't want to get into a big thing about it, so I'll keep my comment (sort of) brief. The problem is that there is a school of geopolitical thought which sees the only possibilities as Russia-the-evil-superpower (as was undoubtedly the case during Soviet times, whatever the Russophiles on the Right may say), or Russia-the-eternally-prostrate, whereby American power permanently fences Russia within a severely proscribed territory so as to prevent it from dominating global politics. The truth of the matter is, our overweening concern to oppose Russia at every turn, and to issue security guarantees to states within its historical and cultural sphere of influence, has given the Kremlin every reason to believe that the U.S. is an inveterately hostile enemy that will never allow Russia its place in the sun.
So what is that place? Well, before there were superpowers, there were simply Great Powers. Russia has long been one, and attempts to keep her from Great Power status have always failed, and failed disastrously. It's easy to forget that Poland existed under partition by the Russians, Prussians, and Austrians for well nigh a hundred years ("Poland" appeared on the map for the first time in about 125 years after WWI and the 1920 Polish-Soviet War), and that Russia's sphere of influence has always included political dominance of Eastern Europe more broadly. To cast this as some resurgence of the Soviet empire, wherein all the states of Eastern Europe and Central Asia were united under a single scepter in Moscow, is historical asininity of the worst kind. It is to suggest that while America's sphere of influence ought to extend to wherever we can find a willing ally, Russia has for all intents and purposes no legitimate sphere of influence beyond its own borders--if we could hector them into submission over Chechnya, we would, in spite of the fact that there are no obvious good guys in that situation and that even if there were, it would be absolutely none of our business. Let the Iranians and the Azeris deal with that, for goodness' sakes, and if they don't find it particularly worth their while, then why on earth should we?
The point is, the height of Russian power may have been embodied politically by the Soviet Union, but that is not to say that Russian power must necessarily trend in a Soviet direction. Americans rightly go into apoplexy over things like international monitors commenting on the integrity of our elections, but U.S. policy makers literally declare the Putin-Medvedev government so politically blighted that they must never be allowed to exercise their power over their immediate surroundings without the threat of NATO retaliation. This is insanity. The irresponsibility is matched only by the hubris of such a position. We don't have to like what Russia does any more than they like what we do (for example, invading and occupying its Middle East clients for the most indirect of strategic rationales). And I do think we ought to argue against such things and oppose them politically where it is necessary and appropriate to do so, but some perspective has to be maintained.
If we have an image problem in Georgia (and Eastern Europe generally) for failing to rush to their aid, then that's the Bush administration's fault for extending such unrealistic promises of strategic partnership to countries wherein we have absolutely no vital interest. That's an argument, not for extending deterrence to every conceivable anti-Russian political establishment on the planet, but rather for prudence and a hard-headed sense of proportion. What is worse--failing to keep a promise you can't possibly back up, or making such promises in the first place? Neocons seem to be taking the former view. Using backroom assurances of assistance in the event of trouble, thus destabilizing Russia's immediate frontier by encouraging irresponsible behavior on the part of hostile neighbors, all for the sake of extracting support for our ill-conceived Mesopotamian adventures, isn't sound geopolitical strategy. It's short-term thinking with long-term consequences.
Sage's commentary speaks for itself in terms of quality, so I'll add only the observation that the dominant school of geopolitical thought in America, according to which Russia is either a colossus bent upon global domination or a prostrate power, supplicating the West for a few scraps of assistance, hedged about and subjugated - which seemingly entails the conclusion that Russian weakness, when it exists, must be exploited, while any Russian strength must be countered, so as to transform it into weakness - presupposes, as its sometimes-unspoken premise, the American Unipolar Moment, or Benevolent Global Hegemony. Only America, and American allies, are licitly entitled to maintain spheres of influence.
Another commenter, Dmitri K., writes that
I am not a great supporter of Russian politics, including its policy in Georgia. But the real issue is not Georgia, which not many really know about. The real issue is the subjugation of non-liberal Russia to the world order.
This also, it seems to me, is an astute observation, inasmuch as the American conception of BGH, which envisions the United States at the head of an interlocking array of forms of global administration, economic, financial, military, political, diplomatic, is to foreign affairs what high liberalism, of the Rawlsian-procedural neutrality, is to domestic politics generally. Both theoretical architectures presuppose that they constitute a neutral administrative framework, a non-ideological, non-comprehensive political, economic, and cultural space within which differences between "comprehensive doctrines" and national identities are mediated and ultimately transcended. Hence, the American foreign policy establishment often finds the persistence of national identities, or religious and cultural identities, inclusive of those which find expression in great-power, sphere-of-influence politics, difficult to comprehend, or, at least, to accept. America's mandarins imagine that such loyalties, when articulated as over against a liberal/cosmopolitan/globalist, are exercises in atavistic obstructionism, precisely because they do not perceive, or claim not to perceive, why anyone would regard neutral administration as a threat. Bearers of those historic identities, for their part, perceive in the proceduralist architecture a relativization of their commitments, which, moreover, masks the substantive commitments of the proceduralists themselves. The threat of liberalism to traditional religious and cultural identities domestically is formally identical to the threat of globalization and BGH to national identities and aspirations geopolitically; moreover, BGH and globalization are the expressions, in foreign affairs, of liberalism - a liberationist doctrine warring against traditional identities, yet often obfuscating this reality, in essence "forcing the world to be free", as liberalism defines freedom.
What strange times in which we dwell, that America has become a revolutionary and revisionist power, and Russia, a conservative, though often unpleasant, power.