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Friday, September 12

The Congress of Berlin, the Treaty of Rome, and the Education of Sarah Palin

At the Congress of Berlin in 1878 Prince Otto von Bismarck, the German Chancellor, had a problem that could best be summed up in the question, "What will Germany do if there is another Balkan war?"

(Back then, the Balkans were a major sore spot, much as the Middle East is today with the added attractions of religious and ethnic hatreds to go along with nationalist aspirations within the deteriorating Ottoman Empire.)

Bismarck knew that Austria was wanting to extend its hegemony over the Balkans, Serbia was determined to enlarge itself, and Russia was willing to contemplate war to protect Serbia.

And the last thing Germany wanted (so soon after beating France and consolidating itself into the German Empire) was a war with Russia.

So Bismarck said that the Balkans were "not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier."

(At the time Pomerania was part of the German kingdom of Prussia; it's now part of Poland, if I recall correctly. Of course, Bismarck also referred to the Serbs as "sheep stealers," showing a decidedly low opinion of the ruling House of Karageorge.)

The Germans, under Bismarck's leadership, managed to avoid being drawn into any major dustup in the Balkans until 1914 - at which time, you will recall, World War One started.

I was reminded of the Congress of Berlin (not saying that I'd been there in a previous existence) and Bismarck's famous saying when ABC's Charlie Gibson queried Governor Sarah Palin about the Russian incursion into Georgia, and how she felt the US and Europe should react.

Governor Palin's education in foreign policy (and forget that folderol about her knowing about Russia because Alaska's a polar bear fart away - by that logic I'm a Cuba expert) has been rapid, but revealed a certain shallowness when she rather earnestly replied that the US and NATO should fast-track Georgia's entry into the North Atlantic Alliance, and that such membership would guarantee (under the collective security doctrine) that we would come to Georgia's aid.

In an earlier post ("Baiting the Bear") I made the case that crowding Russia too much is just asking for trouble. Making the Baltic nations (Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia) members of the Alliance has put NATO and the US at the mercy of small states like Estonia, which has a large ethnic Russian minority that occasionally gets restive.

Chillingly, Mrs. Palin's response encompassed all the options open to NATO, should Georgia become a member and request assistance the next time they deliberately goad the Bear into action (Georgia did send troops into South Ossetia, as you know, triggering this latest contretemps). These options include diplomacy, diplomatic and economic sanctions, and - and this was the scary bit - military action. She also very quickly hastened to add that she (and by extension the McCain Campaign) wasn't interested in "starting a new Cold War."

Let's examine each option. We've already seen how little store the current Bush Administration sets in the idea of diplomacy, and consequently they're not very good at it. There is no indication that a McCain/Palin Administration would be anything but more of the same, coupled with Senator McCain's well-documented temper. Diplomatic sanctions would be a joke, and any economic sanctions would have to take into account the fact that Western Europe gets quite a bit of oil and natural gas from Russia (and I, at least, recall how much Ukraine and Europe howled when Russia cut back that supply a year or so ago).

That leaves the arbitrament of blood - war.

NATO is busy in Afghanistan; thanks to George W Bush our military is hamstrung by a war in Afghanistan (which Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mullen fears we might lose) and an ongoing occupation in Iraq. It's fairly quiet in Iraq now, but that can change overnight (and has). The US Army estimates that the suicide rate among its soldiers might surpass the national average this year.

Russia is starting to move to outflank us now. Bombers will be visiting Venezuela soon, followed by naval units for joint maneuvers. Bear in mind - an earlier attempt to crowd the Bear (basing missiles in Turkey) led to the Soviet Union basing missiles in Cuba, precipitating the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Cooler heads prevailed then; I'm not so sure now.

But when Gibson asked Governor Palin about the Bush Doctrine I got a chill up my spine. The vacant look in her eyes, followed by the completely disingenuous question back at him revealed that she didn't know what he was talking about and was sparring for wind. When he clarified himself somewhat, she wandered off on a tangent.

For the edification of the group, the Bush Doctrine (or the Doctrine of Pre-emption) is the underlying justification for our being in Iraq.

Looking at her, I realized that McCain and Palin must lose this election.


Because this is what we would have - an old man, probably still shell-shocked and with a temper many regard as explosive coupled with the impulse control of a compulsive gambler, with a running mate whose force-fed education has been so rapid as to leave her so shallow she appears to be all surface. Not an ounce of deep thinking between them.

Putting Palin in a room with Putin, Hu, Ahmadinejad or Kim would be like turning a lamb loose in a den of wolves.

Think about that when you go to vote in November.

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