The Plank

Training Russia's Enemies


On Friday The New York Times had a story about the American military's decision to train Georgian troops, ostensibly for counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. Matt Yglesias seems to think that the training is actually about Russia. He writes:

This strikes me as very, very, very silly. If we want to decide, as a matter of foreign policy, that we want to train Georgian troops in order to bolster Tblisi’s efforts to stand up to Moscow despite the risk of angering Russia, then fine. We should look at the costs and benefits of that strategy and maybe decide to adopt it. But it’s mighty dumb to be pretending that the reason we’re training Georgian troops is so that they might be prepared for counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. It’s perfectly clear to everyone that Afghanistan is being used as a pretext to provide training, and that Georgia is participating in the Afghan operation in order to obtain the training.

Yglesias' next point is worth debating:

Meanwhile, before condemning Russia’s anger over this sort of thing as representative of Russian evil and irrationality, people should give some consideration to how our government would likely react if China started training the Mexican military as part of preparation for Mexico to join a formal defensive alliance with China. I think you’d see a massive freakout.

I am not sure that there would be a massive freakout, but let's assume for the sake of argument that there would be one--and furthermore let's pretend that the two situations are otherwise congruent (i.e. that Mexico actually faces as much danger from America as Georgia faces from Russia). The Glen Beck types would be screaming about the end of American greatness, and Michael Savage would fret that our newspapers were going to start appearing in Mandarin. Presumably Obama would be forced into making a tough statement, too. And what would Yglesias' reaction be? Moreover, what would the reaction of the sane left be? Here's a guess: They would mock Beck and Savage, tell everyone to cool it, and have some fun with the most outrageous/jingoistic conservative voices (as well they should). If Russia flips out about these exercises, then, everyone should give Russian concerns that same level of respect.

--Isaac Chotiner

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