Rupert Cornwell: Little to do, lots to learn for impotent US

Share
Related Topics

Russia's military crushing of Georgia confronts the US with a stark choice – whether to challenge Moscow in its own backyard, ortacitly concede its sphere of influence there. Already, however, it has taught Washington a harsh lesson: either way, nothing the US does can make much difference.

Yesterday, Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary and a veteran official who has dealt with Russia and the Soviet Union for 30 years, acknowledged the limits of America's power to influence the behaviour of its former superpower rival.

If Russia did not step back now, relations with the United States could be affected for years to come, he said at the Pentagon. But the aid the US was now sending to Georgia was purely humanitarian, and for the time being would remain so.

He did not rule out broader US help in repairing the damage to Georgia's economy and armed forces. But he saw "no prospect for the use of [US] military force", even in the longer run. "Is that clear enough?" he asked his questioner.

Which raises the most pressing issue: short of force, how can the US "punish" Russia for whatMr Gates said was a calculated, unmistakeable warning from the Kremlin to other former members of the Soviet Union – most notably Ukraine and Moldova – that are entertaining notions of movingcloser to Nato and the West?

The dispatch of humanitarian aid was the bare minimum the Bush administration could do to assuage neoconservative hardliners who demand that Washington draw a line in the shifting Caucasian sands.

All that Mr Gates could specifically point to was the cancellation of various planned military exercises involving the US, Russia and Canada and "a full re-examination" by the Pentagon of its overall relationship with its Russian counterpart.

But the hardliners want much more: a ban on Moscow joining the World Trade Organisation, itsexpulsion from the G8 and a boycott of (or at least moves to undermine) the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, southern Russia, near the border with Abkhazia, a flashpoint in the conflict.

The hardliners insist the US must give no ground in its encouragement of other former Soviet republics to move towards the West – one of the contributing factors to the Kremlin's revenge on the headstrong Georgia. "Realists", on the other, say a new Cold War is not the answer: the clearest lesson of the crisis is that Washington must not promise, or even (as in the case of Georgia) be interpreted as promising, more than it can deliver.

The two approaches have been reflected in the US presidential race. The Republican John McCain, touting his firm and experienced hand in foreign affairs, says Moscow should be given no quarter. "We Are All Georgians Now", was the title of an article he wrote for yesterday's Wall Street Journal.

At the start of the crisis, by contrast, the approach of Barack Obama was more nuanced. He urged Russia and Georgia to show restraint, calling for a diplomatic solution. As the Russian offensive spread beyond South Ossetia into Georgia proper, the Democratic candidate toughened his language. But he indicated what hardliners cannot accept, that little Georgia, too, bore responsibility for the war.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Manager

£10 - £11 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: Nursery Manager We are loo...

Early Years Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Early Years supply teachers neede...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Progressive Rec.

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Progressive Recruitment are cu...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Real Staffing

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Real Staffing are currently lo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv  

Why do we stand by and watch Putin?

Ian Birrell
 

Daily catch-up: Underground, Overground, over the Irish Sea and clever pigs

John Rentoul
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor