Rethinking the War

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Relying on common sense, it is clear to me that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili started the war. But since news reports on state television support the same conclusion, this has created a dilemma for me because, as a rule, I don't trust the government's version of events. To solve this dilemma, I decided to denounce the leaders of both Georgia and Russia for starting the war.

In response, my father, who is even more critical of Russia's leadership than I am, told me, "You can argue all you want about whether Russia's response was justified, but it is crystal clear that Saakashvili is at fault for starting this conflict."

Then my friends told me that I had sacrificed common sense in an effort to appear objective at all costs.

A leader in the publishing community sent me the following message without any additional commentary: "In 1945, those Russian barbarians used unjustified force to savagely violate Germany's territorial integrity, and they pushed its duly elected chancellor to suicide." I took the note to mean that my colleague was severing ties with me.

The last to offer his opinion was my 18-year-old son, who has lived in Germany for many years. He said, "Georgia started it, and I think all discussions about who is right or wrong in this conflict should be based on that."

In short, I found myself in total isolation.

Please forgive me. I promise I will never again allow common sense to fall victim to my bias against Russian state television.

The question of who started the war really is of principal importance here because the answer determines who must be held responsible for the all the suffering that followed.

I am certain that if the Kremlin had invaded Georgia on its own initiative, we would have seen an anti-war movement in Russia stronger than the one we saw during the first Chechen war. But it was Saakashvili who started the hostilities, and his gamble could have led to only two possible results: either Georgian fighters would carry out ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia, or Russia would gain the upper hand, and the war would spread into Georgia proper with angry South Ossetians marauding and expelling Georgians from their territory. As it turned out, both occurred.

One can moralize at length over the horrible results of war, but such atrocities are par for the course in these types of conflicts. It is pointless, for example, to be outraged at nature if an earthquake in the ocean's depths leads to a disastrous tsunami.

If a more morally upright president ruled Georgia in place of Saakashvili, he would have stepped down after having created this nightmare by provoking Russia's poorly trained armed forces in South Ossetia. If this had happened, the war would have ended before it really began. Instead of following that path, Saakashvili rallied world opinion in his favor and managed to isolate Russia as a pariah state in the eyes of the international community.

But we can look at Russia's political isolation from a different perspective as well. The United States, the European Union and NATO would do well to reflect upon how they managed to "lose Russia" by supporting such a reckless and impulsive opportunist in Tbilisi. It is also high time for them to take a closer look at the leaders of other countries that have recently joined -- or want to join -- NATO. It seems to me that NATO and the EU are obligated to cure these new members of their acute anti-Russian pathology.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of IFRA-GIPP Magazine for publishing business professionals.