Sep 20 2008
Defense Secretary Robert Gates may have come up with the quote of the decade: “At this point I should note that for the first time, both the United States secretary of state and secretary of defense have doctorates in Russian studies. A fat lot of good that’s done us.”
To Gates’ credit, though, it seems to me he’s struck the right note on the South Ossetian crisis: Russia’s response to Georgia’s attempt to seize South Ossetia has been disproportionate and is clearly intended at reasserting authority in Russia’s near abroad, but that is a far cry from the Hitler / Munich parallels so loosely thrown around. In Gates’ words, Russia’s behavior is tsarist, not Soviet, and that makes an enormous difference. Gates is also suitably cautious on the subject of NATO membership for Georgia, which is a welcome breath of fresh air.
Frankly, I find Condoleezza Rice’s conduct more puzzling: if there’s one thing that scholarly training in Russian / East European history ought to teach, it’s the need to be very careful before jumping in the middle of ethnic / national disputes. Down that path lies madness.