Paul Berman's long posting yesterday on the implications of the Russian invasion of Georgia and of its threats to other independent countries is provoking serious thought and heated argument in many places, some high places, and some fundamentally irrelevant ones, too. It is, of course, a challenge to liberals and to Democrats who would prefer that some domestic tsunami occur so that American eyes are deflected from the enormity of Putin's actions.
The guns around Tbilisi have now fallen silent. Efforts are underway to finalize a truce between Russia and Georgia to end Moscow’s bloody invasion. It is time for the West to look in the mirror and ask: What went wrong? How did this disaster happen? Make no mistake. While this is first and foremost a disaster for the people and government of Georgia, it is also a disaster for the West--and for the U.S. in particular. After all, Georgia was, in a fairly basic sense, our project. The Rose Revolution was inspired by American ideals--and prodding.
Here's the latest dispatch from Michael Idov, our man in Moscow. You can also find his most recent video report here. (For more election coverage from Russia, check yesterday's post and video.) Yesterday in the New York Times Magazine, Andrew Meier profiled one of the perennially thwarted Russian opposition leaders, Eduard Limonov. “[President-elect] Dmitri Medvedev … is little more than a proxy,” Meier writes, but “there remains one genuine opposition force, the Other Russia.” To be blunt about it, no there doesn’t.
What you think of a presidential candidate is in large measure determined by what you think of the world. Different circumstances call for different talents, different sensibilities, different approaches to power. "Leadership" comes in many forms. A sterling individual may be historically inappropriate; and a person whom it is impossible to admire may accomplish significant things. The question of whether Barack Obama will make a fine commander-in chief finally depends on your view of the direction of history in the coming years.
Finally! President Putin has selected an heir. By choosing Dmitri Medvedev--identified with domestic development and Russian "soft power"--rather than hawkish former defense minister Sergei Ivanov, it seems like Putin is making an indirect admission about Russia's regime. Like China's, its legitimacy ultimately rests on the ability to promote stability and economic growth. All the nationalism in the world can't change that basic fact. P.S. This post is late, but for a good cause. Up all night fact-checking Scoblic's upcoming book. --Barron YoungSmith