"In the post-Cold War world, small countries often get into fights they can’t finish — hoping that big powers will come to their rescue. That happened in the 1990s with Bosnia and Kosovo, which hoped their desperate vulnerability would force Western intervention, as it eventually did. On the other side, the Serbs played the same game, hoping (wrongly, as it turned out) that Russia would intervene. The better part of wisdom sometimes is to tell small, embattled nations and ethnic groups: Swallow your pride and compromise; the cavalry isn’t coming to save you.
There’s a moral problem with all the pro-Georgia cheerleading, which has gotten lost in the op-ed blasts against Putin’s neo-imperialism. A recurring phenomenon of the early Cold War was that America encouraged oppressed peoples to rise up and fight for freedom — and then, when things got rough, abandoned them to their fate. The CIA did that egregiously in the early 1950s, broadcasting to the Soviet republics and the nations of Eastern Europe that America would back their liberation from Soviet tyranny. After the brutal suppression of the Hungarian revolution in 1956, responsible U.S. leaders learned to be more cautious, and more honest about the limits of American power.
Now, after the Georgia war, McCain should learn that lesson: American leaders shouldn’t make threats the country can’t deliver or promises it isn’t prepared to keep. The rhetoric of confrontation may make us feel good, but other people end up getting killed." Davod Ignatius
Countries, empires and revolutionary movements of various kinds have always struggled with each other. It appears to be inherent in human nature that people like to array themselves in rival groups. What were the Warsaw Pact and NATO but such groups?
Unfortunately, there is little interest today in what history can teach. This seems to be because the "scientific" view of the human experience holds that man has "moved on" and is now a different beast than he was a few centuries ago. IMO, humans and their societies are essentially unchanged in the period of recorded experience. That experience indicates that inter-group struggle along a wide spectrum of activity from; agitation through political organization to guerrilla war to armored combat to nuclear war continues to be the reality of human existence and the essence of international relations. That continuing reality points to the always present danger of creeping escalation in such struggle from one point on the scale of activity to another until the ultimate category of nuclear war is reached. Given the number of nuclear "players" there is a danger of reaching that "stage" among countries like Pakistan, India, Iran (someday) etc. Nevertheless, it is the possibility of escalation of struggle between Russia and the United States that remains by far the most dangerous feature of international relations. The avoidance of escalation between these powers must be the principal concern of the wise.
The Russians and the United States both still possess many thousands of deliverable warheads of varying size. An "exchange" between the two countries would result in something like one hundred million dead. This bedrock consideration is too little discussed. The possibility of such a thing should impose a certain caution.
It is one thing to help a country or cause surreptitiously. The more covertly that assistance is offered, the less the danger of general war because of it. The traditional "safety valve" built into such projects is the willingness to abandon the effort (and the client) if the risks become too great. "Plausible deniability" is the story built into the project that allows the sponsor to abandon the effort rather than be trapped into deadly confrontation with a major power. When that mechanism breaks down, there is great danger abroad in the world. I leave it to the reader to provide his own examples of times when this has happened in all its variations.
With the neocon Jacobins and their man, McCain, we have something that purports to approach that possibility differently. Addicted to idea of the "power of the will," they seem to be willing to apply bravado and bluff as a basic operating principle in policy. When confronted with overwhelming brute force, their reaction seems to be to "up the ante" with more and more hostile rhetoric and gestures.
This is a very dangerous game when played against a psychologically challenged opponent armed with a thermonuclear strike ability. States, movements and coalitions have emotionally laden trigger points that can initiate processes impossible to halt. Often these processes work themselves out in ways that political scientists would label "irrational."
We should all be more careful. pl