Stop blogging for just four months over the summer and what happens? The world - certainly this part of it - has changed. And not for the better.
The deal between Washington and Warsaw on the anti-ballistic missile system last week was signed by Condoleezza Rice and her buddy, Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski (pictured below) as the guns in the Caucasus were still warm and smoking.
Russian troops were still pulling out - or were they? - of areas in Georgia they had occupied since President Mikheil Saakashvili sent many of his troops to certain death by ordering them, somewhat ludicrously, to take back control of South Ossetia, one of the small, pro-Russian breakaway regions his nation lost after the nasty war in the early 1990s as the Soviet Union collapsed around them.
Poland - in the shape of its government and particularly its president, Lech Kaczynski - has been using the conflict between Moscow and Tbilisi to nail their colours to the mast of “protecting freedom and democracy” of the brave young George against the might of an imperialistic old dragon in the Kremlin.
The Novosti Russian news agency reported Saturday:
Two more NATO ships, a Polish frigate and a U.S. destroyer, passed through the Bosporus strait and entered the Black Sea on Friday evening to boost the alliance's presence in the Black Sea, where it is delivering humanitarian cargoes to Georgia, a source in the Turkish navy said.
But the only people cheering from the sidelines, as politicians and media pundits reached for the ’new cold war metaphors’ were probably a few arms dealers. Georgia needs even more US arms! Patriot missiles coming to Poland! American troops to set up a garrison in Poland! Yippee!
And people like President Kaczynski must have been cocker-hoop! Here was HIS mission - his reason to be. As he said - “Russia has now shown its true [imperialistic] face.” Someone had to stand up to them. Didn’t they?
The war in Georgia galvanised travel-averse old Kaczor into a radical transformation. Suddenly, before our incredulous eyes, he turned into Action Man interested in notching up a few frequent fly miles vouchers. As the war raged in South Ossetia, a duck-like Rambo figure emerged from the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, rounded up fellow New Cold War Warriors from Presidential Palaces and PM Offices in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and set off in Poland’s Air Force One for Tbilisi.
But where Kaczynski goes, farce quickly follows. At one point during the flight the pilot - fearing that Tbilisi airspace was still controlled by Russia - refused to go to Georgia and re-routed the plane for safer climbs in Azerbaijan. But President Kaczynski first ordered that the pilot be sacked - then took control of the plane. Kind of. I can almost imagine him - almost - gripping the joystick in sweaty hands as he said, his voice firm with purpose and intent: “I am the Polish Commander-in-Chief and this plane is going to Tbilisi!”
Sadly, that was just my imagination. Actually the pilot touched down somewhere in Azerbaijan and then Kaczynski and crew were forced to endure a four hour car journey for his date with destiny.
Kaczynski goes to Tbilisi
And what a heady experience it must have been. President Kaczynski is no longer popular at home. But here, in front of crowds of Georgians, he could appear the hero. Here were a few leaders sticking a finger up at Putin, almost daring him to do his worst.
But while President Kaczynski was forging a new reputation for himself as a 21st century Pilsudski - well, he can dream - the rest of us were feeling decidedly nervous. The signing of the anti-missile deal, the war in the Caucuses, are both the result of national and international elites looking for a sense of their own worth - and that goes for Moscow and Washington, Tbilisi, Warsaw and Paris. The price, meanwhile, the average Central and Eastern European- in-the-street is paying is a more unstable region.
We are left with more questions than answers. Why did Saakashvili start a war with Russia he knew he would lose? Did he expect President Kaczynski - his main supporter internationally - to send a few Polish F-16s over Moscow? Did he not realise that Polish F-16s are having a little trouble flying over Warsaw these days, so naff and knackered is consignment given to them by Washington? Did he honestly think that acting like the loose canon he is would make Georgia’s chances of joining Nato any greater?
And why do so many people think that Moscow is acting from a new position of strength when they are actually trying to hang on to what are, realistically, meaningless pieces of territory in South Ossetia and Abkhazia? This is not strength - it shows their desperation, weakness and diminishing influence in the region.
Is the anti-missile shield really needed at all? Are the existential threats more the product of post-Cold War and War on Terror fantasies? Will the shield really make us safer? Is a further antagonised Moscow really worth it? Wouldn’t some creative diplomacy be a better way for international leaders to spend their time?
One of Us?
More questions: What did Bush say to Saakashvili in private as he praised him in public? When the Georgian president was contemplating making his suicidal move against South Ossetia two years ago he reportedly got more than an earful from Colin Powell. “Back off!,” was the clear message.
Bush often says that Saakashvili - in reality an authoritarian who has more in common with someone like Putin than many realise - is “one of us”; Bush often reminds us that Saakashvili is “western educated.” Which is true - but there again, so is George W Bush “western educated.” So what does that say about the state of Western Education Systems?