The future belongs to Russia and China
When the history of the 21st century is written, it will view this past week as the week that symbolizes the rise of two new world powers: China and Russia.
China. The 2008 Beijing Games this week joined the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, and the 1980 Moscow Olympics. These four Olympiads were overshadowed by Russian attacks on neighboring countries that Moscow deemed overly independent. The timing of the attacks on Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan and Georgia was not coincidental: In the United States, Olympic years are also election years. And when Uncle Sam is heading for the ballot box, he is weak, and cannot prevent a Russian bear from devouring. For the fourth time in half a century, the Russian bear emerged from Olympic hibernation and feasted to his heart's content.
Russia. The Georgians liken the Russians to the Nazis. They believe Ossetia and Abkhazia of 2008 resemble the Sudetenland of 1938. As far as they are concerned, Vladimir Putin is Hitler, ripping chunks out of a neighboring democracy to destabilize and vanquish it.
The Georgians exaggerate, but under Putin's leadership, Russia is turning into a new Germany. Not the Germany of the Fuhrer and the swastika, but the Germany of the Kaiser and Bismarck. Like Germany in its day, Russia is a power in the process of getting renewed, reunited and rich, seeking to restore its lost hegemony.
Like Germany in the past, Russia in the present is a world power whose size, location and nationalism threaten its surroundings. Since Russia has friendly ethnic minorities in small neighboring countries - its potential for expansion and friction is high. Therefore, just as Germany destabilized the old European order even before Hitler, Russia is destabilizing the new European order.
Anyone who thought that the West's most pressing issue is Islam should think again. Radical Islam poses a long-term threat, but the new Russia is a problem now.
America. At the Beijing stadium this week, George Bush came off as the most wretched American president in history. A president who needlessly provoked the Russians, but ultimately did not withstand them. A president who brandished the flag of human rights and democracy, but ultimately kowtowed to a world power that tramples human rights - China - and abandoned the brave little democracy of Georgia.
The Bush era came to an end this week, but with it ended two decades of America being the sole superpower. The Pax Americana that maintained global stability for a generation has run its course. The repercussions will be felt clearly, first and foremost in the Middle East.
Georgia. President Mikheil Saakashvili did a foolish thing. Like a hot-headed Israeli, he did not respond to the deliberate attack on his country's sovereignty by means of a diplomatic campaign, but rather militarily. The political echelon gave its troops an impossible mission, but Saakashvili's mistake must not be allowed to cloud the big picture. Georgia is still the most promising country in a dangerous Central Asian area of tremendous strategic importance. Its democratic, progressive, and non-corrupt nature ought to make it a darling of the West.
One should therefore refrain from creating a false moral equivalency between Moscow and Tbilisi. If Barack Obama really wants to be a new Kennedy, he cannot vacation in Hawaii now. He must do the Kennedy thing - fly to Gori and deliver the speech of his life: I am a Georgian.
Finland. There was a good bit of irony in the fact that one of the two mediators who tried to bring about a cease-fire in the Caucasus was the Finnish foreign minister. During the Cold War, Finland was free but a Soviet satellite. If the Georgian crisis comes to one potential end, the future is Finland: more and more European and Asian countries that accept Russia's might.
The Europeans already are incapable of calling the Russian aggression by its name, because they are dependent on Russian gas. If Putin topples Saakashvili and lays his hands on Georgia, that dependence will only grow. Without a reinvigorated American leadership or a worthy European leadership, the regional future might be a Finnish future.
August 8, the day the Olympics began and the fighting in Georgia erupted, will be remembered no less than 9/11. When the history of the 21st century is written, it will view this past week as the week that symbolizes the rise of two new world powers: China and Russia. It will be decades before China surpasses the United States economically. It will be years before Russia goes back to being a Tsarist power. But August 8 marked the way.
The question now is not what sort of world we are heading toward. The question is how fast we will get there.