Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

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Friday, August 15, 2008
Stop making sense: Russo-Georgian edition
Every so often, crazy old Pat Buchanan makes a hell of a lot of sense:
... American charges of Russian aggression ring hollow. Georgia started this fight -- Russia finished it. People who start wars don't get to decide how and when they end.

... Russia has invaded a sovereign country, railed Bush. But did not the United States bomb Serbia for 78 days and invade to force it to surrender a province, Kosovo, to which Serbia had a far greater historic claim than Georgia had to Abkhazia or South Ossetia, both of which prefer Moscow to Tbilisi?

Is not Western hypocrisy astonishing?

When the Soviet Union broke into 15 nations, we celebrated. When Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Kosovo broke from Serbia, we rejoiced. Why, then, the indignation when two provinces, whose peoples are ethnically separate from Georgians and who fought for their independence, should succeed in breaking away?

Are secessions and the dissolution of nations laudable only when they advance the agenda of the neocons, many of who viscerally detest Russia?

That Putin took the occasion of Saakashvili's provocative and stupid stunt to administer an extra dose of punishment is undeniable. But is not Russian anger understandable? For years the West has rubbed Russia's nose in her Cold War defeat and treated her like Weimar Germany.

When Moscow pulled the Red Army out of Europe, closed its bases in Cuba, dissolved the evil empire, let the Soviet Union break up into 15 states, and sought friendship and alliance with the United States, what did we do?

American carpetbaggers colluded with Muscovite Scalawags to loot the Russian nation. Breaking a pledge to Mikhail Gorbachev, we moved our military alliance into Eastern Europe, then onto Russia's doorstep. Six Warsaw Pact nations and three former republics of the Soviet Union are now NATO members.

Bush, Cheney and McCain have pushed to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. This would require the United States to go to war with Russia over Stalin's birthplace and who has sovereignty over the Crimean Peninsula and Sebastopol, traditional home of Russia's Black Sea fleet.

When did these become U.S. vital interests, justifying war with Russia?

The United States unilaterally abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty because our technology was superior, then planned to site anti-missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic to defend against Iranian missiles, though Iran has no ICBMs and no atomic bombs. A Russian counter-offer to have us together put an anti-missile system in Azerbaijan was rejected out of hand.

We built a Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey to cut Russia out. Then we helped dump over regimes friendly to Moscow with democratic "revolutions" in Ukraine and Georgia, and tried to repeat it in Belarus.

Americans have many fine qualities. A capacity to see ourselves as others see us is not high among them.

Imagine a world that never knew Ronald Reagan, where Europe had opted out of the Cold War after Moscow installed those SS-20 missiles east of the Elbe. And Europe had abandoned NATO, told us to go home and become subservient to Moscow.

How would we have reacted if Moscow had brought Western Europe into the Warsaw Pact, established bases in Mexico and Panama, put missile defense radars and rockets in Cuba, and joined with China to build pipelines to transfer Mexican and Venezuelan oil to Pacific ports for shipment to Asia? And cut us out? If there were Russian and Chinese advisers training Latin American armies, the way we are in the former Soviet republics, how would we react? Would we look with bemusement on such Russian behavior?

For a decade, some of us have warned about the folly of getting into Russia's space and getting into Russia's face. The chickens of democratic imperialism have now come home to roost -- in Tbilisi.
Cluck-cluck. Meanwhile, Michael Dobbs, writing on the Washington Post's op-ed page serves up some reality based reporting on Georgia's "democratic" tendencies:

Unlike most of the armchair generals now posing as experts on the Caucasus, I have actually visited Tskhinvali, a sleepy provincial town in the shadow of the mountains that rise along Russia's southern border. I was there in March 1991, shortly after the city was occupied by Georgian militia units loyal to Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the first freely elected leader of Georgia in seven decades. One of Gamsakhurdia's first acts as Georgian president was to cancel the political autonomy that the Stalinist constitution had granted the republic's 90,000-strong Ossetian minority.

After negotiating safe passage with Soviet interior ministry troops who had stationed themselves between the Georgians and the Ossetians, I discovered that the town had been ransacked by Gamsakhurdia's militia. The Georgians had trashed the Ossetian national theater, decapitated the statue of an Ossetian poet and pulled down monuments to Ossetians who had fought with Soviet troops in World War II. The Ossetians were responding in kind, firing on Georgian villages and forcing Georgian residents of Tskhinvali to flee their homes.

It soon became clear to me that the Ossetians viewed Georgians in much the same way that Georgians view Russians: as aggressive bullies bent on taking away their independence. "We are much more worried by Georgian imperialism than Russian imperialism," an Ossetian leader, Gerasim Khugaev, told me. "It is closer to us, and we feel its pressure all the time."

When it comes to apportioning blame for the latest flare-up in the Caucasus, there's plenty to go around. The Russians were clearly itching for a fight, but the behavior of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has been erratic and provocative. The United States may have stoked the conflict by encouraging Saakashvili to believe that he enjoyed American protection, when the West's ability to impose its will in this part of the world is actually quite limited.

Let us examine the role played by the three main parties.

Georgia. Saakashvili's image in the West, and particularly in the United States, is that of the great "democrat," the leader of the "Rose Revolution" who spearheaded a popular uprising against former American favorite Eduard Shevardnadze in November 2003. It is true that he has won two reasonably free elections, but he has also displayed some autocratic tendencies; he sent riot police to crush an opposition protest in Tbilisi last November and shuttered an opposition television station.

While the United States views Saakashvili as a pro-Western modernizer, a large part of his political appeal in Georgia has stemmed from his promise to re-unify Georgia by bringing the secessionist provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia under central control. He has presented himself as the successor to the medieval Georgian king, David the Builder, and promised that the country will regain its lost territories by the time he leaves office, by one means or another. American commentators tend to overlook the fact that Georgian democracy is inextricably intertwined with Georgian nationalism.

The restoration of Georgia's traditional borders is an understandable goal for a Georgian leader, but it is a much lower priority for the West, particularly if it involves armed conflict with Russia. Based on their previous experience with Georgian rule, Ossetians and Abkhazians have perfectly valid reasons to oppose reunification with Georgia, even if it means throwing in their lot with the Russians.

Also in the Post, a young Russian woman interning with the paper scalds the American press for their leap to the Georgian's side (which paralleled the leap of their pet candidate, John McCain.)

Last week, Georgia's president invaded South Ossetia during the night, much as Adolf Hitler invaded Russia in 1941. Within hours, Georgian troops destroyed Tskhinvali, a city of 100,000, and they killed more than 2,000 civilians. Almost all of the people who died that night were Russian citizens. They chose to become citizens of Russia years ago, when Georgia refused to recognize South Ossetia as a non-Georgian territory.

The truth is that, in this case, Russian aggression actually made some sense. Russia defended its citizens.

Yet American newspapers published stories that omitted mention of the Georgian invasion. And American media as a whole have been disturbingly pro-Georgian. The lead photograph on the front page of Sunday's Post showed two men -- one dead, the other crying -- amid ruins in Gori, Georgia. Many other images could have been used. Monday's Wall Street Journal, for example, contained several stories about the conflict and even an op-ed by Saakashvili. Where was the Russian response?

I understand why the Georgian government would block access to Russian media Web sites. I understand why Russian media would present events in a light that favors Moscow's actions. But American media are not supposed to do the equivalent.

The much-revered American principle of a free press guarantees access to an independent source of information. It is supposed to mean that nobody takes a side, that journalists give readers the facts and let them draw their own conclusions. The Georgian president quickly became a chief newsmaker for Western media outlets, yet little could be found to explain the Russian side.

It's hard to understand how and why the terrible situation between Georgia and Russia has played out this way. Everything seemed too clear for the journalists writing about the conflict: Big, evil Russia tried to destroy small, democratic Georgia.

And the American media's willingness to choose sides provoked Russian media outlets. Russian newspapers did not waste time reminding readers that the true evil was the United States and that Washington was ultimately responsible for the conflict in Ossetia and Georgia.

Still in the Post, no hubris column on McCain from our friend Dana "last place 8:00 show guest" Milbank...



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