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Georgia learns a brutal lesson
The anniversary of Indian independence was to have been the event of my week, evoking remembrance of things past, reflections on time present, with perhaps a cursory glance at mysterious runic shapes for clues to the future. That, alas, was a not to be. Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvilli decided to strut his hour upon the stage, little realising that the exercise would release bolts of lightning accompanied by claps of thunder, which have begun to reverberate across the globe. An adventurer by instinct, a huckster in search of a role, Mr Saakashvilli was primed and programmed by his American mentors and put through his paces at the Harvard University Law School with a State Department scholarship. He returned to his native Georgia, with an American spouse in tow, and ignited the 'Rose Revolution' whose force lifted him to the seat of power.
Not cut from the cloth of Brutus or Mark Antony, Mr Saakashvilli is invariably his inimitable self, much given to incontinent perorations on his democratic and human rights credentials and Russia's sins of commission and omission down the ages. He is a case study of creatures great and small trapped in a great game in which they are at best hapless pawns.
The mainstream and creationist American view of America is not far removed from Catholicism's immaculate conception. The systematic extermination of the Indian peoples of the North American plain, the long years of Black slavery, the use of atom bombs on Japan when the country's rulers were suing for peace, the massacre of the Vietnamese and Indo-Chinese peoples through carpet bombing and defoliation and the deceitful war on Iraq (without the discovery of the weapons of mass destruction, which were its alleged justification) are conspicuously absent from mainstream American political discourse. Its commanding heights are dominated increasingly by dipsomaniac disquisition on the threat to world order from the Professor Moriarty of modern crime, Mr Vladimir Putin himself.
America is a great country with a multitude of wonderful accomplishments but its self-serving theology of unblemished virtue and rectitude is in danger of taking all humanity over the abyss. The United States is deep in the constructing of empire: American exceptionalism through Calvinistic grace makes the exercise credible in many American eyes. The dissolution of the Soviet Union constituted an opportunity for a divinely ordained enterprise; the vast expanses of Eurasia and its natural wealth to be dominated and exploited by American decree.
Nato's noose is drawn ever tighter round the Russian neck. American military and missile bases are already ensconced in Romania and Bulgaria -- two states once in harness with Adolf Hitler's Third Reich and the invading Nazi legions into the USSR -- in a bid to strangle the possible emergence of a rival centre of power in the Black Sea. Mr Saakashvilli, a midget in a grand design, was instrument in the baiting of the Russian bear. His troops and tanks, guns blazing, entered the rebellious Georgian enclave of South Ossetia to subdue its recalcitrant Russian-speaking population. He and his Anglo-American handlers calculated wrongly that a quiescent Kremlin, absorbed by the glittering opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympiad, would take the blow in humiliated silence.
It was delusional fantasy. The Georgian President has received a salutary and brutal lesson, and the US and Europe have been put on notice that Russia's era of passive accommodation is now closed. The Sunday Telegraph -- the haw-haw voice of Toryism -- produced an inebriating leader threatening Russia with combat based on the West's superior economy and military technology. Nazi Germany was similarly convinced of a triumph that never was, as was Napoleon a century earlier.
The US-led coalition of the willing hasn't covered itself in glory in either Iraq or Afghanistan, with Britain engaged in an urgent recruitment drive in Jamaica to replenish the diminishing manpower of its armed forces, particularly its under-strength Army. Nato may not have the stomach for a replay of Stalingrad.
The Independent's Mark Siegal, reporting from the border town of Vladikavkaz, Russia's old Caucasian staging post, tells of young Russians streaming in from all parts of this huge nation to volunteer for action. Muscular 30-year-old Nikolai from Stavropol, the birthplace of Mr Mikhail Gorbachev, had "left his job, jumped into the car and driven 600 miles through the night to sign up to defend the Russian cause". Another young compatriot barked, "This war is absolutely a war between Russia and America. The biggest mistake was in underestimating us. Now you'll see what happens."
A pity that American neocons are not much given to reading, let alone understanding, history. Having taken repeated provocations from Imperial Japan's forces along the Mongolian-Manchurian border in the summer of 1939, Marshal Zhukov was despatched to the frontier to sort out the problem -- which he did to such telling effect that Tokyo's military turned southwards and attacked the European colonial presence in South-East Asia rather than try conclusions again with the Red Army. Marshal Zhukov, the conqueror of Berlin, had saved his country the hazards of a possible two-front war in the aftermath of the Nazi assault. Appropriate force projection in pursuance of a political goal was thus vindicated. Thirty years later, in 1969, along their common frontier on the giant Amur river, the Soviet response to an unprovoked Chinese assault, which resulted in 61 Russian dead, left China's territory looking like a moonscape.
Mr Gorbachev, poor man, had wound up the Cold War (much to his credit) without precautionary insurance against Western bad faith. Western leaders made false promises on Nato non-expansion eastwards. Realpolitik, not pie-in-the-sky bromides on peace and brotherhood, is still the surest guarantor of peace and security.
A perusal of Barbara Crossette's report in the New York Times, at the commencement of the Pakistan-incubated Islamist insurgency in Kashmir in January 1990, will reveal the prognostication of an unnamed Islamabad-based Western diplomat, that the world was about to witness a permanent shift in the Sub-continental balance of power. The prediction mercifully was as still-born as the Nixon Administration's hope of similar geopolitical change in the wake of its support for the Pakistani military dictatorship in its war with India in December 1971.
India's public discourse on foreign and strategic policy is prone to mix political metaphors: The organising principles of a yogic ashram have no place in the fundamentals of statecraft. Force in the defence of dharma, as Krishna expostulated to Arjuna, is morally justified. It was so more than two millennia ago; it is as true today.