Friday, August 15, 2008

Unmasking a Paper Tiger 紙老虎

The U.S. response to Russia’s invasion of Georgia would be laughable if not so ominous for the future. I read the statements of the President, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of Defense. With the subsitution of a few nouns I saw how the past is coming back to bite. Indulge me:
"Russia {The U.S.} is putting its aspirations at risk by taking actions in Georgia {Iraq} that are inconsistent with the principles of those institutions," Bush said.
“Those institutions” refers to “international institutions” in which Russia desires to be a major player.
Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, said:
"This is not 1968 {2003} and the invasion of Czechoslovakia {Iraq}, where Russia {the U.S.} can threaten a neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it," she said. "Things have changed."
Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense, in a news conference Thursday
said the actions by Russia {U.S.} in Georgia {Iraq} threaten to
"adversely affect for years to come the relationship between the U.S. and Russia."
I wonder if any of the three sensed any sense of irony in their statements. Probably not.

And, then, there were the words of Senator John McCain, speaking to reporters about the situation in Georgia, Sen. John McCain denounced the aggressive posture of Russia by with the
"but in the 21st century nations don't invade other nations.”
Unfortunately for McCain, the words weren’t taken out of context. See and listen to them for yourself. Sam Stein made this
It was the type of foreign policy rhetorical blunder that has regularly plagued the McCain campaign and could have diplomatic ripples as well. Certainly the comment was meant in innocence. But for those predisposed to the notion that the U.S. is an increasingly arrogant international actor, the suggestion by a presidential candidate that, in this day and age, countries don't invade one another -- when the U.S. is occupying two foreign nations -- does little to alleviate that negative perception.
The Bush administration took office months before 9/11 with the arrogance of imagined unlimited power firmly imbedded in its leadership. The vision of a “
Pax Americana” was of permanent U.S. military and economic domination of every region on the globe, unfettered by international treaty, allies or enemies. For those who have eyes to see, the events that have unfolded since 2002 have demonstrated that U.S. “unlimited power” was only a fantasy.

Others saw it as fantasy long before the present. Mao Tse-tung, July 14, 1956 in a
talk to visitors from Latin America used an ancient Chinese image to characterize the United States: a paper tiger (zhǐ lǎohǔ).
In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of, it is a paper tiger. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand the wind and the rain. I believe the United States is nothing but a paper tiger.
The events of the last few days in Georgia suggest that “paper tiger” may be an apt image. First, being bogged down as occupying forces in two nations, the whole world knows that our military options are severely limited. President Bush
insisted that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia be respected.
Yet Bush's statement, along with the moderate measures that came with it, served to underscore the limited options available to the United States, which has neither the wherewithal nor the willingness to enter into a military conflict with Russia on its territorial border.
Bush’s statement about “territorial integrity” was literally laughed away by the Russian leadership. We don’t know what the Bush administration’s counsel to the Georgia government was before it sent forces into the area that wants to separate itself from Georgia. We don’t know if the U.S. would have been willing to intervene in this conflict under any circumstances. But what we can know with certainty is that the Russian leadership was assured that we didn’t have the military capability to do anything had we so desired. That made their decision to invade much easier.

The second reason why the paper tiger image may be apt is, contrary to what the Bush leadership imagined about our going our own way no matter what our allies thought, we know now that we need our European allies. James Rubin put it
this way:
We learned in recent weeks that when Europe and America are united, Russian opposition is neutered. On missile defense, NATO has come together and Russia's complaints have quieted. It was the split in NATO over Georgia, a split that a McCain approach would have widened, that gave Russia reason to believe the West would acquiesce in its military aggression.
The right will continue to bash Obama for his popularity in Europe as somehow un-American.
Which brings us back to the politics of war. In the run-up to the Iraq debacle, John McCain was as outrageous as Donald Rumsfeld in denouncing our European allies for not supporting an early invasion. He has not been a consensus-builder in NATO. He has been a fiery defender of the neo-conservative line.
As at no other time in our history, we need to restore that relationship, something Obama can do but which McCain cannot.

Seeing the U.S. exposed as a paper tiger over this issue has consequences far beyond the Russian invasion of Georgia. Gates
said that at the very least Russia was punishing Georgia for its close relationship to the United States and its attempts to join NATO.
"I think that the Russians' further message was to all of the parts of the former Soviet Union, as a signal about trying to integrate with the West and move outside of the longtime Russian sphere of influence," he said.
The absence of any U.S. military muscle to flex and the still not healed relationships with European nations are not only incentives for Russians but for other nations as well. The lesson of the Russians in Georgia will not be lost on Chinese leaders as they think about Taiwan. (See my earlier posting on “
Invisible Taiwan.”)

But the United States is not your everyday garden-variety “paper tiger.” In July, 1963, at a meeting of 81 Communist parties in Moscow, Khrushchev
said of Mao’s statement
"Although the U.S. is a paper tiger, it has nuclear teeth."
I don’t know if that is a comfort to you, but it is not to me. Seven years of combined arrogance and ignorance of the Bush administration has to be a concern as long as they are in power.

Before there is a new administration six months from now, the Bush administration faces its biggest challenge. In the days, weeks and months ahead will it do what it steadfastly refused to do in the previous seven years: recognize the limitations of its power, and a) begin serious repair of our relations with our European allies; and b) begin learning to practice the fine art of diplomacy with our enemies? I have some hope that Robert Gates is a voice for sanity in the administration. If his voice doesn’t prevail in the Cabinet, the world is a less safe place than it was even two months ago.

As for presidential election, John McCain has demonstrated once again why he is not the one we want answering the phone at 3 a.m. in the morning. We need Obama’s measured judgment and his understanding of the world.
- Milo

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