Thursday, August 14, 2008

Follow the Leader

Go read Juan Cole’s excellent analysis of why Russia thought that they could invade Georgia.

An emboldened Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sarcastically likened Russia’s actions to Bush’s foreign policy. Pointing to the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Putin said, “Of course, Saddam Hussein ought to have been hanged for destroying several Shiite villages … And the incumbent Georgian leaders who razed 10 Ossetian villages at once, who ran over elderly people and children with tanks, who burned civilians alive in their sheds — these leaders must be taken under protection.”

In the run-up to the Iraq war, Bush officials repeated ad nauseam the mantra that Saddam Hussein had killed his own people. Thus, they helped create a case for unilateral “humanitarian intervention” of the sort Putin says Russia is now pursuing. Washington had failed to get a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing a war on Iraq, and Iraq had not attacked the United States, so no principle of self-defense was at stake. But since all governments (even the United States under Abraham Lincoln) repress separatist movements, often ruthlessly, Bush was turning actions such as Saakashvili’s attack on South Ossetia into a more legitimate cause for an outside power (especially one bordering it) to wage war against Georgia.

Indeed, Putin’s invoking Bush’s Iraq adventure points directly to the way in which Bush has enabled other world powers to act impulsively. With his doctrine of preemptive warfare, Bush single-handedly tore down the architecture of post-World War II international law erected by the founders of the United Nations to ensure that rogue states did not go about launching wars of aggression the way Hitler had. While safeguarding minorities at risk is a praiseworthy goal, the U.N. Charter states that the Security Council must approve a war launched for this purpose or any other, excepting self-defense. No individual nation is authorized to wage aggressive war on a vigilante basis, as Bush did in Iraq or Russia is now doing in the Caucasus.

Shorter Putin to Bush: “Anything you can do I can do better.”