Saturday, August 16, 2008

What's happening in Georgia? - A roundup from Mark Kleiman

These days nobody seems to be able to resist the title "Georgia on my mind". Well, the Georgian crisis--along with the world's response to it and its larger long-term significance--ought to be on all of our minds.

I am certainly not going to try to provide ongoing coverage of every angle and emerging development in the crisis ... but, as it happens, Mark Kleiman (of The Reality-Based Community) has been doing a fairly comprehensive and perceptive job of it--and I think what he says is usually right--so I will once again draw on one of his roundups (below).

Mark sensibly begins with a line that I would concur with, "No, I don't know what's going on in Georgia, either. " ... and goes on from there with some usefully informative updates and cogent assessments. Have a look.

=> I can't resist highlighting some of Mark's comments about the outpouring of blather by "Russian apologists in the West" (who in this case, I might add, range all across the political spectrum from far-right paleo-conservatives like Pat Buchanan to various alleged "progressives" and "anti-imperialists" like the Guardian's Seumas Milne) that this crisis has provoked. He focuses in particular on a discouragingly, but not surprisingly, misleading and disingenuous piece in the Nation ("Blood in the Caucasus") by the Editor and Publisher of that journal, Katrina van den Heuvel. After a quick run-through of some of the crucial points that van den Heuvel either distorted or simply left out (which I recommend reviewing), Mark's closing assessment is characteristically tart--and, as anyone who knows the checkered history of the Nation will recognize, right on target:
It's worth noting in passing that those who suspected that The Nation's consistent opposition to any measures taken against the Soviet Union might be due to ideological sympathy owe The Nation an apology. The magazine is just as unreasoning in opposing any measures to contain fascist Russia as it was to any measures to contain the Communist Soviet Union.

Consistency is such a rare thing in journalism that it ought to be treasured. Whether this particular instance reflects what Emerson called "a foolish consistency" is a problem left as an exercise for the reader.
Couldn't have said it better myself. (OK, I wouldn't have used the word "fascist," since I tend to be more finicky than most about using that term in a relatively precise way. But in the usual loose sense of "scary and aggressive right-wing authoritarian," which would be familiar to readers of the Nation, that characterization fits.) The rest is below.

--Jeff Weintraub

=========================
Mark Kleiman
(in The Reality-Based Community)
August 15, 2008
Georgia on my mind

No, I don't know what's going on in Georgia, either.

Apparently the deal Sarkozy imposed on Saakashvili gave the Russians the right, not only to continue to occupy South Ossetia, but to keep troops in Georgia proper, with authority to do whatever they damned will please. What they please turns out to include holding on to Gori, which is mostly a smoking ruin anyway but which sits on the one east-west road across Georgia, setting up a "checkpoint" on the road from Gori to Tbilisi, seizing Poti, the main seaport, and allowing banditti to loot and burn at will not only in South Ossetia (whose Georgian residents are now subject to pillage, and worse, without restraint) but in Georgia proper, while insisting that Georgian soldiers who might stop it return to their barracks.

Rice apparently convinced Sarkozy to "clarify" the deal so that Russia won't have a completely free hand in Georgia proper. No evidence yet that anything the diplomats are doing has any relevance to actual operations on the ground.

The Russians and I both suspect that Bush and Rice had the idea of moving U.S. forces into Georgia under the rubric of "relief and reconstruction," thus giving Russia something less than complete military dominance. However, it turns out that our actual capabilities are far less impressive than Bush's fantasies. (Maybe no one told him that our armed forces are catastrophically overstretched.) A "senior Administration official" put it this way to McClatchy:
The president was writing checks to the Georgians without knowing what he had in the bank.
And as might have been guessed, Turkey, which has to live with Russia, is reluctant to give its permission for U.S. warships to move though the straits from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. U.S. hospital ships, which wouldn't require such clearance, are many days away.

In the meantime, Saakashvili is breathing fire, but apparently knows better than to try to do anything about it militarily. The lack of any actual military opposition hasn't kept the Russians from using cluster bombs, according to Human Rights Watch.

It's now pretty clear that those 1400 or 2000 South Ossetians killed in the Georgian attack on Tskhinvali were fictitious, invented by the Russians; the number of actual corpses brought to the city morgue seems to be 44, not all of them civilians. That invention had two purposes: (1) to give Russian apologists in the West — the sort of people who think, or are willing to pretend to think, that Mikhail Gorbachev is a reliable source of information and analysis rather than a Russian nationalist — something to blame Georgia for and (2) to stimulate ethnic Ossetians to burn the villages of their ethnic-Georgian neighbors.

Meanwhile, even people in Washington have noticed that John McCain has no business play-acting at the Presidency in the midst of a genuine international crisis. Not, of course, the people who wanted to try Nancy Pelosi under the Logan Act for going to Syria and repeating U.S. foreign policy doctrine word-for-word, but some people. That's progress, I guess. No one seems to have asked Loudmouth McCain whether the advice he gave his good friend "Misha," (whose last name he consistently mispronounces) was consistent or inconsistent with the foreign policy of the United States of America, but I suppose that's a detail beneath the attention of political reporters focused on who "won" a given political exchange.

Footnote I don't have the time or the patience for a full fisking of the Katherine vanden Heuvel piece linked to above, but I would like to list some of the facts it omits, and ask any reader, including Ms. vanden Heuvel, to either challenge the facts themselves or explain why their omission does not constitute deception.

1. A substantial minority of the population of South Ossetia is ethnically Georgian.

2. For years, Russian "peacekeepers" have been assisting South Ossetian "irregulars" (the distinction is largely notional) in attacking ethnic Georgians.

3. The pace of those attacks was picked up, on Russian orders, after the declaration of Kosovan independence, as a way of baiting Saakashvili into taking military action to which Russia could "respond."

4. The forces Russia sent into South Ossetia could not have been assembled between the time of the attack on Tskhinvali and the time of the Russian intervention. The operation had been planned well in advance.

5. When the USSR broke up, there was also a large population — perhaps constituting a majority — of ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia. The Russian puppet regime there systematically drove them out in 1990, and there are 200,000 refugees from Abkhazia in Georgia proper.

6. That purge of Georgians from Abkhazia was the only substantial act of ethnic cleansing in the post-Soviet history of Georgia. The post-Soviet Georgian government never engaged in anything resembling the genocide Serbia attempted in Bosnia or the massive ethnic cleansing it carried out in Kosovo.

It's worth noting in passing that those who suspected that The Nation's consistent opposition to any measures taken against the Soviet Union might be due to ideological sympathy owe The Nation an apology. The magazine is just as unreasoning in opposing any measures to contain fascist Russia as it was to any measures to contain the Communist Soviet Union.

Consistency is such a rare thing in journalism that it ought to be treasured. Whether this particular instance reflects what Emerson called "a foolish consistency" is a problem left as an exercise for the reader.

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