78 Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;
79 Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—
80 That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you. -D&C 88:78-80
The 2008 South Ossetian War, featured nearly daily in the news in early and mid-August 2008, like many foreign policy topics, seems confusing. It’s this type of confusion that makes Americans feel more comfortable with someone with foreign policy “experience” (the Washington variety) in the Oval Office.
The conflict certainly seems convoluted. Our views are also distorted by the misconception that there is usually a “good guy” and a “bad guy.” But this is not always the case. There may be two “bad guys,” or both may be in different shades of gray. In my opinion, that is the case here.
Georgia attacked first. Why? They wanted to subdue the so-called “breakaway” region of South Ossetia. (One wonders about North Ossetia, which has been part of Russia for a long time. But I digress.) Why would they want to subdue it? This is one reason I have a hard time buying Georgia’s story. What justifies aggressive military action, even invasion? In my mind, Georgia was completely unjustified. Even if there were mitigating circumstances, pre-emptive, aggressive war is never justifiable.
But many know that Russia was not terribly innocent in the scheming. They had troops all along the border at the time of Georgia’s attack, and were very swift to respond to the Georgian “incursion.” They also had a heavy-handed occupation for several weeks after combat operations had largely ceased. Independent human rights workers have indicated the Russian-caused casualties and damage outweigh that caused by Georgian forces.
Russia claims that South Ossetia (and Abkhazia) have a high percentage of Russian citizens, or individuals with valid Russian passports. Thus, Russia was defending her citizens from attack. Moscow news reported that Georgians and South Ossetians in Moscow were mostly opposed to the conflict, linking it with Georgian President Saakashvili. Other reports, however, indicate huge chunks of South Ossetian government budgets are essentially Russian-supplied kickbacks, questioning the legitimacy, even, of South Ossetian and Abkhazian governments.
What’s my point? Both parties are guilty. Both are responsible. The United States has some responsibility also, as we trained Georgian troops and have strong diplomatic ties with Georgia. We also brought NATO to Russia’s borders (or tried to) by inviting Georgia in. This has the understandable effect of angering Russian authorities.
What should have happened? When relations were frosty between the two nations (namely, Georgia and Russia), they should have talked about it. How much destruction of life and property would have been spared if a peaceful solution had been reached beforehand? South Ossetian, Georgian, Abkhazian, and Russian governments (moderated by another party or two, perhaps) should have gotten together and brokered a peace deal, one which would benefit all parties as much as possible; one which would have best represented the aims of the South Ossetian and Abkhazian peoples, with Russian and Georgian interests subordinate.
Our foreign policy does not encourage talking before shooting. It encourages suspicion, back-biting, evil speaking, spying, trust in oversimplistic political decisions about complex intelligence gathered from a variety of sources, and military aggression, a shoot-before-you-speak approach. If it does not create these scenarios, it at least creates situations where these scenarios become very possible.
We continue to provoke Russia with a missile shield in Poland. We continue to talk of a second Cold War. We continue to push for NATO expansion. We continue to support Russian enemies as “fledgling democracies.” Isn’t Russia a democracy, also? The net effect of all of these policies is to estrange Russia and increase tensions. We are moving farther from Russia when we could be moving closer.
I do not mean to sound like an alarmist. World War III (or IV, if the Cold War counted) is not imminent. But our foreign policy does not bode well for long-term peace.
Unfortunately, it is all but taboo to even question the status quo in foreign policy. Differences between McCain and Obama with respect to Russia (and most countries, for that matter) are much more slight than mainstream media moguls would lead you to believe.