Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The War on Terrorism Expands

The decision to send U.S. soldiers to Georgia, ostensibly to help President Eduard Shevardnadze's government in its struggle with terrorism, is provocative, risky and wrong-headed. Worse, it's being presented by all sides as something that it's not. The stated goal is to train Georgian soldiers so they can fight "tens" of terrorist al-Qaida fighters in the Pankisi Gorge. But Georgia doesn't care about Pankisi -- it cares about its own secessionists on the other side of the country. It's unlikely Washington cares about Pankisi, either -- U.S. interests in Georgia begin and end with the pipeline that will carry Caspian Sea oil west to the developed world.

Russian politicians and generals are fulminating about U.S. penetration in the Caucasus, but comments coming from the men around President Vladimir Putin suggest they are quite aware of what they stand to gain. With the United States helping to bottle up rebel fighters along the Chechen border, it should be all the easier for Russian forces to continue pulverizing that unfortunate republic.

Did we say rebel fighters? Didn't we mean terrorists? Well, it depends on what we think this fight is about.

Russia has claimed that Chechen fighters are taking refuge across the border in the Pankisi Gorge. Georgia denied it. Moscow insisted on sending its troops in; Georgia always said no. Russia tried to pressure Shevardnadze by stirring up trouble in other parts of Georgia with their own separatist inclinations.

For two years, Washington condemned Moscow's war on Chechnya. It was half-hearted, but at least it didn't pretend that murder wasn't murder. Now, all that has changed. Now, it's about terrorism and al-Qaida.

Evidently, links do exist between Chechen fighters and al-Qaida -- or did exist, anyway. Evidently, there are some fighters in Pankisi. Georgia can no longer deny it, but, understandably reluctant to allow the Russians in, it has found a perfect solution in the U.S. armed forces.

A successful U.S. military effort in Georgia would indeed promote a certain sort of stability. If the Chechens are contained, Russia will be less likely to try to sow chaos in Georgia, and if a friendly Georgia remains intact, that will allow the free flow of oil from the Caspian -- as the spokesman for Georgia's Defense Ministry pointed out Wednesday.

Al-Qaida seems to be missing from this picture, but look at who's included. Shevardnadze presides over a breathtakingly corrupt regime, in a country where the only constant theme is treachery. Putin scolds his generals, but his army seems more intent on looting and rape than on victory.

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch issued its latest report on the ways in which Russian forces have arbitrarily detained, tortured and killed civilians.

The United States' gallant allies in Moscow have stubbed out most of the remnants of a free and critical press. And now, disgracefully, the U.S. government is lending a hand. Last week, Radio Liberty, which broadcasts programs throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, reversed itself and decided not to begin a Chechen-language service. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said it would be "counterproductive."

This comment appeared as an editorial in The Baltimore Sun.