Sunday, 24 August 2008

Cast off

We know where we’re going . . .

While I’m away, The New Centrist has two new posts up, on Lithuania and the Jewish partisans of the Second World War, and on Czecholosovakia 68. Amongst other things he links to an interview with Alexandr Dubček’s son Pavol on Aktuá which in turn links to lots more. Also via TNC, this BBC News account includes Josef Koudelka’s photos.

I find a fair amount to disagree with in some of what Sultan Knish writes, but here’s a post I recommend wholeheartedly, Back in the USSR: You have to be crazy to believe in the truth. In light of Russian rhetoric casting doubt on the mental health of the Georgian president, rhetoric some Western commentators have been happy to play along with, Sultan K. gives a short account of Russia’s dark history of using psychiatry as an instrument of political oppression.

A lesser example of using psychiatry for political purposes was seen in the UK recently. When the former presenter of BBC Radio 4’s All In The Mind Dr Raj Persaud was up before the General Medical Council accused of plagiarism, one of the voices that spoke in his defence was David Owen.

Raj Persaud’s period on All in the Mind reached a particular low point last year when he interviewed David Owen on his book The Hubris Syndrome. In the interview Owen portrayed various politicians as being somehow mentally ill.

Owen seemed unable to talk about any of his targets, I mean subjects, without mentioning his own relationship with them, and so the curious point that emerged was that those he portrayed as less than sane were people who had failed to heed his good advice, while those who seemed to have taken his words of wisdom to heart were all well balanced individuals.

The interview was completely unchallenging. No serious questions were raised as to the supposed psychological basis for Owen’s argument. Emphasis was placed on Owen’s past career as a neurologist as if this also qualified him as a psychiatrist. It was a mix of politics and personal vendetta masquerading as science, and Raj Persaud gave him a free ride.

UPDATE: Medicalising Politics by Blacktriangle blog, 21 January 2009, on David Owen and other partisan pathologisers.

Over in the department of big theories and big maps, there’s a post on Information Dissemination about the strategic implications of Russia’s invasion of Georgia. It’s a long and interesting post, and something I’d planned on writing more on. For the moment I’ll just mention the assertion contained in the post that “Georgia, which has a relationship with the United States is being consumed by Russia, and ultimately will be regardless of what the United States does.” I disagree strongly, and I point to the history of West Berlin. Looking at it on the map it seems wholly unreasonable that the city survived Stalin’s attempts to swallow it. The effort expended on saving it also seem unreasonable in cold ‘realist’ terms. Yet in the end the Berlin Wall proved to be the keystone whose removal led to the whole iron curtain coming crashing down.

More when I return, see you in September!

The Berlin air corridors image is a detail from a 1965 US Air Force map.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

How big was the lie?

Yesterday the BBC reported: 
“Russia has issued new, reduced casualty figures for the Georgian conflict, with 133 civilians now listed as dead in the disputed region of South Ossetia.”
But how many civilians did Russia earlier claim had been killed in South Ossetia? In that BBC story it says Russia initially claimed 1,600 had died. A later story said “initially, however, Russia suggested more than 1,500 people had died in the conflict.” The BBC‘s memory of the Russian claim seemed to be diminishing. Wind back again, not to the earlier of those two BBC stories, but to AP on August 11th:
“Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Grigory Karasin, said more than 2,000 people have been killed in South Ossetia since Friday, most of them Ossetians with Russian passports.”
From 2,000 to 1,500. BBC News seems to be viewing past Russian claims through backwards binoculars.

Playing with matches 3

Mick Hartley on Saudi Arabia and an Iranian bomb: We Will Stop Them.

The nature of the Iranian regime requires Europe as a whole to press Iran to forebear from developing nuclear arms; and a primary way of doing so is to press Russia to refrain from offering a commercially profitable helping hand, and to press Russia to refrain from sending additional weaponry to Iran. The sudden and vast increase in the power of the pro-Russia parties across a large swath of Europe will make it harder for Europe to do anything of the sort. So the Iranians, too, or at least the Ahmadinejad faction, emerge from the invasion a little stronger. Already the Iranians have benefitted in Iraq, given the withdrawal of 2,000 gung-ho Georgian troops. The setback to the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon is likewise an Iranian triumph.

Iran's successes will surely weigh on the debate within Israeli political and military circles, and not in favor of patience and conciliation. The events of August 2008 make Israel look more vulnerable, instead of less. The Israeli argument for relying on European solidarity against Iran, and the Israeli argument for looking to the United States to prevent rash acts by the inveterately hostile, will look weaker. The argument among the Israeli political and military circles in favor of launching a desperate pre-emptive attack on Iran, or in favor of renewing the war in Lebanon, will end up looking stronger.

The potential of new and catastrophic wars in the Middle East has therefore grown.

Earlier posts one and two. Follow up posts four, five, six and seven.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

1999: McCain on Kosovo 2

I wrote earlier on Matthew Yglesias, who thinks that he’s scoring points against McCain by bringing up the candidate’s position on Kosovo in 1999. The problem is that Yglesias seems ignorant of the facts of that conflict.

Not only has Yglesias not read enough history, he doesn’t seem to read the comments on his own blog either. If he did he’d have discovered that he was talking rubbish in that first post, and wouldn’t have repeated it again and again.

Not that this history is that ancient, and Mr Yglesias should be just about old enough to remember as he turned eighteen during the Kosovo war. Maybe he had other things on his mind back then.

UPDATE 21 AUGUST: Matthew Yglesias is not so hot on rocket science either. Writing on the US-Polish missile defence agreement, he gives another flamboyant display of ignorance. Be sure to read the comments. The wisdom of Matthew:
“Russia interprets the construction of missile defense facilities on Polish soil as a hostile act. And rightly so — clearly the only possible adversary such a system could be aimed against is Russia.”
Some basic facts: the US wants to put 10 interceptor missiles in Poland, and Russia has 2,146 land-launched nuclear warheads, 1,392 sea-launched warheads, and 624 air-launched warheads. So what do you think, do 10 interceptor missiles pose a threat to the effectiveness of Russia’s nuclear deterrence?

It was only recently that I became aware of the words of Yglesias, through his admirer Andrew Sullivan. Lance at A Second Hand Conjecture has been reading those words for quite a while longer, and noted at a word Yglesias didn’t mind using about his own policy proposals in 2006: appeasement. Here’s a word Lance used to describe Yglesias: hypocrite. And a whole bunch more words: unwarranted moral and intellectual smugness.

This one year old post of Lance’s on Andrew Sullivan was also interesting to me. Some people type faster than they think.

Bud Benderbe Goes Bananas

Always last with the latest links here, so let me show you a show from last year, Bud Benderbe Esq in New York, April 2007, singing songs of all our yesteryears updated for the modern age. Ladies and gentlemen, Bud Benderbe sings Velvet Underground classics. Just listen to that applause. Take it away Bud!

There’s more from Bud on Irwin Chusid's WFMU radio show. You can hear All Tomorrow’s Parties here, and three more songs, What Goes On, I’ll Be Your Mirror, and Sunday Morning here.

I see Bud has some association with the Dutch pop duo Bauer. Isn’t it great the way the old pro lends a hand to the young kids coming up? You can see Bauer below, performing with The Metropole Orchestra.

And what an orchestra that is . . .

The CD of that concert, Bauer Melody of 2006, also includes these film clips and more. Find it via Amazon US and Amazon UK. My copy is getting quite worn out.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Cut out and keep

The best single piece of writing on the Russian invasion of Georgia may be this by Michael Walzer. Concise, clear and comprehensive, it’s one to cut out and keep.

Spot the difference

Does anybody remember the speeches in which the Russian ambassador to the United Nations asked the General Assembly or Security Council to endorse his country's plan to send land, air, and sea forces deep into the territory and waters of a former colony that is now a U.N. member state? I thought not. I look at the newspaper editorials every day, waiting to see who will be the first to use the word unilateral in the same sentence as the name Russia. Nothing so far. Yet U.N. Resolution 1441, warning Saddam Hussein of serious consequences, was the fruit of years of thwarted diplomacy and was passed without a dissenting vote.
More for some of those unable to tell one apart from the other.

Bottle Fatigue

From Bottle Fatigue by Virgil Partch, aka VIP. More from the book at Hairy Green Eyeball here, here, here, here and here. Elsewhere there’s also lots of VIP at the ASIFA Hollywood Animation Archive and more links at I’m Learning to Share.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

1999: McCain on Kosovo

Matthew Yglesias, whose sanity is much admired by Andrew Sullivan, linked yesterday to an item from the archives of The New York Times. Dated April 4 1999, it’s about how John McCain was arguing on the need for the US to be prepared to use ground troops in the ongoing Kosovo conflict. The bombing had started on March 24th and after ten days of it Milosevic was defiant, and the Clinton White House was ruling out ground forces.

Oddly, Yglesias seems to see this as a point against McCain.

It’s interesting that a commenter on Yglesias’ blog brings up Wesley Clark to further critcise McCain, unaware perhaps that Clark, commander of Nato during its campaign in Kosovo, wrote “the threat of a ground attack, I believe, proved decisive.” Here.

There’s a longer story behind Clark’s conclusion, one of initial expectations that a few days of bombing would be sufficient, of Nato coming to the end of its initial target list with still no movement from Milosevic, of Clark moving as many ground forces as possible into Albania to make Serbia think he was planning a ground invasion, and having to do it under the justification of ground support and force protection for the air campaign because of the political resistance to committing ground forces.

By arguing for ground forces, McCain was leading where Clinton would follow in talks with Blair weeks later. Again, in Clark’s own words:
In the end, NATO achieved every one of its aims. With the air war intensifying, a ground invasion being prepared, and no other country to turn to for help, Milosevic in early June pulled his troops, police, and weaponry out of Kosovo. A NATO-led international peacekeeping force entered to establish order.
Much more detail on the move to accepting the logic of invasion in this Washington post article from September 1999 and this New York Times article from November 1999.

In an earlier post I raised an eyebrow at Mr Yglesias’ understanding of foreign affairs and of geography. It would seem that very recent history isn’t his strong point either. But hey, his book has loads of five star reviews on Amazon, so why should he worry? And it’s on foreign policy!

UPDATE 20TH AUGUST: Not only has Yglesias not read enough history, he doesn’t seem to read the comments on his own blog either. If he did he’d have discovered that he was talking rubbish in that first post, and wouldn’t have repeated it again and again.

Not that this history is that ancient, and Mr Yglesias should be just about old enough to remember as he turned eighteen during the Kosovo war. Maybe he had other things on his mind back then.

More Yglesias fun in this follow up post.


Saturday, 16 August 2008

After the USSR

I’m not a regular reader of Andrew Sullivan. I’ve dipped in at times in the past, but with little consistency. In the last few days however he’s really got my attention, and for all the wrong reasons.

On the 12th he wrote “The US has no rational basis to be as committed to Georgia as Russia is; and has very little moral standing to protest an invasion of a sovereign country.”

This would be in the first part an argument for accepting the notion of spheres of influence, of saying faraway fellow humans are less our fellows than our near neighbours, a Saul Steinbergian view of the world, a condemnation of faraway small nations to live as serfs in a system of international feudalism. 

The second part is an argument that was familiar to the cartoonist David Low when he satirised the appeasers of the 1930s. It’s an argument which in this case also implies a grotesque distortion of fact, but I’ll come back to that distortion, as Andrew Sullivan did.
A few hours later Andrew Sullivan clarified with “I was a little too mad at Bush to express adequate sympathy for the plight of the Georgians at first,” and went on to elaborate on his reasons for seeing Russia’s invasion of Georgia through the lens of Iraq. Specifically he saw it in a context of US abuse of prisoners in Iraq, the question of justification for the invasion of Iraq, and the question of UN authority for the invasion of Iraq. He concluded:
We can argue over the analogies. Yes, Iraq was a wicked dictatorship, and Georgia is a nascent democracy. Yes, the US is not Russia in terms of democratic norms. But actions and context are important. Iraq is thousands of miles away from the US; Georgia is on Russia's doorstep. The US invaded without the critical second UN resolution, putting the US outside the kind of international legitimacy in a way not totally unlike Russia. There is no American population in Iraq; there is a sizable Russian population in Georgia. Russia is recovering from one of the most precipitous declines in power in world history; the US stood athwart the globe in 2003 with no serious competitors. The Russian intervention has not toppled the Georgian government and has been halted after a few days. The American intervention in Iraq is now in its fifth year, with the administration doing all it can to stay longer.

The point here is not that the invasions are obviously morally equivalent. The point is that the line between American actions in the world and Russia's are no longer as stark as they once were. Once you trash the international system, declare yourself above the law and even the most basic of international conventions against war crimes, you have forfeited the kind of moral authority that the US once had. Bush and his cronies speak as if none of this has happened. Their rigid, absolutist denial even of the bleeding obvious allows them to preach to the world about international norms that, when they would have constrained American actions, were derided as quaint and irrelevant. You really cannot have it both ways.

Americans - and Georgians - are now living with the consequences. And I'm angry about it.
On prisoner abuses, to argue that Georgia should be denied solidarity because of crimes by US personnel at Abu Ghraib (or even because of White House sanctioned crimes by CIA personnel elsewhere) is a twisted piece of political narcissism. How are human rights in Iraq served by the denial of human rights in Georgia?

On comparing justifications for invasion, his own words above on the differences between pre-invasion Iraq and today’s Georgia show this to be a grotesque distraction.

On the issue of UN authority, Saddam Hussein was in breach of a very long series of UN resolutions. This is not the case with Georgia. While the word ‘illegal’ is synonymous in many people’s minds with the invasion of Iraq, just saying it over and over again doesn’t make it so

Of course one of the key obstacles to the US and UK getting a second resolution before invading Iraq, the necessity or otherwise of which is the centre of all arguments about legality, one of those key obstacles was Putin. Another important obstacle was Germany’s then leader Gerhard Schröder, who on leaving office went straight on to Gazprom... pipelines again. When it comes to the workings of the UN Security Council, international law looks like the law of the jungle.

On the part in the excerpt above about the relative strength of the US compared to Russia, how is this a factor in judging Russia’s actions? Surely Mr Sullivan is not one of those immature thinkers who equate weakness with virtue?

As for the part about Russian action being “halted after a few days”, it’s now four days since Andrew Sullivan wrote those words, four days of Russian troops continuing to expand their operations in areas of Georgia beyond the enclaves, days of looting, pillaging, and broken promises. And they’re still not leaving.

If Andrew Sullivan wants to make a proper comparison of the actions of Bush with the actions of Putin, he should compare Iraq to Chechnya. Compare the way those wars were fought. Compare the degree of legal accountability. Compare the outcome. And then consider what is at stake for Georgia.

On the 13th Andrew Sullivan wrote “Russia is no longer the Soviet Union. You'd think conservatives would understand this distinction. There is a difference between totalitarian states seeking world expansion and authoritarian petro-states in demographic collapse bullying neighboring states because of perceived humiliations,” and on the 14th he wrote “Russia is not a global expansionist power any more...”

How is what Russia is doing in Georgia not expansionist? And how big does a power have to be to be called global? And since when is ‘global’ a test of whether a country can present a serious threat? Certainly, Russia is no longer the Soviet Union, but it is built with the remains of the former Soviet Union, and led by people who are proud of their Soviet past.

Here’s the BBC diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall on Soviet Roots to Georgian Conflict.

Here is an excellent BBC World Service documentary from earlier in the year, After the KGB, and an accompanying article.

On the 15th Andrew Sullivan linked approvingly to a piece by Matthew Yglesias, Overhyping Georgia:
The reality is that Russia has no actual ability to move from Tblisi to Kiev. Georgia is tiny, poor, and geographically located so as to make it difficult for the West to provide it with any practical support. Ukraine has 10 times Georgia's population, 20 times its economic output, and extensive land borders with countries firmly in the Western orbit. The practical impossibility of conquering Ukraine, not American threats, is what will keep the Russians out of Kiev.
This Andrew Sullivan characterised as ‘sanity’. It ignores that Russia’s primary interest in Ukraine is, according to Putin himself, the Crimea, not the entirety of Ukraine. Though there might be other ways than invasion of playing for that too. But don’t worry, Andrew thinks it won’t happen, Andrew who thought the Russians were done in Georgia four days ago.

Enough is too much. I’m in severe need of a break from the wisdom of Mr Sullivan.

UPDATE 17 AUGUST: When is a withdrawal not a withdrawal? When Russia replaces soldiers with ‘peacekeepers’.

ALSO: Ukraine’s President Yushchenko doesn’t share Andrew’s confidence:
He said the situation was unprecedented and showed that his country could only ensure its national sovereignty through collective security. Only that, he said, “could prevent any actions like those which occurred on 7-8 August at first in South Ossetia, and then in other regions of Georgia”.
Of course having been subjected to dioxin poisoning by his enemies might be affecting his judgement, making it hard for him to fully appreciate the wisdom of Sullivan.

AND FINALLY: Matthew Yglesias, the man Andrew turns to for ‘sanity’ on Ukraine, doesn’t even seem to know what country the Crimea is in, though Putin would no doubt agree with this post which says “Russian soil”. Typing error or thinking error? The post in full:
Farley on NATO
Robert Farley
makes a lot of sense on the past and future of NATO expansion. As he says, we have no reason to apologize for past NATO expansion, but simply because past expansions have been beneficial doesn’t mean that “NATO expansion” as such is a good thing that needs to be pressed forward. A point I would add is that there’s a difference between extending security guarantees so as to protect countries from Russian coercion and extending security guarantees in order to encourage countries to engage in risky anti-Russian behaviors. There was no sign that Hungary or the Czech Republic ever had any desire to actually pick a fight with Russia the way Georgia did (and has) or that Ukraine with its messy situation including actual Russian military bases on Russian soil plausibly might in the future.
That’s right, Matthew Yglesias thinks Georgia desired this fight. And he thinks Ukraine might desire a fight with Russia in the future. Hopeless.

Another post on Yglesias here.

Captain Eddie and the Robbers

Uncle Eddie and Jim are at it again, with a tale of Captain Hook, Peter Pan’s dog, and the notorious residents of Robber Island, including The Ghastly Snatcher, Noodles, and The Crimson Crook, all told through photos and film. This one has the makings of an epic. Follow the links to part one, part twopart three and part four. More on Jim’s contribution here.

For those coming in late, see earlier posts on the brilliance of these two clowns: 

Friday, 15 August 2008

Jeff Weintraub: Return of the Russian Bear

An excerpt:
Thomas de Waal is probably right to offer the plague-on-both-their-houses judgment that "The immediate trigger of this conflict both Moscow's and Tbilisi's cynical disregard for the well-being of these people" in South Ossetia. But given the way that the war has developed since then, the Presidents of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were also quite right to declare in a joint statement that Russia's attack on Georgia was the latest manifestation of an "imperialist and revisionist" policy aimed at restoring Russian hegemony over what the Russians call their "near abroad." That is the heart of the matter, and discussions about whether Saakashvili is really a good guy or a bad guy, a wise leader or a foolish one, sufficiently or insufficiently democratic (compared to which other leaders in the region?), are really just distractions or evasions.

And his follow up.  Related: Abkhazia and South Ossetia - Differences Matter, from the NY Times.

No change

Samantha Power still thinks that a policy of “facilitating ethnic cleansing” (her words) is a vote winner for Obama. Here she is in the current issue of the New York Review of Books:
“He has made clear his concern for Iraqi civilians in mixed neighborhoods who might be more vulnerable following a withdrawal of US combat brigades. He would offer these civilians fair notice of US plans and would be open to relocating those who would feel more secure if they moved.”
Obama’s campaign is of course no longer expressing that idea as clearly as it once did. Powers must have missed the memo - see previous post.

Related: if you thought that Obama’s Iraq policy seemed like a stuck clock, permanently pointing at “withdrawal within 16 months” no matter what, consider the fossilised rhetoric of the Liberal Democrats here in the UK - responding to comments by the outgoing commander of British forces in Iraq that most of the UK troops could be withdrawn by next summer, Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman Edward Davey said:
“Even if this latest hint turns out to be true, the timescale seems far too slow. Our troops should be home from Iraq by Christmas at the very latest.

“It must be immensely frustrating for our service men and women on the ground in Iraq to know they are there more as political cover for the Brown-Bush relationship than to provide any real help to the Iraqi people.”
The Lib Dems campaigned in the 2005 election on a policy of withdrawal, the biggest party to do so, and achieved a high water mark of 23% of the vote resulting in 62 seats. Now they’re looking at 18% and 33 seats. In 2005 Iraq was the big issue for all the news media, now it has trouble making the front page. Do the Lib Dems really believe there’s anything to be had by carrying on repeating slogans from 2005?

The sad thing is that there seems to be a portion of truth in Davey’s second paragraph quoted above, going by this post from Iraq the Model, but the apparent failures of the British military mission in Basra are in great part a result of the poisonous opposition politics on Iraq promoted in the UK by the Lib Dems and others, politics which have everything to do with domestic political advantage, and which do nothing to improve the welfare of Iraqis.

Related stories on Basra via the Small Wars Journal.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

They’re all the bloody same over there

A recurring theme in comments on the latest Russian invasion of Georgia is a concern that Georgia is not a pure and innocent victim, that by backing Georgia one might be falling into the trap of backing a bastard just because he’s our bastard. See greater or lesser examples in posts by Gene at Harry’s Place, by Francis Sedgemore, by Bob from Brockley, by Flesh is Grass, by History is made at night.

There are good grounds for some of this caution, but I think that there are also reasons for this caution to diminish as the nature of the Russian operation becomes ever clearer, with their occupation of Gori, the crossroads of the country,  their occupation of the Black Sea port of Poti, and with Human Rights Watch raising serious questions about Russian propaganda on casualties. Today from the New York Times:
Meanwhile, investigators began to look into allegations of atrocities committed in the separatist enclave of South Ossetia, where the war erupted on Aug. 8. Human Rights Watch reported that researchers witnessed “terrifying scenes of destruction” in four deserted ethnic Georgian villages, and said they the villages had been looted and burned by South Ossetian militias.

Anna Neistat, one of the researchers, said by telephone from Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, that they had found no evidence so far to substantiate Russian claims of widespread brutality by Georgian troops.

Human Rights Watch has been able to confirm fewer than 100 deaths — a far cry from the death toll of 2,000 regularly cited by Moscow.

“If the Russian government continues to claim that 2,000 people were killed as the result of the conflict, it’s time to provide some evidence, it’s time to provide some data, name, age, gender, the circumstances of death,” Ms. Neistat said.
(The above story has since been updated on the New York Times site, with the quoted passage slightly shortened.)

It has been widely reported that Russia had been escalating its military presence and activity within the contested Georgian regions in the months prior to the invasion. Its separatist proxies had escalated attacks against Georgia, and the Russian military had carried out direct attacks against Georgia in that time.

Now I’m a lousy chess player, but from what I read it looks to me as though Russia has been advancing its pawns in the hope that one of them would be taken, allowing its main force to attack. Georgia was facing losses either way, whether at the hands of the advancing pawns, or in risking confrontation with the main Russian forces. I’m not yet convinced that Georgian actions were wholly unreasonable. If they hadn’t responded, the Russian reaction to weakness would have undoubtedly have been an even greater buildup of their forces within the contested areas, and a continuation, if not escalation, of actions by its proxy separatist forces.

The effect would have been for Georgia to cede its claim to the contested territory, and to have an increasingly powerful Russian military force on Georgia’s side of the Caucasus mountains, within touching distance of the main cities and road and rail routes.

So what has Georgia gained by Russia achieving those same objectives through open warfare rather than by stealth? It has at least ensured that Georgia doesn’t sink quietly under the Russian imperial deluge. Russia’s rapaciousness is now clear to the world.

James Traub of the New York Times wrote earlier in the week that Czechlosovakia 1938 was foremost in the minds of President Saakashvili and other Georgians. They had evidently taken the lesson to heart that giving a little to an insatiable predator can mean losing the lot. Making the predator fight for it may not work, but it might yet give Georgia a better chance if the carnage attracts the solidarity of the West.

As well as concern over Russian accusations that Georgia had indiscriminately attacked civilians in South Ossetia, and concern that Georgian actions had been unjustified and reckless, another reason for caution in supporting Georgia has been worry that the government is less than fully democratic. I have no direct knowledge of Georgia, but it seems to me that whatever the shortcomings of the current government, their ambition is to place themselves firmly in the company of the democracies. As others have pointed out, opening negotiations for Georgian membership of Nato would give Western democracies greater ability to ensure that democratic and legal institutions are strengthened. They certainly won’t be strengthened by abandoning Georgia to the new imperial Russia.

The issue of oil and gas pipelines has been raised a number of places, by Francis Sedgemore, in the NY Times Q&A on Georgia, and in news stories and comment box responses to posts all over the place.

I agree with the talk of the necessity of Western Europe freeing itself of energy dependence on Russia. I notice that less emphasis is placed on the need for energy security in the states on Russia’s borders, states which have more often experienced the direct impact of Russia’s strong-arm energy tactics.

A few thoughts I’d had on this were addressed in the Times Q&A. One reader raised the question of whether Russia’s strength as a supplier of fossil fuel might not also be its weakness in the longer term, and in response to the question ‘is it all about oil’, Moscow bureau chief Clifford J Levy responded:
Pipelines may have played a role, but I doubt it was a determinative one. There is a lot going on in this conflict: lingering resentment in the Kremlin about Russia’s loss of influence in the 1990s, and a resulting desire to prove that the country is once again a power and can stand up to the West; personal animosity between the Georgian president and the Russian leadership; longstanding territorial disputes; historical relationships between Moscow and the former Soviet republics; ethnic conflicts, and so on. It’s hard to isolate just one factor.
In the James Traub piece quoted earlier, he writes:
But economic considerations alone scarcely account for what appears to be an obsession with Georgia. The “color revolutions” that swept across Ukraine, the Balkans and the Caucasus in the first years of the new century plainly unnerved Putin, who has denounced America's policy of “democracy promotion” and stifled foreign organizations seeking to promote human rights in Russia.

Georgia, with its open embrace of the West, represents a threat to the legitimacy of Russia’s authoritarian model. And this challenge is immensely compounded by Georgia's fervent aspiration to join NATO, one of Russia’s red lines.
This touches on another topic that has been kicking around some of the blogs I read regularly: non-violence. The New Centrist recently quoted a post by Sultan Knish attacking the ideology of non-violence. I piped up in the comments to TNC's post, mentioning my favourite fancy-dress peace campaigner, and also bringing up non-violence theorist Gene Sharp. Bob from points south of London Bridge then posted on how Gene Sharp has been making Hugo Chavez nervous. And perhaps with good reason, as Sharp’s writings were apparently essential reading for many of those organising the colour revolutions.

The point I take from this is that Putin & Co. find the non-violent tactics of Gene Sharp as much of a threat as the military deterrence of Nato. Non-violence offers little defence against artillery, but given half a chance non-violence can be an effective weapon against authoritarian regimes. Putin & Co. are determined not to give it half a chance, but their fear of it shows that we should not dismiss using the option where appropriate.

UPDATE 14 AUGUST: A military response, or a non-violent response, or a non-violent military response? The difference here is that when these currently non-violent peace campaigners place themselves before the invading force, the invaders know they won’t stay non-violent if attacked.

ALSO: Editorial in today’s Washington Post: Blaming Democracy.

UPDATE 15 AUGUST: Human Rights Watch on civilian deaths, and more on Georgia to be found via the HRW main page.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Beyond the fortress walls

Returning from holiday, it seemed the clock had been turned back not just an hour, but years.

The most immediately useful piece of background analysis I read was by James Traub in yesterday’s IHT, all the better for my tired eyes for being printed in columns on newsprint.

Information Dissemination was very helpful in understanding the military detail, despite its navy focus, and it linked to other sources of military information. Starting with Outbreak, through several posts up to the most recent Russia’s Divide and Conquer Strategy. The above map comes from this post on Information Dissemination, a follow up to this map post.

Marko Attila Hoare put the issue of South Ossetia in perspective compared to Kosovo.

The New Centrist has a clearly written and principled view here. Flesh is Grass tries to dig deeper. Oliver Kamm points to a column by David Clark, who writes “complexity is no excuse for abdicating moral judgement.” In another post Oliver Kamm focuses on the earlier rejection of Georgia from Nato. He writes:
The value of Nato is not only in providing for our collective security. The alliance is also a way of cementing liberal tendencies in emerging states and regions. (Likewise, the European Union, which is the single most important reason - far more than any economic grounds - for my support for wider European integration.) It would be wrong for Western governments to infer from Russian aggression that they should be cautious about expanding Nato membership.
Georgia has been left shut out beyond the fortress walls, easy prey for a Russian leadership which has repeatedly shown its disdain for democracy and the rule of law. While this is bad for Georgia, it’s also bad for the Ukraine, bad for any country on Russia’s borders that wants to steer a more democratic and progressive course, and bad for everyone else as well, including the population of Russia, living with an unaccountable leadership who seem intent on using the nation’s resources to steer a course back to the time of the Tsars, rather than forward to an open society. Ultimately their course can only lead to even greater stagnation and degeneration for Russia. 

UPDATES: Of course for some it is in Georgia, as it is everywhere, as it ever was, and ever will be, all about America. It must be such a comfort to live such a simple life. More reports of simple thinking here, including accounts of some wishing to portray Russia as the underdog, because one should always support the underdog. I-di-ots. (Via Terry Glavin.) See also Bob from Brockley: Rogue states and police states - and their defenders.

More seriously, here’s James Traub again, answering questions from New York Times readers with clarity and precision.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Taking flight

From the Times Higher Education Supplement, 1995. Catch you later!