I went to the map store in downtown DC yesterday--the one up the street from the White House, across Farragut Square from the New York Times bureau, around the corner from the Washington Post.... Not surprisingly, the shop had sold out of maps of Georgia. But they still had plenty of maps of the overall Caucausus region. This struck me as an apt metaphor for the way we are covering and commenting on events in Georgia--without fully considering all the implications of the bird's eye view. Here is Walid Phares on the subject, adding much-needed perspective to our assessment of unfolding events in a piece at The American Thinker called "South Ossetia: The Perfect Wrong War."
Here is a key stretch:
Is the Russian current leadership displaying features of superpower-return, of zones of influence and of so-called strategic belts? Yes it does. Prime Minister Putin and his Government showed many signs of opposition to the advancing NATO influence in what he perceives as Russia's neighborhood: the crisis with Ukraine, opposition to missiles defense shield in Eastern Europe and nervousness about US military influence developing at the edges of the former USSR, including in Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia and Georgia.
But beyond these geopolitical considerations the Kremlin also rejected the US-led Iraq campaign, the isolation of the Syrian regime and the containment of the Iran Khomeinist power. And here lies the distinction. If Moscow's politico-military establishment feels uncomfortable with NATO coming closer to Russia's borders, it can express that discontent and address it in bilateral relationships with Washington. The United States, for example, wouldn't be very comfortable seeing Russian missiles systems installed in Mexico or a strategic defense treaty signed between Haiti and China. These are classical moves in international relations, drawing tensions and counter moves.
But for Russia to actively arm Iran and Syria, this is a feature of cold war, inconsistent with present the international consensus against Terrorism. The Tehran-Damascus "axis" is in an active campaign to support Jihadi terror forces in the region and armed groups involved in the killing of US and Coalition personnel. It would be the equivalent of having the US arming and providing technology to Wahabi Chechen Terrorists operating against Russian cities and military. Hence, while Americans are as anti-terrorist as Russia is when it comes to the al-Qaeda Salafi threat, Russians are still feeding anti-Western forces in the Middle East. Hence there is a difference between Russian discomfort with NATO growth around the CIS and US concerns about Russia's protection of Iranian-Syrian efforts in the region. Moscow is backing a party at war with the US Coalition while Americans aren't assisting parties at War with Russia.
So, if that is the case, what is the best strategic course of action that the US and NATO must follow to address this problem? Some advise Washington to press the encirclement of the Russian Federation and put pressure on its few allies in the Balkans, thinking that this would weaken the Kremlin resolve to fight back. I disagree. If Russia's leadership has moved to counter US efforts in the Middle East the right response is not to escalate against the Russians in Kosovo and along their borders, including in Ossetia. For by pursuing such policy -- while the US and its allies are engaged in massive confrontations against the Salafist movements and the Khomeinist power -- the West will find itself over stretched on two world fronts, one of them at least is unnecessary: Russia.
To be crude: Liberal democracies have no interest in over-pressuring Russia in the course of strategic gaming while they are at full war with the Global Jihadists. Such a move will push the Russians away from converging with the West against the "common enemy." Instead of consolidating a Western-Russian entente against both Salafists and Khomeinists, Russia and the US are confronting the Wahabis separately and in most cases unsuccessfully while the Russians have befriended the Khomeinists who are harassing the Americans. The Russo-American competition is not helping either side, but one other side does win: the Global Jihadists.