All nations have them. Otherwise they aren’t nations. Among America’s vital interests are choke points on oil from wells to refineries. Georgia is one such.
Since time immemorial, nation states have recognized the right to protect their own vital interests — or lose them. Use of diplomacy and even military might in defense of a nation’s vital interests is universally understood and accepted.
Russia has no legitimate self-interest in invading Georgia and trying to create a puppet government. There is no conceivable way in which that tiny, newly democratic, pro-American, former Soviet Union-satellite state is a threat to a single Russian national interest.
By every valid definition of the word, what Russia is doing in the Caucasus is pure, unadulterated aggression. President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are exactly right in condemning Russia for exactly that.
Their words in defense of Georgia’s territorial integrity, their insistence that Moscow pull its troops back to the status quo ante, their assertion of the obvious that this is not 1968 when the Soviet Union could roll its tanks into a small neighboring country, their declaration that Russia cannot run out of office a democratically elected president and their warning that Moscow cannot get away with it this time are just what the doctor needed.
So are initial steps by the United States and its Western allies toward branding Russia a piranha in the community of nations and kicking it out of the club.
What the United States has not done, at least publicly, is state clearly, honestly and forcefully that the pipe lines transporting crude oil from the well fields around the Caspian Sea to Georgian ports on the Black Sea and Turkish terminals on the Mediterranean Sea are part of the vital interests of the United States of America and its allies.
That is what it will have to do in short order if it is to reverse the unacceptable adventurism Russia is pursuing recklessly and, so far, with impunity.
Loss of any transit route of crude to U.S. refineries, by pipe or truck overland or by tanker on the high sea, is an economic threat to the security — yes, the survival — of the U.S. and those depending on the U.S. for military security.
Lofty language about defenseless small nations, territorial integrity and democratically elected heads of state is well and good. What’s underlying all of that, however, is the national interest, the national security, of this country, not just Georgia.
Kremlin realists, including general and flag officers, must be given to understand this is a loss of a national interest the U.S. cannot and will not abide. They can recall Nikita Khrushchev’s costly folly of missiles in Cuba.
Those blokes understand what national interests are. Russia has its, as it should. And they well know that those Russian national interests are in no way threatened by Georgia, or by the U.S.
They well know, as does the rest of the world, that what Russia is pursuing today is not preservation of its national interests but indulgence of its centuries-old failed ambitions of imperialism predating even the days of the czars.
The U.S. and its allies will have to let whoever’s in charge lately in Moscow understand if they continue this international brigandage Russia’s own vital interests will be at serious risk. Is that a risk Russia is prepared to take?
Whether the U.S. makes or fails to make that point stick in Moscow, it won’t be lost on Iran, Syria, North Korea and Venezuela, who’d like nothing better than to go after U.S. vital interests in their necks of the woods.
Here is where tough, old-fashion, Cordell Hull cuss-word diplomacy does come into play. Shilly-shallying in the United Nations Security Council is a waste of previous time and an absurd joke. Nicey-nice and carrots won’t cut it.
Foggy Bottom stripe-pants will have to utter, publicly, those dreadful words that make them cringe: “America’s vital interests,” “hands off” and “or else.”
John L. Perry, a prize-winning newspaper editor and writer who served on White House staffs of two presidents, is a regular columnist for Newsmax.com.
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