Is NATO overplaying its hand? France's Nick Sarkozy is uttering ominous threats to Russia to get out of Georgia "or else." Condi Rice is convening a meeting of the whole scout troop in Brussels presumably to tell Russia to get out of Georgia "or else."
One ultimatum atop another. Vlad Putin may have a tidy stack of them on his desk before long. I suppose he'll read them. He's pretty shrewd so he'll probably give them some serious thought. After that, however, it's anybody's guess.
The trouble with an ultimatum is that, while they're easy to give, you do risk having to make good the "or else" part. Nick knows that which is why he's completely vague about the consequences France will inflict on Russia if the Kremlin doesn't fold.
The thing with threats is that the person on the receiving end first has to take the measure of the threat and then weigh the sincerity of the threatener. There's an enormous amount of guessing involved which is why these things sometimes go so very wrong.
So, what are we going to threaten Russia with? Is Stephen Harper going to raise an army, or even a division maybe, to send off to fight the Russians? Oh spare me, please. The people of Canada, like the people of Britain and the peoples of Europe have no stomach for clashing with Russia over something as piddling as Saakashvili's Georgia. The last thing America needs is another heavy-lifting job for its already beleaguered, "Stop Loss" hostage army.
What I fear most is that Putin has an accurate measure of the NATO alliance in its current bloated, hapless configuration. Even Afghanistan gives the NATO members the vapours. A shooting war with Russia versus NATO is a joke.
Maybe we'll reinstate the Cold War. We had enough trouble with that during the half century when we were still insanely wealthy and powerful. Actually, in a way, extending NATO to Russia's borders is a continuation of the Cold War the way we like to do things these days - on the cheap. Maybe we'll all go back to chipping in 4% of our GDP to contain Russia like we did in the bad old days. Won't that be fun (buy Lockheed-Martin fast).
The good news is that NATO has Condi Rice to advise them. She's an expert on the Soviet Union and should be on top of all things Russian. Of course her advice to the horde at Brussels won't be based on her academic assessment but in support of the policies devised by Bush and Cheney.
Condi has already had some tough words for Putin telling reporters that, "People are going to begin to wonder if Russia can be trusted." Coming from a key member of a government that no one needs to wonder if it can be trusted, Rice's admonition must be scary indeed to the Kremlin.
Keeping NATO intact was tough enough when we only had to contend with the interests of North Americans and Western Europeans. Tossing the Eastern European nations, with all their problems and baggage, into the mix was just plain dumb. Poland, the Czechs, the Balts and the Hungarians, sure. The rest? Whatever for?
What no one wants to acknowledge is that the extension of NATO to Russia's borders was an act of American neo-conservatism, plain and simple. It was always about poking the bear in the ribs with a sharp stick by extending America's sphere of interest into Russia's own backyard. It was a stupid power grab with predictable consequences.
It's curious that no one is mentioning what may be the greatest risk to our brinksmanship - driving Russia more squarely into a strategic (i.e. anti-West) alliance with China. Does anyone in his right mind think that Georgia is worth that price?