I was tempted to poke fun, a la Mr. Sargent's cartoon above, at our American ignorance of geography by doing a post like... Russians invade Georgia. South Carolina next?
But there's nothing funny about what Russia is doing now.
Russia can make a case before the world for reacting to what amounted to a Georgian invasion of the disputed South Ossetia area. True, South Ossetia has been a part of Georgia... so, in a sense, to say Georgia 'invaded' South Ossetia by sending troops in would be like saying the United States invades Montana if we send troops there. On the other hand, only 20 years ago both Georgia and Russia were part of the U.S.S.R. -- the borders between them are new and, arguably, fluid.
What if much of the population of Montana were ethnic Canadians, clamoring to be reunited with the mother country, eh? American troop movements into Montana -- trying to round up pro-Canadian separatists -- might not look so benign to Canada under those circumstances, would it? And if Canada were big and strong and America small and weak... would it be a huge surprise if Canada sent troops in to the disputed area?
Russia can even make a case for plunging into undisputed Georgian territory after its counterstrike began. I can hear John Wayne now: They may have started this, but we aim to finish it.
So Russia invaded -- or Russia launched a counterstrike in response to a Georgian invasion -- take your pick -- and the world reacted with shock and outrage. American diplomats went to Tbilisi and the French President went to Moscow, both urging a cease-fire. Both Russia and Georgia accepted the cease-fire.
But, now, apparently, Russia is not honoring the cease-fire. There have been reports that Russian troops are not only not leaving Georgian soil, they are moving further into the country.
The Russian move in support of Russian separatists in South Ossetia may have been calculated to send a message to other Russian neighbors (Ukraine and Poland in particular): Don't get too cozy with the United States. We can still crush you. We will not allow ourselves to be surrounded by potential enemies.
This message, if paranoid, is an arguably legitimate message for Russia to send.
But failing to honor the Georgian cease-fire does not underscore that message. Rather, it sends a different and far more chilling message: We can not be trusted to keep our word. We will expand again, on our own timetable, and we will not be deterred by the mere protests of other nations.
It's the message Hitler sent several times before World War II.
Is the Russian Bear trying to start World War III?