Georgia

Photo Credit: Shannon Butler | Daily Texan Staff

As observers of international affairs, we have a tendency to divide the world into good guys and bad guys, friends and foes. Old maps from the Second World War show the allied countries in one color, the axis countries in another. Cold War maps depict our allies in blue or white, the communists usually in red. Since Sept. 11, 2001, American policymakers have divided the world roughly between our friends in the war against terrorism, and those states that support or house terrorists (what former President George W. Bush infamously called the “axis of evil”). 

Russia, under its dictatorial president, Vladimir Putin, poses a problem for these somewhat unavoidable colors on our maps. Putin’s actions in the last year have clearly shown that he aims to challenge American and West European influence in the territories around his state. Putin has invaded South Ossetia (formerly part of the republic of Georgia), Crimea and eastern Ukraine to prevent those regions from joining the European Union or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, despite strong support in each nation for cultivating these Western connections. Putin has flagrantly vetoed efforts in the United Nations to punish Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s genocidal attacks on his own population. On July 17 paramilitary forces in eastern Ukraine operating Russian weapons shot down a civilian aircraft, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing 298 civilians. Undaunted, Russia has continued to support this kind of reckless behavior, including provocative military aircraft flights near E.U. and U.S. borders. 

Some observers have diagnosed a new Cold War, with a renewed division in Europe, but that exaggerates the Russian threat. For all his brutality, Putin is not seeking to close off Russia to Western capital, people or ideas. If anything, he wants his chosen allies at home to benefit from foreign investments, high-skilled workers, innovative technologies and modern media. Putin recognizes that Russian power and prosperity require integration, not separation, from global capitalist markets and knowledge industries. His goal is to manage Russia’s global integration for his maximum benefit, minimizing what he perceives as the advantages of the U.S. and E.U. Putin has shown little concern for the freedoms and living standards of his own citizens; his priority is the power of the state that he controls.

Condemning Putin as an aggressive tyrant is not sufficient, and it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cornered and isolated dictators almost never back down; they usually turn to more threatening policies. Similarly, ignoring Putin’s misdeeds and hoping for the best in negotiations will not work, either. Aggressive and self-righteous tyrants seek to exploit opportunities; they will push against their neighbors until someone pushes back. 

The challenge for American and European policy is to contend with the current realities and the likely reactions from Putin toward various Western actions. Many of our discussions of policy caricature our adversaries, while they simultaneously overstate our power and understate the range of our options. Like the simple lines and colors on our maps, our strategic vision of the world is much too simple. The key task for policy observers is to avoid dichotomies between good and evil and instead conceptualize how the United States can discourage Putin’s continued aggression without further antagonizing the Russian dictator by backing him into a corner. 

What the United States needs is a policy that builds what former Secretary of State Dean Acheson called “situations of strength” while also offering Russia dignified exits from confrontation. Rhetoric about “stopping” Russia overstates our capabilities, and efforts to humiliate Putin make the resolution of conflict more difficult. Backing down is hard for everyone, especially political strongmen who rule through intimidation. Firmness, preparation and respect — even for brutal regimes — are key elements of a workable relationship. Political efficacy requires reasonableness in addition to moral indignation.

So what does a firm, prepared, respectful and reasonable U.S. and E.U. policy toward Russia look like? Historical experience points to three basic elements. First, the U.S. and E.U. should state clearly why we believe that Ukraine, Georgia and other countries around Russia deserve the right to join the E.U., NATO and other Western organizations if they wish. We must show consistency, seriousness and interests beyond immediate gains for our own societies. An adversary, like Russia, cannot appreciate our interests and values if we do not articulate them effectively.

Second, attention to Ukraine, Georgia and other countries does not mean that Russia should be ignored. Quite the contrary, U.S. and E.U. leaders should reach out explicitly to show that we value dialogue with Russia. We should give Putin reasons to want to do the right thing.

Third, and perhaps most important, Washington and Brussels must truly represent global opinion. Instead of falling into Putin’s trap of conceptualizing the conflict as a battle of the rich West against the rest, President Barack Obama and his counterparts must appeal to other major countries in East Asia, Latin America and Africa. Putin must see that there is little sympathy for his behavior around the globe. World opinion matters, and skillful diplomatic work to mobilize world opinion on behalf of democracy and national sovereignty is crucial.

Although the lines on the maps still matter, they should not force our thinking into rigid “us” versus “them” assumptions. Putin’s Russia is a threat, but it is a manageable threat. Policy leadership on this topic is more about diplomacy, negotiation and creativity than the moralistic rhetoric that dominates our public discussions. We can indeed help to lead the world without simplistically dividing it.

Suri is a professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs. Follow him on Twitter @JeremiSuri. 

A Rare Delicacy

Georgia Parker shows off some fire ants that she is eating at the 5th Annual Bug Festival in Zilker Park Saturday evening. Attendees tasted various edible insects from scorpions to mealworms and more.

GORI, Georgia — A museum that has honored Josef Stalin in Georgia since 1937 is being remodeled to exhibit the atrocities that were committed during the Soviet dictator’s rule.

Georgian Culture Minister Nika Rurua said Monday that his nation, which became independent in 1991, can no longer host a museum “glorifying the Soviet dictator.”

The gigantic museum includes the house where Stalin was born and some 47,000 exhibits, including his personal belongings and death masks.

It remained open despite the de-Stalinization campaign and denunciation of his personality cult. But in post-Soviet Georgia, whose pro-Western government has been actively removing traces of Soviet past, the museum seemed like an anachronism that mostly attracted foreign tourists and a few die-hard Communists.

NEW DELHI — Israel blamed Iran on Monday for bomb attacks on its diplomats’ cars in India and Georgia, heightening concerns that the Jewish state was moving closer to striking its archenemy.

Iran denied responsibility for the attacks that appeared to mirror the recent killings of Iranian nuclear scientists that Tehran blamed on Israel.

The blast in New Delhi set a car ablaze and injured four people, including an Israeli Embassy driver and a diplomat’s wife; the device in Georgia was discovered and safely defused.

“Iran is behind these attacks and it is the largest terror exporter in the world,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told lawmakers from his Likud Party.

The violence added further tension to one of the globe’s most contentious standoffs. Iran has been accused of developing a nuclear weapons program that Israel says threatens the existence of the Jewish state. Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

Comments by Israeli officials in recent weeks have raised fears Israel might be preparing to strike Iranian nuclear facilities. While Israel says it hopes that international sanctions can curb Iran’s nuclear program, leaders pointedly note that “all options are on the table” and have warned that as Iran moves closer to weapons capability, time is running out for action. Fearing an Israeli attack could set off a conflict across the region and send oil prices skyrocketing, U.S. and other Western countries have been pressing Israel to give sanctions more time.

Israeli military analyst Reuven Pedatzur said Monday’s action was unlikely to have any bearing on whether Israel attacks Iran, calling it an “isolated incident” with rather low impact.

The attackers in India and Georgia appeared to have used “sticky bombs” attached to cars by magnets, similar to weapons used against Iran’s nuclear officials. Netanyahu said Israel had thwarted attacks in recent months in Azerbaijan and Thailand and unspecified other countries.

“In all those cases, the elements behind these attacks were Iran and its protege, Hezbollah,” Netanyahu said, referring to Iran’s Lebanese proxy. He vowed to “act with a strong hand against international terror.”

Israeli media reported that the government blamed Iran based on prior intelligence and that security officials feared this could be the start of a wave of attacks against Israeli targets overseas.

Iranian officials rejected Netanyahu’s accusation.

“This accusation is within the Zionist regime’s psychological war against Iran,” the official IRNA news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying.

“The Zionist regime, due to repeated crimes against humanity, is the main party accused of terrorist activities,” he said.The New Delhi attack took place just after 3 p.m. a few hundred yards (meters) from the prime minister’s residence as the diplomat’s wife headed to the American Embassy School to pick up her children, said Delhi Police Commissioner B.K. Gupta.

When the minivan approached a crossing, she noticed a motorcyclist ride up and stick something on it that appeared to be a magnetic device, he said. The car drove a short distance, there was a loud sound and then an explosion, and the car caught fire, he said.

“It was a loud explosion. We realized it’s not a firecracker, but an explosion, and rushed toward the car,” said Ravi Singh, owner of a nearby gas station.

The blast left the vehicle charred and appeared to blow out its rear door.

“The blast was so powerful, the car behind got damaged as well,” said Monu, a high school student who uses only one name.

The Israeli Defense Ministry said the woman, Tal Yehoshua-Koren, the wife of a Defense Ministry official based in New Delhi, suffered moderate shrapnel wounds and was treated at a hospital by Israeli doctors.

Her driver, Manoj Sharma, 42, and two people in a nearby car had minor injuries, Gupta said.

Israeli diplomats in India have been on constant alert since Pakistan-based militants rampaged across the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008, targeting luxury hotels, a train station and the Chabad Jewish community center.

India’s foreign minister, S.M. Krishna, said India would cooperate closely with Israel in the investigation and promised to bring the assailants to justice.

“I have just spoken to the Israeli foreign minister,” he said. “I assured him that the law of the land will take its course.”

Authorities in the former Soviet republic of Georgia said an explosive device was planted on the car of a driver for the Israeli Embassy in the capital of Tbilisi.

Shota Utiashvili, spokesman for the Georgian Interior Ministry, said the driver noticed a package on his car’s undercarriage and called police, who found and defused a grenade.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the attacks.

“The United States places a high priority on the safety and security of diplomatic personnel around the world and we stand ready to assist with any investigation of these cowardly actions,” she said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the incidents underscore U.S. concerns about the recent targeting of Israeli interests overseas. He added that Washington does not yet have information on who is responsible for the attack but stands ready to help the investigations.

Iranian lawmaker Javad Jahangirzadeh was quoted by the semiofficial Mehr news agency as saying the Israeli charges were meant to provoke the world against Iran and to undermine upcoming nuclear talks between Tehran and the world powers.

Another lawmaker, Avaz Heidarpour, was quoted by Mehr as saying Netanyahu’s allegations were an attempt by Israel to justify future operations against Iran.

“It’s very likely that the Zionist regime is paving the way to carry out an assassination abroad or hit inside Iran. So, they are making preparations for that,” Mehr quoted him as saying.

Hezbollah and Iran have deep grievances against Israel.

Hezbollah battled Israel in a monthlong war in 2006. On Sunday, the Lebanese guerrilla group marked the anniversary of the 2008 assassination of one of its commanders, Imad Mughniyeh, in a bombing widely believed to have been carried out by Israel. Iran has been widely suspected of looking for payback for the covert plots against its nuclear program it has blamed on Israel’s spy agency Mossad and Western allies.

“There have been all kinds of mysterious things happening in Iran, and it could be an Iranian counterattack,” said Mike Herzog, a retired Israeli general and former top aide to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. “It’s no secret that Iran uses Hezbollah globally, and Hezbollah has the capacity to carry out attacks around the globe.”

Iran and Hezbollah also could be trying to divert attention away from ally Syria’s crackdown on protesters.

Were Iran found to be behind the New Delhi attack, it would be a stunning action against one of its more reliable allies.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has resisted U.S. and European Union pressure to curtail trade with Iran over the nuclear issue. Energy-starved India relies heavily on Iranian oil imports, and the two countries are working to find creative ways for India to circumvent banking restrictions to pay for the oil by using rupees and investing in Iranian infrastructure projects.

Israel has urged the international community to consider all means, including military action, to stop Tehran.

Last month, a director of Iran’s main uranium enrichment site was killed in a blast from a magnetic bomb placed on his car, at least the fifth member of Iran’s scientific community killed in apparent targeted attacks in two years.

In a signal Iran could retaliate, Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, the spokesman for Iran’s Joint Armed Forces Staff, was quoted by the semiofficial news agency ISNA last month as saying that Tehran was “reviewing the punishment” of “behind-the-scene elements” involved in the assassination.

“Iran’s response will be a tormenting one for supporters of state terrorism,” he said. “The enemies of the Iranian nation, especially the United States, Britain and the Zionist regime, or Israel, have to be held responsible for their activities.”

Clinton categorically denied any U.S. link to an “act of violence inside Iran.” Israel has made no direct comments about Iran’s accusations of covert operations, but some officials have made provocative hints that Tehran’s many foes could have an interest in efforts to destabilize its nuclear program.

Iran also has blamed the U.S. and allies for a sophisticated computer virus, known as Stuxnet, that was programmed to disrupt the centrifuges used in uranium enrichment. Iran said the virus was detected in its systems, but added there were no serious setbacks.

In January, a foreign suspect with alleged links to Hezbollah militants led Thai police to a warehouse filled with materials commonly used to make bombs.

In 1992, a bombing at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires killed 29 people. Two years later, a bombing at a Jewish community center there killed 85 people. Argentines have long suspected high-level Iranian diplomats were involved in the 1994 bombing.