Sunday, August 24, 2008

the necessary enigma of Pat Buchanan

In a world where the cachet of "alternative" is largely reserved for the left, Pat Buchanan's boat rocking dissents are a welcome challenge to conventional wisdom from the right.

I'll confess that I haven't read Churchill, Hitler, and "The Unnecessary War": How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World. However, the appearance of this book should not be the least bit surprising to followers of Buchanan's thinking in recent years and his description of the world wars as a "Civil War of the West". Paleo-conservatism is not politically viable today next to the alternatives of left-liberalism and neo-conservatism and that is largely because elements of paleo-conservatism reject the universalization of identity in favour of a particularistic "blood and the soil" narrative and that sort of thinking is seen in many corners as the intellectual root to the horrific excesses of Nazism. Buchanan's anxiety over immigration was the accepted wisdom prior to World War II, yet after it became a political third rail. It's only natural that Buchanan is going to lament the event that empowered cultural relativism and pushed his identity politics to the fringe.

Christopher Hitchens' critique of the book, and his conclusion that it not only "stinks" but has "sinister" elements, is likely to be one of the most popular critiques. Whether it is truly a book review is an open question. Hitchens doesn't seem to object to the Buchanan's scholarship so much as to Buchanan's weltanschauung: e.g. "[a]s the book develops, Buchanan begins to unmask his true colors more and more." In many respects, this proves the point about paleo-conservatism's marginalization: one doesn't argue with it, it's assumptions are rather self-evidently evil such that one need only expose it.

Hitchens takes strong exception to Buchanan's contention that, as Hitchens puts it, "the Nazi decision to embark on a Holocaust of European Jewry was 'not a cause of the war but an awful consequence of the war.'" According to Hitchens, "This absolutely will not do." On this point, Hitchens' absolutism is quite out of place. Why? Because the greatest evil of war is the breakdown in the norms of human behaviour that come with it. The Anglo-French guarantee of the Polish corridor transformed a tragedy for Poland into a tragedy for all of Europe. Now, perhaps it was a necessary tragedy. But that's an intricate hypothetical involving an enormous amount of abstraction about the "greater good" when the practical consequence of western efforts to weaken Hitler's hand would merely be to strengthen Stalin's unless the west could project its own power into the area (eastern Europe) in such a way as to keep Stalin from filling the vacuum (as an aside, this is why I am more dubious about military intervention in Iraq or Afghanistan than in Georgia or North Korea: in the former cases you have Iran or some unsavoury local warlord ready to fill the power vacuum, in the latter you've got the relatively respectable governments in Tbilisi and Seoul). Indeed, Buchanan's central contribution here is his review of the particular facts that illustrate how the non-self-interested "what brings a greater good for eastern Europeans" argument was not only dubious but was not even a significant consideration at the time. The historical evidence indicates that Hitler was interested in a war with the East, not the West. Atrocities are committed during times of war that are not committed to anything approaching the same extent when the legitimacy or reach of state authority is not under such direct and significant challenge. The scale of the crimes of peacetime Nazi Germany and wartime Nazi Germany are not comparable. Hitchens contends that it is "fatuous" to suppose that, without the "occasion" of the Second World War, "the Nazis would not have found another" occasion for "the organized deportation and slaughter of the Jews."

It is, in fact, quite the opposite of "fatuous". It is a question at the heart of a humanitarian, as opposed to ideological and impractical, anti-war policy. If one were to say, "it is outrageous to suggest that Germany's claim to the Polish corridor was so strong that Germany was justified starting World War II", one would be missing the point entirely. The point is that it is less than absolutely obvious that Germany's claim was so weak that expanding a German-Polish war into a war with the west would ultimately generate fewer horrors on net when a hulking Soviet Russia was right in the thick of it as well. Keep in mind here that eastern Europe was largely liberated from Moscow's communist authoritarianism in 1989 without the west firing a shot. The extent to which emancipatory effects actually follow from escalations of violence as opposed to heightened horrors is thus not a "fatuous" question.

Central to Hitchens thesis is the unelaborated assumption that the west was not facing a highly contentious "lesser of two evils" scenario with respect to Hitler vs Stalin. As a former Trotskyite, it is not surprising where Hitchens' sympathies lie. According to Hitchens, in the wake of 1945, "all the way from Portugal to the Urals, the principle of human rights" are the norm. "Human rights" were the "norm" "all the way ... to the Urals" in 1950? Hitchens doesn't say 1950, of course, he says, "today", but that makes the enormous assumption that whereas Soviet authoritarianism eroded over time, Nazi authoritarianism would not have. Look at the mentality of Germans today, and it is clear that the Germans are no more inherently racist, warmongering, authoritarian, or brutal than the Russians. The looting and expulsions that went on behind Russian lines in Georgia in 2008 have enough parallels to 1945 that it is, in fact, plausible to argue that the Russian mentality is more consistently resistent to western values than the German.

Unfortunately for my view of Buchanan, he undermines much of his own argument about how Churchill unwisely fueled the spiral of violence when Buchanan says, in reference to the contemporary conflict in Georgia, that "Georgia started this fight – Russia finished it. People who start wars don't get to decide how and when they end." Even if it is true that Georgia "started this fight", one could turn that around to say that since Germany started the fight in September 1939, any and all horrors subsequent, such as the Red Army's raping of literally millions of German women in 1945, should somehow be excused.

If humanity is going to step out of the shadow of hatred, we have to stop tying one instance of injustice to another and instead stand up and put a stop to the spiral. That doesn't mean arbitrarily choosing a point and saying, "no more from here", since that might just enshrine the outcome of the latest injustice. It means actually weighing the proportionality of each response and considering the particular messy details of the conflict.

Buchanan's column on Georgia isn't paleo-conservative, in my view, since it is chock full of the same supposed equivalencies trotted out by the left: Israel, Kosovo, etc etc. Paleo-conservatism, at its core, is particularistic, by which I mean it rejects the applicability of generalized abstractions, in particular the universal brotherhood of man. The fact I'm a male of northern European heritage, for example, says a great deal about me, and it isn't a moral statement but rather an insight. It's an explanation for why I think what I think and do what I do, not a justification. Buchanan gets away from this thesis when he assumes the relevance of a string of conflicts involving different cultures and conditions instead of considering what is unique to each particular case.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Joe Biden

Joe Biden has said a lot of intelligent things when it comes to foreign policy and he would have been my top recommendation to Obama if Wes Clark was not going to be considered.

That said, Biden is not a centrist. Like Obama, he voted against John Roberts' Supreme Court nomination, despite the fact that if he had voted in favour, he would have been voting with the majority of Senate Democrats.

There's also the various problems chronicled in this New York Times article from twenty years ago.

In any case, it is the top of the ticket that matters far more, and on that count, if you've been following Greg Mankiw's blog, there is mounting concern over Obama-nomics.

Russian media at work

Check out Google's cache of an Interfax wire dated August 5. Then click on what it is a cache of. Gone! Evidently, news of militants entering what Russia officially considers Georgian territory on August 5 (traveling from North Ossetia to South Ossetia) needed to be scrubbed, perhaps because it didn't fit well with the narrative that the Georgians "started" the war on August 7.

See also this New York Times story on how the Russian media presented the FOX News clip.

"On [Russian] TV there is hardly any free reporting -- instead you see a lot of very aggressive propaganda." So says Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center. Der Spiegel adds that Gudkov believes it is "reminiscent of the worst of times in the Soviet era."

On an unrelated note, the cultural differences between Georgia and Iraq are telling. Tbilisi's authority in Poti (a port I spent a few days in last October) is surely negligible when the city is under Russian control and road and rail links to the Georgian capital have been severed. But instead of reports of Georgians looting each other, we get reports of demonstrations against Russia.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Georgia's economy

Last year, the World Bank called Georgia the world's "top economic reformer".

Foreign Direct Investment was 19.8% of Georgian GDP in 2007 (the highest rate in the world according to Richard Holbrooke) compared with 13.9% in 2006. In terms of raw amounts, FDI doubled every year.

In just three years, Georgia rose from 122nd to 18th — ahead of Germany — in the World Bank's "Doing Business" survey.

GDP grew an astounding 12.4% in 2007, one of the fastest rates in the world.

Just last month, Roy Southworth, World Bank country director for Georgia, praised Saakashvili's government for promoting growth, reducing poverty and fighting corruption.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

BBC bias part III

In another Reynolds piece,

... the West needs to acknowledge that the Russians did have a case. It needs to explain why it helped Kosovo but questioned Russia's right to help South Ossetia

It has been explained! See Deutsche Welle's interview with legal experts and note the "Not Another Kosovo" section. See also the New York Times on the question of "Is This Different Than Kosovo?" and this Slate piece: South Ossetia Isn't Kosovo. Reynolds' journalism is misleading because it implies that material like this does not exist. Responsible journalism would acknowledge the offered explanations and then bat them down in a piece that is clearly labeled opinion or editorial. Bonus question for Reynolds: when Russia "helped" South Ossetia did it help the more than 15 thousand Georgians living in South Ossetia who were robbed and expelled as a consequence of the Russian "help" or do they not count?

Since I've titled this "BBC bias" instead of "Paul Reynolds bias", let's consider a BBC piece without an author byline. The "timeline" pulls a Georgian action on August 7 out of the sequence of events to mark its beginning, the day "Georgian forces launch a surprise attack".

"Surprise"! From out of the clear blue sky of peace and harmony "perfidious" Georgian aggression bursts forth! Yet Russia's Interfax news agency reported that on August 5 "Volunteers are arriving in South Ossetia to offer help in the event of Georgian aggression". You've got forces moving across the internationally recognized Russia/Georgia border and that's just ignored?

According to the UK Times,

[t]he US State Department’s internal timeline of the crisis pinpoints the explosion on August 1 of two roadside bombs, believed to have been planted by South Ossetian separatists sympathetic to Russia, as a decisive moment. Five Georgian policemen were injured, one severely. ... It now appears that August 1 was a well-prepared “provocation”...

And according to the New York Times,

Pentagon and military officials say Russia held a major ground exercise in July just north of Georgia’s border, called Caucasus 2008, that played out a chain of events like the one carried out over recent days.
'This exercise was exactly what they executed in Georgia just a few weeks later,' said Dale Herspring, an expert on Russian military affairs at Kansas State University. 'This exercise was a complete dress rehearsal.'

Perhaps someone will write "surprise" on a piece of paper and pin it next to Reynold's "evidence" on a bulletin board in the BBC editorial room under the title of "We Called It!".

Meanwhile, the UK Times reports what went on behind Russian lines, as does the Guardian.

UPDATE (August 24): A BBC Editor has apologized... for a "slip" whereby a "Russian invasion" was mentioned. There was no invasion. So very sorry. The Russian army ended up in Poti on the BBC's magic carpet ride, also known as a "humanitarian intervention". The there was no US-led "humanitarian intervention" in Iraq, however, the BBC can call an "invasion" when it sees one!

BBC bias part II

The examples of BBC partiality don't end there, although the further examples are not nearly as egregious as what I noted yesterday; that is, Reynold's description of Ossetian allegations as "evidence" (South Ossetia also claims that "Georgian fascists' atrocities ... outshone those of World War II Nazis"; - is that "evidence" as well, Mr Reynolds, that doesn't need a "difficult to verify" tag like Georgian claims?) and his painting of Moscow as the victim in "propaganda war" and/or "mud" slinging "media game" that Reynolds furthermore suggests is masterminded by "[t]he Bush administration". As Human Rights Watch noted, this was no "game" for victims here.

To consider another, less outrageous, example, then, take this Reynold's article:
It was not hard for Russia to justify its intervention. It simply stated that its citizens were not only at risk but under attack.

By that logic it would "not be hard for Russia to justify" an invasion of any and all of the Baltic States and Ukraine!

Justify to whom? To us? To the BBC? Titling the section "Do not allow a cuckoo to police the nest" is not a substitute for "justify TO ITSELF" if that's all Reynolds means to say. Failing to add "to itself" is the sort of editorial lapse I'm talking about here; minor, but real enough to take issue with - I'm not saying the BBC is no better than Russia Today.

More importantly, is there any "argument" "against that"? Is there an acknowledgment of the remarks of the current Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Sweden's Carl Bildt:
We did not accept military intervention by Milosevic's Serbia in other former Yugoslav states on the grounds of protecting Serbian passport holders. And we have reason to remember how Hitler used this very doctrine little more than half a century ago to undermine and attack substantial parts of central Europe

No. Instead, in the same piece, Reynolds writes of
the neo-conservatives ... who see Georgia (and Ukraine) as flag bearers for freedom which must be supported... Against that is the argument...
Reynolds doesn't miss the chance to inform readers of a counter-argument to "neo-con" appeals to "freedom" but treats Russia's self-interested casus belli uncritically. That isn't bias?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

BBC bias on display: unverified vs "evidence"

While the BBC qualifies the claims of Georgian refugees as unverified ("but..."), the claims of Ossetian refugees are "evidence"! BBC correspondent Paul Reynolds also takes a select quote from Human Rights Watch to argue, in a non sequitur stretching from Tskhinvali to the White House, that "[t]he Bush administration appears to be ... playing down the Georgian attack [into the parts of its breakaway enclave that it does not already control] on 7 August". Never mind that Tom Parfitt of the Guardian quotes Human Rights Watch's Anna Neistat as saying

"The torching of houses in these [Georgian] villages is in some ways a result of the massive Russian propaganda machine which constantly repeats claims of genocide and exaggerates the casualties. That is then used to justify retribution."

The "machine" even managed to get "2000 dead" out on FOX, practically the citadel of conservative American mass media, from where it's gone viral on youtube and is raging through the blogosphere like Ossetians through Georgian villages. Yet Reynolds reports the "news" that Russia "los[t] the propaganda war"!

I suppose BBC's abandonment of its MSM gatekeeper role concerning the Ossetian/Russian allegations is a fitting parallel to the role the west has played concerning the gates to Georgia.

While Reynolds takes Georgia's relatively fledgling communications to task for daring to draw analogies with Prague in 1968 or Budapest in 1956 ("The comparisons did not fit the facts"), the International Herald Tribune ("the global edition of the New York Times") says that today "Russian armor ... travel[ed] nearly to the edge of the Georgian capital", a move that "opened a new security vacuum between Gori and [Igoeti], creating fresh targets" for "looters and armed gangs in uniform - many of them apparently Ossetians, Chechens and Cossacks - [who] have operated behind the army's path, ransacking villages..." and in another article titled "Georgians doing forced labor in South Ossetia" the paper quotes "a Russian officer" as believing that "Labor even turns monkeys into humans."

Reynolds also wags the finger at the "Western media" and unspecified nefarious forces for throwing "mud" at Moscow, and the BBC does not identify this piece as opinion or editorial?

I've e-mailed Mr Reynolds to ask him to comment on the rather different perspective of the editors at the Washington Post.

After reading this gripping overview in the Guardian, "A dirty little war", I don't think it is too much to say, shame on you, BBC, not just for being biased (to the anti-American left), but for abandoning the humanitarianism of left-leaning journalism like that of the Guardian. Guardian op-eds and editorials have "Comment" above their titles. This one has "News". The paper is accordingly puting the full weight of its credibility behind the claims of the fact this piece, claims of fact Reynolds should be challenging if he is not going to be writing a retraction.

Friday, August 15, 2008

FOX misidentifies Ossetian irregulars as "Georgian forces"

According to FOX reporters, they were fired on by "undisciplined" "Georgian forces" at a Russian-manned Gori checkpoint on the highway from Tbilisi.

Let's review what's remarkable about this:

1) British, Czech, Norwegian, Turkish, Canadian, Danish, and even Russian journalists have all been either killed, shot at, carjacked, or robbed by Ossetian "irregulars". FOX has the unique status of being the only news organization to report a hostile encounter with Georgians.

2) The reporters' description of events, "one minute, you're sitting down with Russian forces, the next minute, carloads of Georgian forces drive up" and start firing, bears an uncanny resemblance to this Associated Press description of events at Gori from the day before:
Near a gasoline station up the road, Georgian officers with binoculars watched as dozens of journalists gathered near the Russians tanks, taping and photographing them up close and attempting to talk to the soldiers. ...
But the situation turned ugly. South Ossetian militiamen, who are allied with the more disciplined Russian troops, appeared and began shouting at people to leave the area. They were highly aggressive, pointing weapons and shoving civilians. One older fighter with a beard fired a pistol in the air.

Note the matching narrative, right down to the "pistol".

3) The AP story also discusses what happened earlier:
In the morning, columns of Georgian police and military vehicles prepared to reoccupy the strategic town of Gori after the expected departure of Russian forces. ...
Reports of a collapse in negotiations on a handover of the town triggered a confrontation between Georgian and Russian troops at a checkpoint on the main road, a little over a mile from the center of Gori. No shots were fired, but Russian tanks quickly roared up in a display of might that forced the Georgians to pull back.
The story also refers to when "panicked Georgian troops fled for safety in pickup trucks". Apparently, FOX would have us believe that Georgian troops not only overcame any panic they might have had, but showed up at the checkpoint to start firing at journos talking with Russian soldiers? When there is a ceasefire in place? In the only report of any Georgian firing that day? A "large contingent of the world's media" is there and only FOX reports on this remarkable development?

4) Our intrepid FOX reporter states multiple times that these "Georgian forces" were "irregular". This is the first reported sighting of a "Georgian irregular" in the 21st century!

some disturbing videos

Turkish journalists under fire. See here for the rest of the story.

This FOX clip appears to be going viral. Watch it and draw your own conclusions about whether anyone is being censored.

Notice that the FOX host started stuttering a bit after the "2000 were killed" claim. No doubt it created a real dilemma for FOX given the following:

The torching of houses in these villages is in some ways a result of the massive Russia propaganda machine which constantly repeats claims of genocide and exaggerates the casualties. That is then used to justify retribution.
- Anna Neistat of Human Rights Watch

See also this Wall Street Journal article, "Evidence in Georgia Belies Russia's Claims of 'Genocide'"

Excellent op-eds here and here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

"an orgy of looting, burning, murdering and rape"

See this story and this one. Those familiar with what happened to East Prussia in 1945 would know that it's not the first line of Russian soldiers that are the humanitarian problem so much as the secondary line of not-so-Russians.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch, a group that is also pro-abortion, anti-capital punishment, and pro-gay rights, says that a "massive Russia propaganda machine" is at work here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

ex-Republics regress towards failed states

The Reuters story "Moldovan separatists break off talks over Georgia" doesn't surprise me. Having driven the separatist thorn deeper into Georgia's side, Moscow has sent a message to the rest of its former republics.

What's frustrating for me is the way people equivocate between Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia and the Georgia of the Rose Revolution. All separatists were not created equal, nor all countries with separatist enclaves. I've been to Transdniester, and it is the most corrupt "country" of the 50+ I've travelled in the last four years. It combines smuggling and gangsterism with Soviet nostalgia. When I exited Moldova into Romania, the Moldovan border guards were professional and honest. Yet they will never be part of an EU country so long they can't get a grip on their eastern border. It suits Moscow perfectly fine if the ex-republics remain plagued by unresolved conflicts.

Although I never entered South Ossetia while I was in Georgia, I find it entirely plausible that it's a hornet's nest of crime and smuggling with thugs as its nominal leaders. However sympathetic one might be inclined to be to the Ossetians in theory, from my experience of Georgians and Russians or Russian allies like Transdniester, I find it preposterous to suggest that the 20 000 ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia would have their human rights better protected by Putin or Putin supporters than the 50 000 ethnic Ossetians would have their human rights protected by Saakashvili. The New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton signed McCain's letter nominating the young Georgian President for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.

This is not to say that the Georgians struck me as southern Finns. I didn't see the mentality one finds in a western democracy at every turn. But what I did see were developing cultural norms that are the critical enablers of progress towards that goal, and in light of that I believe due allowance should be made for any exaggerating that may have occured in the communications of the Georgian government this past week. Are the Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians sympathetic to small ethnic groups? Of course they are. But they know what the real deal is here, and accordingly don't project onto the South Ossetians some sort of liberal self-determination thesis that does not square with the facts on the ground. Anyone who is familiar with what happens in wars would not be the least bit surprised if the Ossetians are getting their vengeance while I write on the Georgians in South Ossetia who are no longer protected by the Georgian government.

Whatever the faults of the Georgians, Moscow is running an extremely sophisticated propaganda operation with respect to colouring how the world sees them, and suggesting people try to look through that is not to say that they are somehow angels next to Russian demons. It's rather to say that there is no real substitute to actually going to the region and drawing one's own conclusions.

NATO and the EU do not invite just any tinpot dictatorship or banana republic to join their club. On the contrary, they have standards. What the White House proposed in Bucharest was extending a "map" towards membership to Georgia. This "map" largely coincides with political and economic progress, but a great many people seem to think that the fact the derailer of this process is a foil to the USA is all the reason they need to cheer the result.

The colour revolutions stumbled this week on the rocks Moscow threw in front of them and I find it a very regrettable development in the human journey towards prosperity and freedom of expression.

See this New York Times link for some excellent backgrounders.

"gonna keep on rollin', baby"

to quote Fred Durst...
"Attacks on Georgia continue despite Russian president's calls to halt"
"Russians shells Gori despite claims Georgia conflict is over"

Meanwhile, on the coast:

In Poti, a port city in western Georgia, a New York Times correspondent heard bombs falling ...
Residents and officials were tense as Russian troops drove through the city, talking to residents. They appeared to be digging into positions on the city’s outskirts. There were reports that Russian troops were engaged in similar activities in the western Georgian towns of Zugdidi and Kareli, an American official said.
About four miles outside Poti, a dozen armored vehicles guarded a bridge and the road onwards to Batumi, another Black Sea port. The troops, who spoke Russian and wore patches indicating they were paratroopers, said they were peacekeepers.

I ended up spending a couple days in Poti last fall, because I was trying to get on a freighter to the Ukraine and its departure kept getting delayed.

Monday, August 11, 2008

DailyKos blogger denounces Moscow

This DailyKos post is a remarkable illustration of how elements of the US left have decided to adopt McCain's position of supporting the Baltics' view of the Georgia situation. The post calls attention to the wire story "Russia Warns Baltics, Poland To Pay For Georgia Stance".

The position of the Baltic State Presidents evidently reflects the popular will, given the demonstrations there.

Meanwhile, the Moscow rebuffs the French.

Russia Today reportedly hired a westerner named William Dunbar to report for them, but refused to broadcast his reporting because it didn't serve the Kremlin's propaganda line. According to Dunbar,

I felt that I had no choice but to resign. I had a series of live, video satellite links scheduled for later that day, and they were cancelled. The real news, the real facts of the matter, didn't conform to what they were trying to report, and therefore, they wouldn't let me report it.

Abkhazia is more strategically vital than South Ossetia. The Georgians made no moves towards Abkhazia yet the Russian buildup there has been significant and Russian "peacekeepers" advanced as far beyond Abkhazia as Senaki, which cut the rail connection between the Georgian capital and the coast. What really matters to Moscow here is derailing any progress towards an internationally mediated settlement in Abkhazia. If the Georgians understood that they would have retreated west from South Ossetia towards Abkhazia as opposed to east towards Tbilisi. A Russian drive on Tbilisi was always unlikely because the world community would be unlikely to tolerate an unlimited war of conquest, but Georgian paranoia infected their communications to the point that their credibility is somewhat damaged. The next time they cry, "the Russians are coming!" the western media will suspect the Georgians are exaggerating.

I'm a little disappointed...

in the Georgian military performance so far. According the Guardian, the attached photo is "on the road to Tbilisi".

The UK Telegraph says "Georgians were witnessed by the Telegraph in a full scale disorganised and panicked retreat from Gori." I hope that's Georgian civilians, but given reports that the Russians overran Senaki, which on the main rail line between the Georgian capital and the coast (I took an overnight train through Senaki from Tbilisi last October), it sounds like it could be the Georgian military that's in full retreat. The Associated Press says one of their film crews "saw Georgian tanks and military vehicles speeding along the road from Gori to Tbilisi. Firing began and people ran for cover. Cars could be seen in flames along the side of the road."

I took a day trip to Gori while I was in the country last autumn and I'm sorry to hear that the Russians bombed it and sorrier still to think that the Georgians may have abandoned it without much of a fight. That said, I can appreciate the importance to trying to set up a defensive line around the capital. I just think it is something of a propaganda coup for the Russians if they can go on the rampage in the rest of the country, destroy everything, and then pull back saying they are peace lovers because they didn't bear down on the capital.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

McCain wisely endorses statement by Eastern Europeans on Georgia

I have my reservations with McCain, and I've expressed them. But the fact remains that intelligent and well-spoken liberals like Michael Kingsley consider McCain "honest, courageous, likable and intelligent."

Would I prefer that McCain had a more (Obama-like) cerebral bearing and approach? Of course. But whether McCain "gets it" with the Russians because of an evidence-based approach or because of a skeptical intuition that happens to be correct ultimately doesn't matter in the end.

Fact is, McCain is right on the money to "strongly support" the Joint Declaration of Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Polish Presidents on the situation in Georgia. Having visited 11 former Soviet republics within the last two years I can tell you that that declaration is not the least bit surprising. The eastern Europeans know what real imperialism looks like. Real imperialism simply doesn't give a damn about other countries think. There is no reasoning with it, no moral conscience to appeal to, no point in trying to argue at all.

US imperialism is an imperialism that's obvious to the good professors of Post Colonial Studies (imposing the "corporate agenda" on long suffering brown people) but far from obvious to sub-Saharan Africans (with whom GWB is quite popular) or ordinary people on the ground in regions that attract the interest of Moscow or Beijing.

Far from there being no point in arguing with US-style imperialism, its opponents essentially argue against it non-stop. This very fact is a tacit recognition that Americans recognize rules about how the game should be played, such that it is worth one's time to appeal to those rules.

I don't support the neo-cons. I've long considered myself either a libertarian or a paleo-con. The neo-cons are liberals who became cynical about the means while remaining idealistic about the ends. I've been a cynic since day 1. I don't like Cheney, or Rumsfeld, or Bolton. But many Canadians compare the US against some abstract, hypothesized idea of ideal behaviour in a mental exercise that much of the world doesn't have the luxury of engaging in. The eastern Europeans know that US foreign policy leaves a lot to be desired. But it's far preferable to Russian power and, indeed, nobody has the American back in the Middle East like the eastern Europeans do.

The notion that South Ossetia's right to self-determination is being crushed by the Georgians is another one of these academic exercises. Thinktanks without a radical-left bias have long recognized that the Russians have been building a hornet's nest of smugglers, criminals, and other agents of destabilization for years now, and when the Georgians finally got stung so many times they decided to take a whack at it, the Russians had exactly the propaganda narrative they wanted. Press coverage of Russia's cyberwar against Georgian and Baltic websites in July was limited, as was coverage of Russian violations of Georgian airspace. The Russians themselves have never recognized any independence referenda in South Ossetia as valid, nor have they recognized South Ossetia as legally independent of Georgia. If this were truly about self-determination for the Ossetians, the Russians would have recognized that legally first before invading. The Baltic states, of course, have no time for the Russian claims of protecting the innocent because they've got substantial Russian minorities of their own (imported during the Soviet occupation) and know how the Russians use "protecting Russians" as a pretext for interference.

The equivalency I've seen drawn between the west's stance on Kosovo and Russia on South Ossetia does not follow. The west's recognition of Kosovo followed a Russian rejection of a UN proposal that never mentioned "independence" or talked of an "independent" Kosovo. Slobodan Milosevic's extended campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo was internationally verified and recognized, with the result that more than a dozen nations decided on a proportionate, air only response to Milosevic. Milosevic wanted international involvement out, Saakashvili wants it in.

Whether McCain came to his cynicism of Russian intentions by temperament or by reflective experience, McCain is seeing Russia as those closest to the real Russia see it.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Best answer:

Russians are very stealthy creatures. Kind of like ninjas. They are probably hiding in your kitchen right now...give yourself up, they will be merciful.