The Russian invasion of Georgia came up in the first presidential debate and both candidates expressed their support for Georgia. Obama said we must “affirm all the fledgling democracies in that region” and give them money to “rebuild” their economy, while McCain said that “we need to bolster our friends and allies.” Both of them mentioned Georgian membership in NATO, but neither Barack Obama nor John McCain made any serious proposals to punish the Russians now through economic and diplomatic sanctions — like expelling them from the G8 — or by providing active military support to the Georgians.
The Russian dictatorship is destroying and occupying a country that had established a budding democracy. Yet we are doing almost nothing to stop it — other than sending humanitarian and economic aid — and the presidential debate shows that is not likely to change.
Having a good economy is not going to deter a military invasion by an aggressor like Russia any more than having a successful business will deter a Mafia-run protection racket. In fact, it makes you even more of a target.
Watching Vladimir Putin reimpose a dictatorship in Russia, arresting and murdering opponents inside and outside of the country, and ordering the Russian invasion and occupation of Georgia, brings back vivid childhood memories of stories told to me by my immigrant parents and grandmother. Make no mistake about it. Putin is stomping out and destroying the fledgling movement to democracy that occurred in Russia when communism fell, the same way that Hitler destroyed the Weimar Republic in Germany, something my grandmother lived through as a young woman. Putin’s invasion of Georgia is little different from Hitler’s occupation of Austria and Czechoslovakia, which the Europeans failed to stop. Putin has even used the same justification that Hitler used, except it is to protect “Native Russians” in Georgia instead of “Native Germans.”
It is as if we are reliving the 1930s all over again. And from France to Germany to Italy, Neville Chamberlain is alive and well in all of their governments — and the public — as the West gives a collective yawn. No one, including the United States, has imposed any real sanctions against Russia.
From news reports of the indiscriminate killing of civilians and looting by Russian troops, it is clear that the Russians invaded Georgia the same way the communists have always done it — the way my grandmother and mother experienced it in 1945 when Russian troops rolled into the German city of Breslau where they lived, and the way my Russian father saw it when he fought the Bolshevik takeover of his homeland. The Russian Army today still wages war the same way the Mongol hordes did — they rape, pillage, loot, and kill everyone in their path, civilian or military.
Where are all of the protesters in Europe and America who were so angry over our going into Iraq? We got rid of a murderous dictator who had defied the United Nations for years in a war in which American lives have been lost in order to avoid civilian casualties whenever possible. The protesters can’t be bothered about the Russians taking apart a democratic Georgia and killing innocent civilians. Why no, it is really Georgia’s own fault for being too aggressive in trying to get uninvited Russian “peacekeepers” (occupation troops) out of its country. The Russians have taken our full measure, too. They know now that not only will the West do nothing substantive for fear of confronting the Russians militarily or economically, but the Russians also see that the Europeans are so lacking in will power and incapable militarily that they will do nothing when the Russians make their next moves over the coming years — such as reoccupying the free countries that used to be behind the Iron Curtain, from Moldava where they already have Russian “peacekeepers” to the Ukraine to the Baltic republics, or turning them into puppet states to avoid military occupation.
In fact, in some ways things are even worse today than they were in the 1930s. The United States, Britain, and France eventually went to war against Hitler’s aggression. But they did so at tremendous cost in human life and resources — something no one in Europe, and perhaps even the United States, seems willing to do again. When the Serbs were committing genocide in the 1990s, the Europeans stood by and let it happen, despite their repeated assurances that they would never allow what happened to the Jews to ever happen again in Europe. It took us coming across the Atlantic Ocean when we finally could no longer stomach the Europeans not lifting a finger to stop wholesale massacres and rapes occurring in their back yard. At that point, the Europeans finally gave some halfhearted support to our efforts. I have absolutely no doubt that if the Russians reoccupied the Baltics, the Europeans would wring their hands but not be willing to fight to stop it. Putin knows he can do just about anything he wants and that the Europeans will not be willing to confront him militarily to stop him, and not economically either given their addiction to Russian oil.
I once asked my grandmother how Hitler, who initially represented a very small political party, had taken control of Germany. We lived at that time in an old southern home, the kind that had a screen door in the kitchen that opened into the back yard where we played. My grandmother looked at me and pointed to that door. She said sometimes you can leave the screen door unlatched and turn your back, and before you know what has happened, a thief has come into your house and taken control.
Well, the screen door is unlatched and Putin has taken Georgia. Will the West have the courage to punish him for his partial dismemberment of a democratic ally of the West and prevent him from taking the rest of the house? It depresses me greatly to say that I don’t think the Europeans — and even most Americans — have the will to take the potentially painful steps necessary to stop the reestablishment of the evil Russian Empire.
Ten years from now I fear that there will be a number of former democratic republics in Europe and that the Caucasus will again be behind a new Iron Curtain. Let us hope that the prison, labor, and concentration camps will not be brimming once more.