Monday, August 11, 2008

Georgia and Historical Precedents

Big fish gobble up small fish, and small fish gobble up tiny fish. If it is OK for Georgia to force South Ossetia to remain part of Georgia, then why does the same principle apply to Russian desires to subjugate Georgia? Either we live by the principle that individuals have the right to choose their allegiance or we live by the principle that might makes right. The solution to the long-festering sore of South Ossetia would have been a U.N.-monitored election to select continued membership in Georgia, independence, or joining Russia.

It is rather obvious that looking the other way while Russia subjugated (or perhaps the word should be "obliterated") Chechnya back in the 1990s is now coming back to haunt us. What may not be quite so obvious is the connection between this week's events in the Caucasus and the confrontation between the West and Islam.

History goes through stages. In the midst of one, everyone is consumed by the problems it entails. Historical stages don't last forever, though. Colonialism, the struggle against fascism, the Cold War...all ended, and so will the Western confrontation with Islam. More to the point, the way each stage develops lays the groundwork for the next stage. The failure of the victors to resolve issues such as German reparations, whether or not to treat the Germans with respect, whether or not to keep the German population prostrate and in poverty, whether or not to honor promises of independence made to populations like the Arabs and the Chinese famously set the stage for the horrors of World War II.

How the world manages the Western confrontation with Islam will also do much to set the stage for the next historical era. If international law and global cooperation as symbolized by the U.N. are discarded and replaced by legitimization of torture, collective punishment, "democratization" at the point of a gun, and preventive war, then the Caucasus today may come to be seen as the symbol of the next historical era.

Precedents are powerful things. Precedents provide permission for acts people wanted but never dared to commit. If preventive war becomes accepted as legitimate behavior, then what is to stop Israel from attacking Iran, India from attacking Pakistan, China from attacking Taiwan, Russia from attacking Ukraine? If collective punishment of the people of Fallujah or Gaza is OK, then why not collective punishment of the people of Georgia or Taiwan, Ukraine...or, indeed, any Western population that terrorists may select as their next target? If "democracy" is defined as elections held at the point of a gun, then why not have "democracy" in Taiwan at the point of Chinese guns or "democracy" in Georgia at the point of Russian guns or "democracy" in Kashmir at the point of Indian guns?

Today's actions are tomorrow's precedents. An intelligent species thinks about the long-term impact of its behavior.

No comments: