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August 12, 2008

Russia Invades Georgia, and Americans See Boogeymen Once Again


Here is a question – do people miss the Cold War so much they need to see enemies under every rock?


That’s the question that comes to mind after watching reaction to Russia’s invasion of Georgia. In some circles – admittedly mostly conservative ones – the invasion has been taken as proof positive that a new Cold War is dawning upon us. Russia is flexing its muscles, a sure sign that ultimately it plans to bring down ruin upon the United States.


It’s a natural reaction to the Russians stretching their muscles. For many Americans, the Russians – then the Soviets – were our mortal enemy, the Joker to our Batman. Old habits die hard, and one of the hardest to die is the assumption that old enemies are always out to get you.


After the Russians stopped being the Soviets, it meant the end of five decades of simmering tensions. There were no more bogeymen worthy of the worldwide stage. The more paranoid tried like mad to find him, and along the fringes they suggested that it was Saddam Hussein and not Timothy McVeigh who bombed the Murrah building in Oklahoma City.


The Chinese for awhile seemed tailor-made for the role. They were a rising economic power, and bellicose enough when it came to U.S. ally Taiwan. There was a naval stand-off in the late ’90s over Taiwan. At the same time some of the more paranoid suggested that Bill Clinton’s promise to fulfill the treaty obliging us to return the Panama Canal to the Panamanians would land it in the hands of Chinese agents and made Clinton a traitor.


Not long after, when an American spy plane clipped the wings of a Chinese fighter over the South China Sea, resulting tensions sparked what appeared to be the imminent emergence of a full-fledged, Cold War-style grudge.


Then, 21 hijackers gave us an even better target.


For the better part of the last seven years, it’s been the Muslim world that has played the role of chief antagonist. Terrorism became not a tactic for extremists, but a tool for an entire culture to wage a shadow war against the West. Iraq became not just a bungled adventure in search of oil reserves, but the spear point at which we would wage war on a Muslim culture through a war of ideas. We must win because failure to do so would mean the death of all that we know and love.


That, unfortunately, crashed on the rocks and shoals of reality. Iraq turned out to be the bungled adventure it always was, and nation-building in Afghanistan turned out to be a great deal more difficult and tricky than anyone imagined. Muslims wouldn’t desert their Muslim ways simply because we showed up, for all to admire and respect.


Enter the Russians and Georgia last week. You can say a lot of things about Russia’s response to Georgia’s incursion into its separatist region. Perhaps the one that comes most to mind is horribly disproportionate. Acting on a U.N. mandate to keep the peace, the Russians responded with a full-scale invasion, a naval blockade and regular air strikes that at one point had Georgian president Mikhail Shasakavelli thinking he was dodging bombs as he ran across a courtyard. Disproportionate it was, but evidence of a global menace on the rise?


What say we start with baby steps, like with Russia expressing its interests regionally? Flush with oil money, Russia’s interests in the region are clear. Rising American influence on Russia’s southern doorstep threaten them, and a pro-West Georgia on track for membership in NATO means a permanent thorn in its side.


This is hardly the stuff of revolution, at least any related to Bolshevism. This is the kind of thinking that gave us the Monroe Doctrine, not the boogeyman. 


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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