A Retro Cold War

For students of Cold War political history, the last several weeks has been fascinating. Georgia, the small republic on the coast of the Black Sea, attacked the Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia to reclaim their break away region on the eve of the 2008 Summer Olympics, where most of the world leaders attended and presumably were too occupied with sports to notice this brazen act. Except the Russians did noticed and responded with a massive show of force that caught the Georgian military off guard. Not surprisingly, the Russian military conducted an exercise the month before for the same scenario that played out. If you wake up the Russian bear, expect big trouble to come down in a hurry.

A lot of political hand wringing ensued. The Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, has expected NATO and the United States to rescue him from the foolishness of his own actions. The Europeans didn’t lift a finger in response, and, perhaps wisely, chose not to admit Georgia into NATO due to the potential border conflicts with Russia. America didn’t lift a finger to help since our military are still stuck in Afghanistan and Iraq, and any potential conflict with Russia could escalate into a nuclear conflict.

President Saakashvili didn’t help his own cause by hurling insults at the Russian leadership, invoking the West losing Poland to Nazi Germany in World War II, and wildly claiming that the Russians were marching on the capital to provoke the West into action. The Russian leadership dished back the insults with equal ferocity, even demanding that a war crimes trial be held at The Hague. The Bush Administration didn’t help when it publicly enabled the Georgian military to get cocky about winning a confrontation with Russia while telling them in private not to provoke the Russians by disregarding the historical sensitivity that Russia has towards threats on its borders.

While the Russian leadership signed the cease-fire agreement brokered by France and Germany, the real action is still happening on the ground with the Russian military neutering the Georgian military. Fear and trembling is being felt along the old borders of the Soviet Union, the West is reconsidering their relationship with the Russians, and the Georgians are wondering where the heck America was in all this. The only people surprised by these events are the ones who don’t learn from history.

If you want to understand the nuttiness of the Cold War, watch there three classic movies: The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (a stranded Russian sub freaks out a New England coastal village), The Mouse That Roared (a small European kingdom declares war on America and wins), and Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Loved The Bomb (a crazed American general orders a nuclear bomber into Russia). These movies, made in the 1960s when nuclear annihilation was only a thumb press away from happening, are biting satires of the world we once lived in—and may return to by the way things are going.