I hadn't planned on devoting any further attention to the Russia-Georgia fiasco. I'm weary of the entire affair - weary of the histrionic Georgians waylaying my wife at church to tell her that they just knew that the Russians planned to massacre all of the inhabitants of Tbilisi, and other such silliness; weary of the jingoistic bloviations of the talk-radio comedians a coworker insists upon listening to, every day; weary, in reality, of the entirely pointless geopolitical game that everyone insists upon playing; weary of wealthy blowhards in restaurants baying for the blood of people - Russians - about whom he knows nothing, all in relation to a little war which stands in no objective relation to his life, or his country - about which, more anon. Then, unfortunately for my health, I happened to read this editorial, penned by Senators Lieberman and Graham, concerning the challenge of Russian aggression to, essentially, the new, post-national European world, though they do not employ that terminology. Andrew Sullivan and Matt Yglesias seemed to have somewhat sensible takes on the Lieberman-Graham piece; but then I read Reihan Salam, who responded to Sullivan and Yglesias by arguing that the Lieberman-Graham strategy of confrontation will render war less likely in the future, and was compelled by the wrongness of this conclusion to re-read the original editorial. The measured, diplomatic tone of the editorial obviously presupposes as the object of foreign-policy the sort of post-national or transnational order in which America remains, anomalously, primus inter pares, with its utopian talk of a world oasis of peace and prosperity, open borders, and the impossibility of war, but it also contains the following interesting passage, the implications of which my wife - who hails from Sevastopol - and her family grasped the moment the war started:
There is disturbing evidence Russia is already laying the groundwork to apply the same arguments used to justify its intervention in Georgia to other parts of its near abroad -- most ominously in Crimea. This strategically important peninsula is part of Ukraine, but with a large ethnic Russian population and the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol.
The evidence of this is unspecified, and it is disreputable to appeal to something you decline to disclose, hinting at some profound depth that may or may not exist in order to support all-too tangible policy options, but I don't wish to dwell on that for the nonce. Rather, this is, alas, yet another instance of that lamentable American unwillingness to even attempt to understand American foreign policy as its opponents or rivals may understand it; there is, by contrast, simply an assertion of utter, irrefragable rectitude, the implication being that we want to have a civil partnership with the Russians, but will dictate the terms. Why would the Russians be desirous of a partnership with America, if America is bent upon incorporating a deeply-divided Ukraine into NATO, converting the Black Sea into a NATO lake, expelling the Russian fleet from its only significant deep and warm-water port, and acquiring strategic leverage directly beneath the most restive and vulnerable regions of Russian territory? For what purpose - what purpose related to the defense of an objective American interest? The principle that a profoundly divided country, half Ukrainian and half Russian by cultural orientation, in which a Ukrainian government is attempting to create a mythological self-conception in which the latter half does not figure, and which could very well break under the strain of a coerced choice, must turn westward? The principle, that is, that the Russian parts should be ruled by the Ukrainian parts, just because - that Ukraine, a vast, Slavic Belgium, should choose, first, a bogus nationalism, and second, a post-national future beyond the nationalist moment? That's it?
I'm not going to belabour the point, but having traveled in the Ukraine, I can assure my readers that the Russians within and without the Ukraine will have no tolerance for American geostrategy if its consequences make them more vulnerable as Russians in the Ukraine, domestically, and within Russia itself - as they perceive the matter - internationally. And the Russian government wouldn't surrender the port, either, for obvious reasons, which means that, if the West is intent upon pressing the issue, war is a live possibility, and Salam is dead wrong.
How much blood, potentially, is a pro-Western kleptocrat in the Ukrainian presidential mansion worth? How much blood the "principle" that, having won the Cold War, we have the right to dictate terms, which are, at best, profoundly confused transnationalist, EU-style ones that ought to scandalize conservatives - who, after all, are supposed to appreciate proliferating variety and tradition, and not economistic homogenization? The American interest in both the process and the particulars here is hardly manifest.
Why, briefly, would the Russian government be interested in the fate of Russians living abroad? I realize that it is tempting to regard this as yet more evidence of eternal Russian perfidy - and there is always some of that, as there is always some of this sort of thing in all foreign policy - but the reality is more fundamental: it is a question of legitimacy. When the Soviet Union collapsed,. millions of Russians suddenly found themselves living in newly-foreign countries, in some of which they were considered second-class citizens. And, often enough, there were historical reasons for the antipathy, though it is worth noting that abuses perpetrated by a defunct government cannot justify maltreatment of the individuals standing before one. However, a Russian state that evinced no concern for Russians living abroad - "Russian" being as much a cultural concept as an ethnic marker - would communicate to Russians in Russia that it had no concern for Russians qua Russians, in much the same way that a Mexican state that did not lobby on behalf of its nationals living in the US would delegitimate itself in the eyes of Mexicans. From the American perspective, that is an argument for immigration control; applied to Russians living in places where there have been Russians for centuries, but now, owing to the shifting of boundaries and and the waxing and waning of empires, are foreign countries, the lesson collapses of its own incogency. Or have we forgotten the injustices involved in the creation of national identities from a welter of localisms, here writ large in the postmodern age?
I reiterate, for those who will insist upon projecting upon my words meanings absent from them: American strategists may intend (what they perceive as) good, but their motivations are mixed, and they have forgotten the law of unintended consequences, avowing that their intentions are pure, even as their very policies call forth precisely the reactions they claimed to oppose, and others besides. Still less do they interrogate their own assumptions, in an effort to achieve some measure of self-understanding. Perhaps we intend good, but is it licit in the first instance for us to pursue these goods in this manner? And so forth.
We possess an un-self-critical foreign policy establishment in large part because the assumptions of that establishment reflect facets of the American experience; and as the American identity becomes ever more abstracted - attenuated - it assumes deformed and stunted forms that would shock and appall those Americans who were present at the creation, such as the deranged discourse my wife and I overheard just last evening, according to which Russians were barbarian apes and monkeys bent on slaughter, who needed to be put in their place by American military power - discourse which, if applied to Jews or African-Americans, would have been instantly recognizable for what it was. Americans must become more self-reflective as a people, particularly in their conduct of international affairs, lest they become such scoundrels, who say, implicitly, "My country, right or wrong, but I don't even care whether it might be wrong, as long as we win." Contrary to one of Salam's sources, there is no war for history, as though history were an immanent totality the meaning of which we can discern and direct, and we simply must cease the pretense that it is such an entity or process - or, at a minimum, the policies that can only be explicated by reference to such myths.