WHEREIN Ms Rubin answers her angry emailers and several potential cabbies:
First, the moral issue. No matter what mistakes Bush made in Iraq, they don't excuse Russia's brutal behavior in Georgia or toward its other neighbors, behavior that began long before Bush took office. America's "moral standing" is irrelevant in judging Russia's actions.
Um, 1) everything began before Bush took office, at least in some metaphysical sense, and none of that excuses him from turning loose that troop of flying monkeys even other Republican nutjob administrations had kept somewhat caged, at least; he ran for the job; 2) sure, sure, our "moral standing" is irrelevant in judging Russia, but it's precisely the point in our pronouncements of public moralisms, which are, basically, all we've got, short of the rash stupidity of massive escalation from the skies; 3) and who's fault is that? 4) even if we did have any viable ground force left it would be madness to suggest sending it to Georgia, and it's interesting that this point is most frequently missed by the very same people who urged us into twin disasters beginning seven years ago; 5) if this concerns you now, it should have concerned you back when we proposed to augur ourselves into the irregular and unequal polygon whose sides are Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and China, three of whom are nuclear powers, none of whom particularly cares for the others, and at least two of whom have been engaged in a low-to-medium grade conflict for over forty years, that is, back when we had a chance to consider both the long-term value of our moral standing and the potential for a major calamity growing out of our actions, and chose instead to vent our spleen without even counting to three.
I opposed Bush's broad doctrine of preemption - the right to invade another nation on the assumption that it might threaten us sometime in the future, even if it poses no threat in the short term. I also criticized Bush policy on Iraq.
And we are not here, madam, to debate what minimum claims you need to make in order merely to sound sane enough to engage the argument any further. You cannot on the one hand denounce "Bush's broad doctrine"--which even its cheering pep section had to recognize at the time, let alone now, was "broad" in the sense of the expanse of Ass it needed to Cover, not in the number of instances we'd invoke it--and on the other re-state what remains of the ginned-up case against Saddam Hussein as though it falls to your credit.
Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant under U.N. sanction for invading Kuwait and using weapons of mass destruction against his own people (not to mention against neighboring Iran). He was a continuing threat to his neighbors. Saakashvili may have acted rashly, and he may have flaws as a leader, but he's the elected president of a tiny nation next to a giant nuclear power.
To the extent that the Saddam litany is true--that is, about half--we rise to note that much of this he accomplished with US aid and/or approval, and that he, and his neighbors, have been of interest to us mostly since the 1920s and almost entirely because we enjoy refining their crude oil. We could add the lesser consideration that we were the ones who ramrodded the creation of the modern State of Israel, not for moral but for domestic political considerations, thereby forcing Holocaust reparations out of people who had nothing whatsoever to do with it. This is our own brief, Ms Rubin: that we ought to simply acknowledge that "morality" has nothing whatever to do with it, and to proceed from there, rather than down the precipitous decline just one unexamined footfall away, off to either side. Some of us, as individuals, may have the moral standing to criticize the Russians, or the Solomonic wisdom to decide Who Started It, or to dismiss the question as out of hand. Even this is rare; as a nation we are bereft. Rehabilitating the Iraq war by replaying whatever nonsensical, and now disgraced, rationale you imagine has survived is a fool's errand, and you are not a fool. And neither are we.
Russia is entitled to a sphere of influence built by diplomacy and economic ties, but Putin is aiming at something more sinister. The next U.S. president will need to devise a united policy with Europe to confront a Russia indifferent to European norms.
I believe this is the source of my own confusion; I've been watching what Olympic coverage I could take without raging dyspepsia, and the number of paid commentators able to read the minds of competitors at considerable distance has surprised me. The next world power whose sphere of influence is founded on diplomacy and economic ties will be the first. I heartily recommend to the next U.S. president that he denounce the Gun, the Covert Disruption, and Economic Blackmail in our own dealings with the rest of our own hemisphere. And that he employ a food taster.