Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
August 17, 2008

McCain's Doctrine Applied to Georgia

He has made the principle that the exercise of military power sets the bargaining table for international relations a consistent theme of his career ever since, and in his 2002 memoir he wrote that one of his lifelong convictions was “the imperative that American power never retreat in response to an inferior adversary’s provocation.”
NYT: Response to 9/11 Offers Outline of McCain Doctrine

So how would McCain, in the position of the President of the Russian Federation, have handled Saakashvili's splendid little war.

Let's look at the first issue I highlighted: "military power sets the bargaining table"

With that conviction, McCain certainly would not have refrained from bombing the runway of the Tbilisi's international airport. He would not have let happen the Georgian army's hasty retreat from Gori to Tbilisi without creating another highway of death. He would not have allowed the U.S. to fly in those 2,000 Georgian reinforcement troops while the fighting was still going on. Those are indeed the things that 'set the bargain table' and that now seem to bit a troublesome for the Russian's.

Imagine how none of the stream of international 'guests' that propped up Saak in the media over the last days could have reached Tbilisi. Imagine that his Georgian army would have been destroyed down to the very last tank on the road to Tbilisi. Imagine pictures of Georgian soldiers sitting for days on some U.S. air base in Iraq while the infrastructure of their homeland gets dismantled.

McCain as Russian president would have made sure that all those things would have happened to further the Russian position at the bargaining table.

I have seen comments that the Russian's have 'Ledeenized' Georgia. Those comments referred to something McCain's fellow neocon Michael Ledeen once said:

"every now and again the United States has to pick up a crappy little country and throw it against a wall just to prove we are serious."

The Russians certainly did not do that to Georgia. The military doctrine that encapsulates "throw it against a wall" is "shock and awe". But Tbilisi still has electricity, the hospitals are intact, the TV stations are broadcasting and its international telecommunications lines are still working. Shock and awe, or 'Ledeenizing', would have eliminated those comforts. But that did not happen to Georgia.

With McCain as Russian president it would have happened.

The second thing I highlighted are these "provocations" of an "inferior adversary". The biggest recent one I can think of was the big July maneuver in Georgia with the participation of over 1,000 U.S. troops. If McCain would have ruled in the Kremlin, that would have been enough provocation to get rid of Saakashvili as soon as those U.S. maneuver troops left.  There were many earlier provocations where Saak loudmouthed against Russia, had his people mortar and snipe Ossetians and the Russian peacekeepers and gave other reasons to get slapped hard like he should have been for his asking for NATO membership.

The Russians have been relatively quiet about all those provocations. With McCain ruling over the Russian Federation they would have answered with force simply because anything else could have been seen as "retreat".

With McCain in the lead, instead of first Putin and then Medvedev, Russia would by now probably be in a better global political situation. Short term, bullying works ...

But for simple Georgians, the situation would be much worse. No electricity, no water, no food, many, many dead civilians ... simply think Baghdad or even Fallujah.

It is good that McCain is not ruling Russia.

Posted by b on August 17, 2008 at 18:49 UTC | Permalink


i just have to hear that stuid fuck say "dear driends" & i am vomiting everything up

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Aug 17 2008 19:03 utc | 1

Interesting points. But bear in mind Russia does not dominate the international media and didn't want the painful headache of being the new Nazis with pictures to back it up. When the media isn't watching, Putin was perfectly willing to be ruthless. Ask any resident of Grozny.

That said, Russia could have taken steps to shut down the country without causing mass civilian casualties. Failing to bombing the retreating Georgian Army, while I can't advocate the death of helpless people, was a mistake in geopolitical terms. As was failing to declare the whole country a "no fly zone" (they should have used that term.) As was not uprooting the entire rail system.

Now its too late. The Russians can't resume fighting without an excuse and I doubt Saak is stupid enough to attack again.

They can, however, admit Iran into the SCO and block any UNSC action. With weapons sales, they can change the balance of power in the mid east. Right now, I doubt they would be willing to 'loose' some weapons that fall into the hands of insurgents in countries where NATO is engaged, but that could change. And If they are sufficiently distracted, maybe Serbia could retake Kosovo?

There is more than one way to skin a cat.

Posted by: Lysander | Aug 17 2008 19:47 utc | 2

To add to Lysander's comments: There's the fact that the Russians don't intend to cleanse Georgia from Georgians and annex it to their empire after that's done. They need the Georgian people to get rid of Saakashvili in the near future, and need to crush Georgia a bit, but not to totally wipe it out of the map, if they want Georgia to join their sphere of influence at some point in the future. For similar reasons, Russia should stay clear from any real occupation of the country - there are limits to humiliations beyond which the enmity will go too deep to forget for a long time.
In my opinion, and a bit contrary to Lysander's message (and to B's "What would McCain do?"), the only point Russia could've gone further would be the annihilation of Georgia's army - but we don't know yet the extent of the beating it took. And from a geostrategic and long-term point of views, Russia might need a Georgia with still a bit of an army than a country totally unable to defend itself and open to any aggression or invasion by any neighbour (as opposed to its current state, where it's open to invasion and full occupation by Russia only).

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Aug 17 2008 20:30 utc | 3


A strong article with a weak headline. It gives the lie to everything spewed out by the vile Saakashvili. Well researched, or so it seems to me.

Point being that even the WaPo has had it with the propaganda emanating from Tbilisi.

Posted by: alabama | Aug 17 2008 20:57 utc | 4

@ CJ, perhaps the Russians were more forward thinking than I gave them credit for. But it will be hard to topple Saak if the U.S. and EU are all pulling for him. This defeat does not at all ensure his downfall. Saddam survived after 1991. Nasser survived after 1967. Neither had nearly as much international support as the Saak. I don't know anything about internal Georgian politics. Weather there is a March 14 force there waiting for a gentle push from Moscow remains to be seen.

@alabama, I can't get your link. Did you mean this one?

Posted by: Lysander | Aug 17 2008 21:40 utc | 5

One of the smartest things the Russians have done has been to insist on handing over control to Georgian police before evacuating Georgian towns. Its to the benefit of the locals that theres no lapse in security and control, and also provides a police record of the condition in which the Russians left the locality, making things a lot harder for propagandists.

All in all, Russia seems to have handled it with the right balance of force & restraint, without humiliating the Georgian people or making their lives any more of a misery than it has to be given the circumstances. Nobody likes to have a foreign force on their soil but most Georgians will understand that despite the intense propaganda it could have been a whole lot worse.

In contrast, USA soldiers looked away as looters & arsonists pillaged & destroyed Iraqi ministries as well as priceless ancient arts, scrolls & artifacts in Iraqi museums.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Aug 17 2008 21:47 utc | 6

Alabama @ 4,

Your WaPo link didn't work for me - I'm guessing this is the article you referred to:

A Two-Sided Descent Into Full-Scale War

A much more detailed description of events from recent blather on MSM. Saak is clearly made to be a lying sack.

Posted by: Hamburger | Aug 17 2008 22:01 utc | 7

Counting on Georgian goodwill is not likely to yield much for the Russians. It really does them no good to say that their invasion was kinder, gentler than most, even if true. Bear in mind most Georgians want Ossetia and Abkhazia back exactly as Serbs want Kosovo. Even if they think Saak acted like a drunken gambler at a rigged roulette wheel, they still wish he had won his bet.

A President McCainovich would understand this and would have thought his best option was to deliver the greatest amount of punishment he could, and would have done so with glee.

The Russians thought that a kinder approach would help them with foreign media and it probably did. If thousands of Georgians died it would have appeared much worse.

In that sense, the West has Russia in a bit of a trap. They keep pushing and provoking. If the Russians push back its "oh look! the Bear is back." And if they are passive then they get taken apart piecemeal.

But Russia is not helpless. To pursue their security, they need to erode U.S. power where they can. That would be in Iran and the middle east. Let Iran into SCO, block UNSC action, sell advanced weapons. Iran provides a chance to break America's 60 year hold on the Persian Gulf and they should use it.

And they should pray for 200 dollar oil and a very cold winter.

Posted by: Lysander | Aug 17 2008 22:47 utc | 8

Medvedev said it was still possible that Russia could join with Venezuela and other gas-producing nations to form a cartel similar to OPEC, a concept that has been under discussion for several years

One of the hardest-to-price products out there is natural-gas. If Russia, Venezuela, Iran & other top gas producers were to form a cartel, one of its first tasks might be try to streamline natural gas pricing in its various forms -- pipeline, LNG, CNG ... Hence creates more demand. Hence a bigger market & less dependence on traditional buyers i.e Japan/EU/Korea/USA

A new natural-gas commodities exchange could follow, likely as a collaboration between independent interests affiniated with the cartel. And it will not defer to the dollar. In short, a major pressure point for the West.

Its not clear how this ties up with the Georgia conflict, but every recent challenge to the energy/dollar status-quo has been fiercely resisted.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Aug 18 2008 1:16 utc | 9

Have a look at this Asia Times article.

Russia takes control of Turkmen (world?) gas
By M K Bhadrakumar

Gazprom, Russia's energy leviathan, signed two major agreements in Ashgabat on Friday outlining a new scheme for purchase of Turkmen gas. The first one elaborates the price formation principles that will be guiding the Russian gas purchase from Turkmenistan during the next 20-year period. The second agreement is a unique one, making Gazprom the donor for local Turkmen energy projects. In essence, the two agreements ensure that Russia will keep control over Turkmen gas exports.


Russia and China have a heavy agenda to discuss in energy cooperation far beyond the price of Turkmen gas supplies. But suffice it to say that Gazprom's new stature as the sole buyer of Turkmen gas strengthens Russia's hands in setting the price in the world gas (and oil) market. And that has implications for China. Moscow would be keen to ensure that Russian and Chinese interests are harmonized in Central Asia.


...Russia has greatly strengthened its standing as the principal gas supplier to Europe. It not only controls Central Asia's gas exports but has ensured that gas from the region passes across Russia and not through the alternative trans-Caspian pipelines mooted by the US and EU. Also, a defining moment has come. The era of cheap gas is ending. Other gas exporters will cite the precedent of the price for Turkmen gas. European companies cannot match Gazprom's muscle. Azerbaijan becomes a test case. Equally, Russia places itself in a commanding position to influence the price of gas in the world market. A gas cartel is surely in the making. The geopolitical implications are simply profound for the US.

Posted by: Thrasyboulos | Aug 18 2008 1:49 utc | 10

I'll have a tall glass of irony, barkeep... Double on the rocks, tyvm.

Stalin Museum, Gori, Georgia

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Aug 18 2008 4:50 utc | 11

Gazprom has signed an agreement about Turkmenian gas pricing principle

In the first case the base price is a mix of an average wholesale price in Europe, prices in Ukraine’s home market and in Southern Russia in equal proportions, that is in 33% - for the six previous months. According to the second variant, the base price consists of wholesale gas prices in Europe and Ukraine in the 50/50 proportion.

This looks like it might be a form of split pricing. Very bad setup for hyper-speculators/manipulators because price movements are well dampened & not easily subordinated by runaway spot or derivatives markets. Hence should be very nice for EU consumers. Big-oil will hate this scheme too.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Aug 18 2008 6:13 utc | 12

billmon on georgia. it is a long post, i haven't even finished reading it. i had a bit of a chuckle over this comment (hat tip uncle #11)

I have to admit, even I was startled when the semi-official media (Washington Post, NY Times, AP, etc.) began referring to Georgia as a staunch US "ally". Since when, I wondered, had the United States bound itself in a collective defense pact with Stalin’s birthplace?

Posted by: annie | Aug 18 2008 16:34 utc | 13

the empire ought to shut the fuck up

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Aug 18 2008 16:39 utc | 14


it is a very well written piece bt billmon

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Aug 18 2008 16:55 utc | 15

Now Bush's spirited criticism of Russia's invasion of neighboring Georgia has raised derisive smirks among Arab commentators, who say the U.S. president is condemning the same power politics he practices.

"Bush should be "too ashamed to speak about the occupation of any country, he is already occupying one," said Mohammed Sayed Said, editor in chief of the Egyptian independent daily Al Badeel. "U.S. forces have been in Iraq for five years and they still fight in an unacceptable manner that violates human rights conventions. Bush had better talk about his own occupation of Iraq."

Bitterness and suspicion toward Washington are easily summoned, from Cairo to Beirut to Baghdad. The Iraq war, the sense of drift over the Palestinian question, and Washington's perceived failure to pay more than lip-service to promoting democracy and human rights have all undermined American standing."

l a times

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Aug 18 2008 17:06 utc | 16

yep, isn't it tho.

Posted by: annie | Aug 18 2008 17:11 utc | 17

here's your link r'giap
Arab world sees Bush's response to Georgia-Russia crisis as hypocritical

Posted by: annie | Aug 18 2008 17:15 utc | 18

thanks, annie

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Aug 18 2008 17:18 utc | 19

the 'legislative' stuff bilmon covers are a crucial context

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Aug 18 2008 17:49 utc | 20

chavez on the crisis of the caucasus

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Aug 18 2008 17:57 utc | 21

waiting now for mccain to eat his tie too, as if it's a perfectly normal thing to do - we're all tie eaters now

Posted by: b real | Aug 18 2008 18:37 utc | 22

from @21

Hugo Chavez:
“I am almost certain that it was the president of the United States, the imperialist George Bush, who ordered the movement of the Georgian troops towards South Ossetia, killing innocent people, and with good reason Russia acted,” Chavez said.

in other words, Saak was set up

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Aug 18 2008 20:01 utc | 23

Russia takes more ground in Georgia despite pullback vow

Friendly Russians:

"You have five minutes to move your cars," he told the Georgian policeman. And then it was three minutes. The Georgian, addressing the Russian as "Mr. Colonel," pleaded: "I have an order, I cannot move my cars."

A few minutes later, the Russian waved his hand, and an armored fighting vehicle plowed through the roadblock of Georgian police cars, its tracks crushing into their sides.

This is ominous:

The United States, which has refused to send direct military aid to Georgia, continued providing what officials said were humanitarian supplies. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said three C-17's and one C-9 transport planes flew to Georgia Monday, and as of Tuesday, there will be a daily flight of a C-17 cargo plane.
Humanitarian supplies ...

Posted by: b | Aug 19 2008 9:16 utc | 24

I wonder if there is a bit chicken game going with those US planes. The russians could be waiting for any trace of new 'hardware' targeted to them that could be indirectly related with those flights to quarantine Georgia from the world until the georgians themselves decide to start voting to sane people.

In any case in the current situation, with a complete break down of the georgian army (well or more likely half assed group of mercenaries and ethnic cleansers) any supply would be pretty useless other than for embarrasing the US. The russians have a far superior infantry and armour even without air superiority. Small 'terrorist' attacks would only serve as an excuse for the russians to groznificate Tbilisi.

Posted by: ThePaper | Aug 19 2008 10:54 utc | 25

The Toll of the War in Georgia's North

But a trip here by reporters, who were accompanying the first humanitarian aid convoy to reach outlying areas, also undermined some of the most incendiary allegations advanced by Georgian officials. Mereti, site of the alleged abductions, is the same village where government officials had recently said three local women were raped and murdered. At least eight residents said Tuesday that no such attacks had occurred.

Posted by: b | Aug 20 2008 7:16 utc | 26

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