Archive for August 12th, 2008

Wells Said

When I started to read the NME as a teenage longhair aspirant, I thought Steven Wells was the worst thing in it by a mile. When I stopped reading it a few years later, I thought he was the best thing in it by a mile. He’s on good form, and on solid ground, here:

At the heart of the rock’n’roll myth is the rootless troubadour, possessed of nothing but his guitar and his dreams, heading nowhere and leaving a trail of broken hearts and unpaid bar bills in his wake. And the irony is that we have an entire raft of adult-orientated magazines dedicated to the anal examination of rock’s rich tapestry and these mags and the websites that ape them are a forum wherein the least rock’n’roll creatures on the planet – balding white suburbanites with mortgages, unhappy marriages, huge stomachs and enormous,
carefully annotated vinyl and CD collections — can nitpick and bicker about which long rotted or ancient rock’n’roller most fits the glorious live-fast-die-young-and-leave-a-good-looking-corpse archetype.

War on Narcissism

Well I don’t know about you (and quite frankly I don’t care) but I am weary of coming across the use of the term ‘narcissist‘ in writing about American politics.

Nor Any Drop To Drink

Don’t recall asking Firefox to tell me about the weather. Bastards.

Outrageous, Alarming

Well, seeing as everyone else has retired to the drawing room to discuss over brandy and cigars what to do with the Russians, I figured I’d throw together some bits and pieces I’d been assembling over the last day or so.

First, the man from the London Times yesterday on US and British support for Georgia:

America and Britain are closely involved in providing military assistance to the Georgians in the form of arms and training. The support is aimed at encouraging the rise of Georgia as an independent, sovereign state.

But the help is also partly a means of protecting the oil pipeline across Georgia that carries crude from the Caspian to the Black Sea, the only export route that bypasses Russia’s stranglehold on energy exports from the region.

Cynics might think that support is aimed at encouraging the rise of Georgia as an independent, sovereign state as a means of protecting the oil pipeline across Georgia that carries crude from the Caspian to the Black Sea, the only export route that bypasses Russia’s stranglehold on energy exports from the region, but they’d be wrong, because both the US and Britain always put the noble aspirations of nations above vulgar pursuits such as ‘energy security’.

To underline the importance of the present conflict, a man at the Guardian was suggesting that George Bush, Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy should all visit Tbilisi next week, not to mention John McCain, and he observes the following:

The raging conflict sparked in South Ossetia only underscores that each hotspot serves as a tool for Russia to block the region’s western integration, to keep strategic energy reserves, trading routes and markets in its “orbit”.

Of course, the west has no desire to integrate the likes of Georgia, nor to keep strategic energy reserves, trading routes and markets in its “orbit”.

Rather, it only wishes to help plucky little states gain their full independence.

And if Georgia launched a ‘large scale military offensive‘ in South Ossetia, thus ‘heating up the conflict dramatically’, a recent history of military training and collaboration in Georgia alongside forces from US, the UK and Israel was purely coincidental and had no bearing whatsoever on the manner or scale of that offensive, in which ‘dozens of civilian buildings are said to have been destroyed…. including residential homes, administrative buildings, a toy shop, university and the republican hospital‘.

Georgia is, after all, a model democracy, with a president elected in 2004 with 97% of the vote, and its people arrive at their own decisions, such as the time last year when, at a political demonstration, ‘law enforcement personnel, many of them masked, pursued fleeing demonstrators of all ages, kicking and punching them and striking them with wooden truncheons, wooden poles, and other objects. Rubber bullets were fired indiscriminately, and also directly at fleeing demonstrators. Heavily armed police and security personnel stormed a private television station, Imedi, threatening and ejecting the staff as well as damaging and destroying much of the station’s equipment, forcing the station off the air‘.

A Foreign Affairs article, from 2007, titled ‘Losing Russia‘, by Dimitri K. Simes, gives further background to Georgia under Saakashvili and its wider role in the worsening relations between Russia and the US:

Georgia soon became another battleground. President Mikheil Saakashvili has been seeking to use Western support, particularly from the United States, as his principal tool in reestablishing Georgian sovereignty over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Russian-backed separatists have fought for independence from Georgia since the early 1990s. And Saakashvili has not just been demanding the return of the two Georgian enclaves; he has been openly positioning himself as the leading regional advocate of “color revolutions” and the overthrow of leaders sympathetic to Moscow. He has portrayed himself as a champion of democracy and an eager supporter of U.S. foreign policy, going so far as to send Georgian troops to Iraq in 2004 as part of the coalition force. The fact that he was elected with 96 percent of the vote — a suspiciously high number — along with his control of parliament and Georgian television, has provoked little concern outside the country. Nor has the arbitrary prosecution of business leaders and political rivals. When Zurab Zhvania — Georgia’s popular prime minister and the only remaining political counterweight to Saakashvili — died in 2005 under mysterious circumstances involving an alleged gas leak, members of his family publicly rejected the government’s account of the incident with a clear implication that they believed Saakashvili’s regime had been involved. But in contrast to U.S. concern over the murder of Russian opposition figures, no one in Washington seemed to notice.

In fact, the Bush administration and influential politicians in both parties have routinely supported Saakashvili against Russia, notwithstanding his transgressions. The United States has urged him on several occasions to control his temper and avoid provoking open military confrontation with Russia, but it is clear that Washington has adopted Georgia as its main client in the region. The United States has provided equipment and training to the Georgian military, enabling Saakashvili to take a harder line toward Russia; Georgian forces have gone so far as to detain and publicly humiliate Russian military personnel deployed as peacekeepers in South Ossetia and Georgia proper.

Of course, Russia’s conduct vis-à-vis Georgia has been far from exemplary. Moscow has granted Russian citizenship to most residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and has imposed economic sanctions against Georgia, often on dubious grounds. And Russian peacekeepers in the area are clearly there to limit Georgia’s ability to rule the two regions. But this blind U.S. support for Saakashvili contributes to a sense in Moscow that the United States is pursuing policies aimed at undermining what remains of Russia’s drastically reduced regional influence. The sense in the Kremlin is that the United States cares about using democracy as an instrument to embarrass and isolate Putin more than it cares about democracy itself.

The bit I placed in bold there seems to me a fair indication of the gravity of the present conflict. If Russia  has responded ferociously, it has done so because it knows there isn’t a damn thing the West can do about the punishment it is exacting on the local client state. It is an opportunity for the expression of Russian power, and humiliation for the West.

So, to sum up. Western countries didn’t actually intend for Georgia to get into a real fight with Russia. They just wanted it to become sufficiently macho and nasty looking so as to keep the Russians from doing anything rash that might affect their own interests in the region. You know, the way the bear tamer (or is it a lion? Ach, Russians are bears in the international bestiary so let’s stick with that) keeps the bear in check not by the impact of the whip but the noise of it. Problem was that young US-educated whippersnapper of a president -who had been pumped full of political steroids intended to increase appetite for freedom and democracy- lost the bap and picked a fight with the Russians, who were only too happy to make an example out of them, and not just because they were sick of the bear comparisons.

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August 2008