Until this past week or so, many Americans did not know that there was a country of Georgia. Although I don’t applaud geographical ignorance, in this case, the lack of knowledge may have been understandable. Georgia lies in an area of the world that Richard Maybury has aptly named Chaostan—an area not known for peace, prosperity, or for sharing western values.
Maybury has observed, “there are only three possible political conditions, liberty, tyranny, or chaos.” Chaostan, the region of the world, located mostly in Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, has mostly experienced chaos. Maybury writes, “Since the beginning of history this area has been inhabited by hundreds of nations, tribes and ethnic groups that have hated and fought each other constantly. Russia alone contains some 250 of these groups, and they know nothing of the legal principles that make an advanced, peaceful civilization possible.”
We are told the story repeatedly on the nightly news that Georgia, a peaceful democratic country, was invaded for no reason by Russia. McCain was way over the top when he exclaimed, “Today, we are all Georgians.” Obama dispatched supposed foreign policy expert Senator Joe Biden to Georgia who pronounced, “(Georgia) has become a question of whether and how the West will stand up for the rights of free people throughout the region.” Bush and Secretary of State Rice have both made frequent menacing statements directed at Russia.
But wait! No doubt, Russia’s Putin is not exactly the poster boy for a kindly and peaceful world statesman, but neither is Georgia’s Saakashvili. In 2004, Saakashvili won the Georgian presidential election with 96% of the vote cast. To me, that sounds more like the percentage a winner gets in a totalitarian state and not in a democratic society. And Russia’s military action came only after Saakashvili recklessly invaded the breakaway region of South Ossetia. South Ossetia is inhabited mostly by ethnic Russians and has been autonomous since about 1991.
Why would we want to pick a pony in this race? Since the fall of the Soviet Union we have enjoyed peaceful and if not warm, certainly cordial relations with Russia. The absence of a cold war with Russia is a good thing not to be dismissed lightly. Why would we spoil our relationship with Russia to back Saakashvilli’s wild adventure?
A new cold war with Russia will further increase economic strains. Our country is already near economic ruin in part because of needless foreign wars. Chalmers Johnson, a former naval officer, observes this about our current military expenditures:
It is virtually impossible to overstate the profligacy of what our government spends on the military. The Department of Defense’s planned expenditures for the fiscal year 2008 are larger than all other nations’ military budgets combined. The supplementary budget to pay for the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not part of the official defense budget, is itself larger than the combined military budgets of Russia and China. Defense-related spending for fiscal 2008 will exceed $1 trillion for the first time in history. The US has become the largest single seller of arms and munitions to other nations on Earth. Leaving out President Bush’s two on-going wars, defense spending has doubled since the mid-1990s. The defense budget for fiscal 2008 is the largest since the second world war.
Once again, it is wise to consider the timeless advice of George Washington is his 1796 Farewell Address:
Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.
Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest.
…Nothing is more essential, than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated.
The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.
There are widespread but silly beliefs about military spending and war. Contrary to what many believe, war does not foster prosperity. Maybury succinctly explains:
The answer is that an absolute, unavoidable prerequisite for genuine, lasting prosperity is peace — because war is the most expensive thing humans do. The US cannot have peace and prosperity as long as Washington meddles in other countries, supports foreign dictators, and keeps its troops and bases in foreign lands. These things provoke war.
Besides being bad for peace, our ill-advised bipartisan support of Saakashvili is one more step on our continuous slide into economic misery.