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Wrong on Georgia

9:00 AM, Aug 12, 2008 • By JOHN NOONAN
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Normally I enjoy Fred Kaplan's columns. But here, we part ways:

Bush pressed the other NATO powers to place Georgia's application for membership on the fast track. The Europeans rejected the idea, understanding the geo-strategic implications of pushing NATO's boundaries right up to Russia's border. If the Europeans had let Bush have his way, we would now be obligated by treaty to send troops in Georgia's defense. That is to say, we would now be in a shooting war with the Russians. Those who might oppose entering such a war would be accused of "weakening our credibility" and "destroying the unity of the Western alliance."

First, NATO has directly bordered Russia since 2004 when we swore in the Baltic member states. And I suspect that the people of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are all breathing a heavy sigh of relief as they watch events unfold in Georgia.

Second, had Georgia been granted membership earlier this year, this invasion would have been over before it started. I've heard insinuations like Kaplan's all weekend, that had NATO accepted Georgia, we'd be embroiled in a localized war with the Russian army per our treaty obligations. But that doesn't factor in the enormous deterrent factor in having the United States in a direct alliance with the Georgians. Putin is ruthless, but he's no dummy. Ivan knows that while U.S. ground forces may be heavily committed in Iraq and Afghanistan, we still have plenty of fighters, bombers, ships, and subs at our disposal -- weapon systems that were originally designed to kill Russians. With the Sixth Fleet and Incirlik Air Base in such close proximity to the fighting, it's highly doubtful that Ivan would have risked kicking that hornet's nest for two tiny breakaway republics. And that's not even acknowledging the real elephant in the room: both the United States' and Russia's strategic forces.

This is a strange case that Kaplan is making. President Bush is guilty of nothing more than supporting Georgia's desire to join the community of free and democratic societies. That support, apparently, is such an unforgivable sin that it absolves Russia of responsibility for their invasion, and places blame for the conflict directly on our shoulders.

No one wants war with Russia. But that doesn't mean that the gods of totalitarianism deserve to have the aspirations of free nations sacrificed to them on an altar of appeasement.