Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Some Thoughts on Russia - Georgia

Nearly 3 weeks after Russia first rolled tanks and soldiers into the territory of Georgia, we have a nearly daily stream of news reports detailing the many ways that Russia is violating the cease-fire agreement, which you almost never hear mentioned in the Western media without Sarkozy's name attached to it. And now Russia is officially recognizing the breakaway states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent nations, the first step in a process by the territories to join the Russian Federation. There are so many stunning things about this development in the Caucasus.

- First, it's pretty amazing how quickly nations are joining one side or the other. The U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Ukraine are all denouncing Russia as much as possible and proclaiming Georgia's right to its own "territorial integrity". Meanwhile, on the other side, Russia, Belarus, China, Moldova, and even America-hating Venezuela and Cuba have proclaimed that Russia was right to deploy peacekeeping troops to protect the security of its citizens.

- Soft propaganda from both sides is rampant. U.S. media always focuses on pictures of Georgians in anguish, while Russian media always focuses on pictures of Ossetians in anguish. I love reading the English version of ITAR-TASS's website, a website that looks like it came straight out of the Soviet oeuvre.

- Russia is really leaning on its regional allies to support them. They were really mad when Belarus waited a whole six days to finally back Russia. From ITAR-TASS:

On the fifth day of the operation the Kremlin decided it was enough. The Russian
ambassador to Belarus, Alexander Surikov, said, "It is not very clear to us why
the Belarussian authorities modestly keep quiet."

"One should be more explicit in expressing attitude to issues," he said.

Can't you just imagine a Bond-villain-like scenario with the Russian ambassador and his goons in his office in Minsk, stroking a cat and saying "Perhaps eets time to pay Lukashenko a visit to discuss eessue over cocktails. Molotov cocktails..."

- Posturing and saber-rattling is easily detected in the words both sides are choosing. Unfortunately, the Russians are the only ones with sabers to rattle. Other NATO countries are almost always reluctant to say anything confrontational, which is probably a good strategy. But the U.S. isn't reluctant. This is unfortunate, because the U.S. military is stretched dangerously thin, and everyone knows it. Therefore Russia will have the upper hand for awhile and there's nothing we can do about it.

- I don't think this could possibly escalate to Cold War levels, even with the added news about the U.S. and Poland installing a missile defense system. But before diplomacy can lead anywhere, the West must acknowledge that the South Ossetia conflict was started because of a poorly-thought-through invasion by Georgian forces into Tshkinvali. Every media source emphasizes Russia's forces invading Georgia and obliterating their military in violation with international law, but they all seem to conveniently under-report that it was that douchebag Saakashvili who ordered the invasion on a territory filled with people with Russian citizenship. Saakashvili should have known that Russia wasn't going to stand for it, particularly when most of Georgia's military forces were in Iraq and most of Russia's military forces were across Georgia's border. Almost every media report from Russia's ITAR-TASS makes prominent mention of Georgia's "blitzkrieg" on South Ossetia, and almost every media report from Western news sources conveniently glosses over that fact. If reconciliation is possible, American and European leaders are going to have to come to terms with the fact that the country with pending NATO membership is being led by a reckless idiot who will in all likelihood do more harm to NATO than good.

- Apparently Condoleeza Rice has become our de-facto new president. Every new statement by Putin, Medvedev, or other Russian authorities is always met by comments from Condoleeza Rice, not from President Bush. I think he's on vacation in Crawford, TX (I really couldn't say for sure), so that could be the reason for this sudden conspicuousness of the Secretary of State. It really doesn't matter though, just because the same Bush administration empty threats we usually hear from the president are now coming out of the mouth of the Secretary of State. U.S. diplomacy: everything stays on the table (except nuance).

- European ethnic groups are crazy. It's really easy for both sides to claim genocide based on ethnic cleansing because all these nations are founded on ethnic lines. Ethnic Georgians are killing ethnic Ossetians, while ethnic Russians are murdering ethnic Georgians, but since the Republic of Georgia was killing soldiers in the breakaway state of South Ossetia, and the Russian Federation killed people in the Republic of Georgia, it's hard to tell which actions are based on ethnic cleansing and which actions are based on strategic military missions.

- There is so much world news to comprehend, what with the Georgia thing, the deadliest case of civilian casualties by the U.S. military in Afghanistan, riots in Thailand, the breakup of Pakistan's coalition government and the revelation that Asif Ali Zardari is a nutjob, that it's simply astounding that 75% of our nations press corps is reporting and analyzing pre-scripted meaningless political drivel.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Biden Knows Toasted

Don't know for sure if it's going to be Joe Biden yet, but I created this side-by-side comparison of the senator from Delaware versus the Ritz chips pitchman and the gay blade himself George Hamilton, just in case.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hey, Turns Out I'm a War Hawk

So as the Olympics presses on and more and more Americans learn heartwarming back-stories of Olympians and instantly become devoted fans, Russia has invaded Georgia after Georgia invaded a different part of Georgia. And since Russia is now attacking and controlling parts of the Republic of Georgia outside of the borders of the separatist areas of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, this would seem to me to constitute an act of war. War against a key ally near the middle East and a rare example of a working democracy in a region filled with dictators and oppressive regimes. In other words, something like Kuwait. So, when elder Bush lead the charge against Iraq back in 1990, Americans, NATO, the U.N., Santa Claus, Jesus and everyone in the free world got behind the effort to expel Saddam Hussein's forces from the tiny-yet-important emirate of Kuwait. At least this is what I remember from my 9-year-old brain augmented by a Wikipedia search (which suspiciously left off Santa Claus and Jesus. Hmm...).

What makes Georgia different? Well, it's got less oil, it's democracy isn't all that stable or fair, and, oh yeah, Russia is waaaaaay more intimidating than Saddam Hussein and his SCUD missiles. But if our American principles mean anything (and admittedly, they don't), shouldn't we be standing up for Democracy, to use a cliche? I actually liked this suggestion by Bill Kristol in today's NY Times:

For that matter, consider the implications of our turning away from Georgia for other aspiring pro-Western governments in the neighborhood, like Ukraine’s. Shouldn’t we therefore now insist that normal relations with Russia are impossible as long as the aggression continues, strongly reiterate our commitment to the territorial integrity of Georgia and Ukraine, and offer emergency military aid to Georgia?

If you're a developing nation pondering the pros and cons of establishing despotism, or even if you're well on your way towards abuse of your own citizenry, would you consider reforming your government towards openness in order to reap the economic benefits of a free market if you didn't believe you could be backed up by the democracies of the West should a massively powerful neighbor should start to throw its weight around? Of course not. The past and present leaders of Georgia and Ukraine have chosen to take the hard road towards democracy, and they should be rewarded with more than just empty rhetoric.

Am I advocating restarting a Cold War? Not necessarily (although that does seem to be the style of warfare that we're good at, rather than fighting insurgents in urban neighborhoods). But I think we should show a responsive force even if we won't use it, just to show we're serious. Maybe send an aircraft carrier up through the Bosporus into the Black Sea. That is, if we can spare one from our many other conflicts.

On another note, before this week, the word Osset, unfortunately for lazy crossword puzzle constructors like me, was too obscure to put in a puzzle. But now, I'd bet you could get away with it. So, I guess that's one positive about this whole mess.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Oklahomans Not Happy About Armageddon

Poll: Obama Support Low in State

(Tulsa World)

A new poll found little support among Oklahoma voters for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

The Oklahoma Poll found that Republican John McCain has broad support in the state to lead Obama by 32 percentage points, 56 percent to 24 percent. Seventy-one percent of those questioned said they are firm in their decisions.


"I would rather have had somebody different than John McCain on the Republican side, but I can't even believe who the Democrats picked," said poll respondent Billy Garrison, a registered Democrat who often votes Republican.

"I know our country will be in bad shape if Barack Obama is elected president," said Garrison, of Tulsa.

Another erstwhile Democrat, Charles Ogdon of Muldrow, said he believes Obama will be the next president, in part because Ogden believes an Obama presidency would fit biblical prophesies concerning Armageddon and the Second Coming.

But Ogdon isn't happy about it.


So, bad times for the Obama for Oklahoma campaign.