So when I read last week that Mr. Totten was headed for Georgia, I looked forward to some interesting and enlightening reporting. He does not disappoint in a commentary piece in today's WSJ. A taste:
The “American side”. How interesting, and how telling.
Lia's husband had remained behind and arrived in Tbilisi shortly before I did. "He was trying to keep the house and the fields," she explained. "Afterward, he wanted to leave, but he was circled by soldiers. It was impossible. He was in the orchards hiding from the Russians in case they lit the house. He was walking and met the Russian soldiers and he made up his mind that he couldn't stay any more. The Russian soldiers called him and asked where he was going, if he was going to the American side."
"The Russians said this to him?" I said.
"My husband said he was going to see his family," she said. "And the Russians said again, 'Are you going to the American side?'"
"So the Russians view you as the American side, even though there are no Americans here."
"Yes," she said. "Because our way is for democracy."
Sen. John McCain may have overstated things a bit when, shortly after the war started, he said, "We are all Georgians now." But apparently even rank-and-file Russian soldiers view the Georgians and Americans as allies. Likewise, these simple Georgian country women seem to understand who their friends and enemies are. "I am very thankful to the West," Maya said as her eyes welled up with tears. "They support us so much. We thought we were alone. I am so thankful for the support we have from the United States and from the West."
As many other observers have noted, if you're old enough to remember the Cold War (and I am), then this is eerily familiar stuff. The mindset back then was that every war was a proxy war for the two superpowers – exactly what Mr. Totten reports about those Russian soldiers.
Russia, through its new “Czar Vladimir”, seems to have made a momentous choice. It could easily have chosen to integrate into the rest of the world's economy and political body. The Eastern European example, one would think, would be compelling. But it would only be compelling to those interested in their people's welfare, as opposed to personal enrichment and power – and it seems clear from his actions that Czar Vladimir has little concern for his people's welfare. The events in Georgia feel like a new escalation in the seemingly inexorable movement from a hopeful outlook for a peaceful, integrated Russia to a new era of superpower confrontation.
I can only hope that the rest of the world navigates this period with more success than they did at the outbreak of the first Cold War. If there is enough pressure brought to bear on the Bear, then the Bear may yet back down. There were some very positive steps visible last week, such as the Polish agreement to host an anti-missile defense system. You can tell they were positive from the beligerent response from the Russians, so reminiscent of the predictable Soviet bleatings in the Cold War. I hope there's even more of this going on in the shadows...
Mr. Totten promises much more, this weekend, on his personal site.