'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, August 09, 2008

A Dirty Adventure (Part 3) 

A good column on the situation by Mark Ames, posted on The Nation website, if one has the patience to sift through the obligatory The Nation requirement that about half of it serve the purpose of implicitly promoting Obama by attacking McCain on the subject:

Today, Georgian forces from that same Senaki base are part of the invasion force into South Ossetia, an invasion that has left scores--perhaps hundreds--of dead locals, at least ten dead Russian peacekeepers, and 140 million pissed-off Russians calling for blood.

Lost in all of this is not only the question of why America would risk an apocalypse to help a petty dictator like Saakashvili get control of a region that doesn't want any part of him. But no one's bothering to ask what the Ossetians themselves think about it, or why they're fighting for their independence in the first place. That's because the Georgians--with help from lobbyists like Scheunemann--have been pushing the line that South Ossetia is a fiction, a construct of evil Kremlin neo-Stalinists, rather than a people with a genuine grievance.

A few years ago, I had an Ossetian working as the sales director for my now-defunct newspaper, The eXile. After listening to me rave about how much I always (and still do) like the Georgians, he finally lost it and told me another side to Georgian history, explaining how the Georgians had always mistreated the Ossetians, and how the South Ossetians wanted to reunite with North Ossetia in order to avoid being swallowed up, and how this conflict goes way back, long before the Soviet Union days. It was clear that the Ossetian-Georgian hatred was old and deep, like many ethnic conflicts in this region. Indeed, a number of Caucasian ethnic groups still harbor deep resentment towards Georgia, accusing them of imperialism, chauvinism and arrogance.

One example of this can be found in historian Bruce Lincoln's book, Red Victory, in which he writes about the period of Georgia's brief independence from 1917 to 1921, a time when Georgia was backed by Britain:

the Georgian leaders quickly moved to widen their borders at the expense of their Armenian and Azerbaijani neighbors, and their territorial greed astounded foreign observers. 'The free and independent socialist democratic state of Georgia will always remain in my memory as a classic example of an imperialist small nation," one British journalist wrote.... "Both in territory snatching outside and bureaucratic tyranny inside, its chauvinism was beyond all bounds."

On Thursday, following intense Georgian shelling and katyusha rocketing into Tskhinvali, refugees streamed out of South Ossetia telling reporters that the Georgians had completely leveled entire villages and most of Tskhinvali, leaving "piles of corpses" in the streets, over 1,000 by some counts. Among the dead are at least ten Russian peacekeepers, who fell after their base was attacked by Georgian forces. Reports also say that Georgian forces destroyed a hotel where Russian journalists were staying.

In response, Russian jets bombed Georgian positions both inside South Ossetia and into Georgia proper, attacking one base where American military instructors are quartered (no Americans were reported hurt). By mid-afternoon Moscow time, as local television showed burning homes and Ossetian women and children huddling in bomb shelters, armored Russian columns were crossing into Georgian territory, and Georgia's President called for a total mobilization of military-aged men for war with Russia.

The invasion was backed up by a PR offensive so layered and sophisticated that I even got an hysterical call today from a hedge fund manager in New York, screaming about an "investor call" that Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze made this morning with some fifty leading Western investment bank managers and analysts. I've since seen a J.P. Morgan summary of the conference call, which pretty much reflects the talking points later picked up by the US media.

These kinds of conference calls are generally conducted by the heads of companies in order to give banking analysts guidance. But as the hedge fund manager told me today, "The reason Lado did this is because he knew the enormous PR value that Georgia would gain by going to the money people and analysts, particularly since Georgia is clearly the aggressor this time." As a former investment banker who worked in London and who used to head the Bank of Georgia, Gurgenidze knew what he was doing. "Lado is a former banker himself, so he knew that by framing the conflict for the most influential bankers and analysts in New York, that these power bankers would then write up reports and go on CNBC and argue Lado Gurgenidze's talking points. It was brilliant, and now you're starting to see the American media shift its coverage from calling it Georgia invading Ossetian territory, to the new spin, that it's Russian imperial aggression against tiny little Georgia."

The really scary thing about this investor conference call is that it suggests real planning. As the hedge fund manager told me, "These things aren't set up on an hour's notice."

Are Wall Street fund managers and investors stupid enough to believe that a new Cold War is a good idea? Evidently so. Because that's the objective of the Georgian leadership and their American and Israeli supporters in the defense and intelligence services. As for the rest of us, they could care less. Why should they? We haven't done anything for a quite awhile to compel them to do so. We can, however, be certain that we will hear very little of the fact that the Georgian military has been trained by the US (so far, only in the context of allying fears that some US officers may have been killed or wounded during a Russian air attack), and nothing about the sales of Israeli weapons to Georgia.

One gets the troubling sense that the US, France and Britain, among others, are going to adopt the same response that they did after the Israel conducted a campaign of air strikes upon Lebanon around this same time in the summer of 2006: use the United Nations to pressure the side subject to the attack to make concessions to the aggressor. The Lebanese victims of Israeli airstrikes, over 1,300 people, plus the prospect of subsequent deaths and injuries as a result of cluster bombs, meant nothing to them in the face of more cynical, abstract, geopolitical concerns of the imperialist kind, and the lives of South Ossetians will be equally irrelevant.

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