Monday, August 11, 2008

The Start of a New Era?

Across the political spectrum, people are weighing in on the significance of Russia's invasion of Georgian territory, and the extent to which Bush overplayed his diplomatic hand and, in effect, hung Georgia out to dry. Mr. Putin was playing hardball while Mr. Bush was probably flirting with a hard-on as he frolicked with the beach volleyball team at the Beijing Olympics:

"After an early wake-up call, the president headed straight to the Laoshan Olympic mountain-biking course, passing Tiananmen Square along the way. His wife, Laura, went on a tour of the Forbidden City. . . .

"In a green T-shirt and black shorts, the president biked more than an hour on the course on a warm, muggy, hazy day, accompanied by Secret Service agents and aides. He dabbed at his face with a towel as he left, then called the course 'really, really difficult.' . . .

"After slipping into dry clothes, the president headed for the beach volleyball at Chaoyang Park, getting sandy with defending gold medalist Misty May-Treanor on the practice courts during a half-hour stop.

"Bush posed for pictures with the U.S. players and staff. May-Treanor and her partner Kerri Walsh took a break in practice so Bush could try out a few bumps himself.

"The president needs some work on his passing, mis-hitting a pair off his knuckles. When May-Treanor passed the ball back to him, he acted like he was going to dive after it but decided to stay on his feet.

"Then May-Treanor turned her back to the president, offering her bikinied rear for one of the traditional slaps that volleyball players frequently give each other.

"'Mr. President, want to?' she asked, repeating an offer she made when Bush gave a pep talk to the U.S. athletes before Friday's opening ceremonies.


"Bush smilingly gave a flick with the back of his hand to the small of her back instead."

Whatever your view of Boy George's Olympic antics, the fact of the matter is that he's been had by the man into whose soul he professed to have peered - and felt assured by what he saw there - only a few short years ago. Both Robert Kagan and Richard Holbrooke identify the Russian invasion - coupled with the lack of any effective US response - as a watershed moment, very much on a par with Hitler's boldness at Munich in 1938. Hitler, of course, went on to launch a war of conquest that eventually engulfed almost all of Europe. I don't believe that Putin has quite the same thing in mind, although it's plain that he's intent on ensuring that the Caucasus and, as much as possible, the other post-Soviet republics remain secure in Russia's orbit. Nonetheless, the US's post-Iraq impotence has now been laid bare even more (and one would have hoped - especially if any remaining wisps of US prestige are to be saved - that that was impossible to make any barer). The US really has nothing with which to trump Putin's move. Short of resorting to JDAMs or tactical nuclear weapons, the US military's capabilities are maxxed out - and in any event, launching military action against Putin would likely drive the price of oil through the roof, with corresponding ruination of an already crippled US economy. What most easily comes to mind to describe succinctly Putin's move against the US is an old basketball taunt: "In your face!"

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