It was a pathetic event, better forgotten, the visit to Georgia on Monday of NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and ambassadors from all 26 members of NATO. They were there, the United States said, to demonstrate that “NATO can’t be cowed by the Kremlin.”

The NATO delegation might have seemed less cowed if it had been made up of generals in uniform. But that would have upset the Kremlin. Perhaps the diplomats should have worn camouflage, as fashionable teenagers do in difficult Western city suburbs. They might have looked more muscular for the unhappy Georgians, while not fooling the Russians.

If NATO really did not want to seem cowed, the ambassadors and the secretary-general might have promised NATO membership to Georgia right on the spot, to be confirmed as soon as the full alliance meets. They might have announced plans for NATO bases and U.S. missile installations. They would not have dreamed of such a thing.

The truth is that thanks to Russia’s incursion into a belligerent Georgia in mid-August, a country in possession of Washington’s assurance that it soon would be given a “membership action plan” for joining NATO now hasn’t a hope of membership in the alliance — whatever may have been said on Monday about NATO’s “open door.”

As Helene Carrere, the eminent French historian of Russia, has said, Georgia has now done the greatest service to the new Russia that has been done in years. Vladimir Putin should be sending (symbolic) roses to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili for having precipitated this episode.

Actually, Moscow would do better to send banks of roses to NATO’s European members for their irresponsibility and timidity in not having blocked the United States from carrying out the deliberate provocation to Russia of offering Georgia and Ukraine NATO membership.

An intelligent military alliance leadership does not offer or even imply military guarantees it has no intention, and no reasonable possibility, of honoring. Donald Rayfield, a Yale historian, writes that “for over a thousand years the Georgians and Armenians have appealed to Europe for support as fellow Christians, as Europeans by culture, if not by geography, and after being strung along by Crusaders, by Louis XIV, by various Popes, by Presidents Wilson, Roosevelt, and both Bushes, can still not believe that the answer they get will always be a perfunctory apology.”

Their European friends will say that deeper interests of state unfortunately require them to appease the major power of the region (particularly when he supplies most of Western Europe’s oil). Too bad about the Westerners’ “cultural and spiritual brothers.”

Intelligent national leaders of a country in Georgia’s position would know that geography too often is destiny, that their choices are limited and that their future would be better served by diplomacy than by wars they lose.

In the 19th century, when Russia “liberated” the states of the Caucasus from the weakened Ottoman and Iranian empires to which they had previously belonged, most of them were glad enough. Only the Circassians chose “desperate surrender or flight,” and the Chechens and Dagestanis “resistance to the death.”

The Armenians and Ossetians at the time expressed relief, and the Georgian reaction — according to Rayfield — was “complicity and acceptance” (a sentiment that persisted under the Soviet Union, to which Georgia contributed a disproportionate number of leaders, including Stalin himself, and Lavrenti Beria, as well as Eduard Shevardnadze, last foreign minister of the Soviet Union and second president of newly independent Georgia in 1992 — deposed by Saakashvili in the American-supported “Rose Revolution”).

The Europeans, led by Nicolas Sarkozy — current holder of the EU’s presidency — and the EU’s foreign relations chief, Javier Solano, have successfully negotiated a Russian withdrawal and a European force to supervise peace between the Georgians and the two autonomous regions that Russia has undertaken to protect.

For all the quasi-hysterical talk about “resurgent Russia,” Putin’s Russia is not the Soviet Union. The USSR had an ideology that condemned all existing governments as illegitimate and was committed (in theory) to overthrowing them all. It controlled an organization — the Comintern — devoted to doing just that. Russia today is a conventional nation-state with no expansionist or revolutionary ideology, only a reasonable concern about not having hostile neighbors. Just like the United States. Everyone knows about the Monroe Doctrine.

The Georgian government continues to talk about rearmament and revenge. It ought to talk about a special arrangement with the European Union that would be politically and economically advantageous, and give them an international association to which the Russians would have no reason to object, and would indeed find reassuring. Georgia has no real alternative to getting along with Russia. NATO membership now is closed, and was — as Georgia has found out, at heavy cost to its people — always a snare and delusion.

Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.

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