It’s been over half a month since Russia invaded Georgia in response to Georgia’s military offensive aimed at reclaiming the breakaway state of South Ossetia from its separatist fighters. Since then, the international community has mostly sided with Georgia, claiming that the Russian response to the Georgian fighting was disproportionate and aggressive.
But Russia hasn’t listened much to the pleas of the United Nations, NATO and individual countries. In recent days the Russian parliament has urged President Dmitry Medvedev to officially recognize the pro-Russian states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the areas that instigated the conflict. Reacting to Medvedev’s acknowledgement of the separatist states, members of NATO, including the United States, have condemned this as a violation of Georgia’s territorial integrity, but Medvedev said that Russia was unconcerned with NATO’s actions, including the severing of ties.
Throughout the Russia-Georgia conflict the United States has adamantly supported Georgia. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is an American-educated leader who has had a strong policy of bringing democracy to the region while routing out the corruption that has undermined the country since the breakup of the Soviet Union. It would seem from this that the United States would be well justified in backing Georgia and delivering strong words to the Russians. But the problem with U.S. tactics lies in the hypocrisy of telling a nation not to invade another one in the midst our war in Iraq.
When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was sent by President Bush to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, her words for the Russians seemed absolute and self-assured. She told Russia it could not “occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it.” Unlike 1968, when Russia violently invaded Czechoslovakia, “Things have changed.”
But things clearly have not changed for the superpowers like Russia and the United States. America was able to launch an unprovoked attack on Iraq without the support of international organizations in the same way Russia is being accused of searching for an opportunity to attack Georgia instead of acting out of necessity. The fact that the United States falsified information to gain the little international support they had during the time leading up to the Iraq war suggests that in today’s political climate, invading a country is as easy as waiting for a good excuse to arise.
The Russians probably wouldn’t be listening to our advice on Georgia even if we weren’t in a war that remains frustratingly similar. They managed to ignore the United States for almost half a century during the Cold War and while the two countries are at least superficially better allies, neither has lost their hubris.
But what has changed due to the war in Iraq is that the United States simply cannot condemn the offensive actions of other nations without condemning itself. Whether one thinks that removing Saddam from power was a good or bad action, Russia can point to us as say, “How can you rebuke our actions when you’re still in Baghdad?”
The danger of Iraq, beyond the actual loss of life, is the loss of diplomatic authority. Our country has put itself in a position where it will have difficulty managing international crises, without hypocritically making allusions to the one it has created for itself. For America, which is always expected to say something in the international spotlight, it is embarrassing to hear things like McCain’s response to the invasion of Georgia: “In the 21st century, nations don’t invade other nations.” The United States cannot say to Russia, “Do as I say, not as I do,” because our nation’s war has created a template for other powerful nations to follow when they don’t feel like following the rules.
Peter Gernsheimer is the Viewpoints editor. He can be contacted and disagreed with at firstname.lastname@example.org.