Monday, September 15, 2008

Chomsky: Ossetia-Georgia-Russia-U.S.A. Towards a Second Cold War?

There are 131 days until Jan. 20, 2009.

Ossetia-Georgia-Russia-U.S.A. Towards a Second Cold War?

By Noam Chomsky CounterPunch September 12, 2008

Aghast at the atrocities committed by US forces

invading the Philippines , and the rhetorical flights

about liberation and noble intent that routinely

accompany crimes of state, Mark Twain threw up his

hands at his inability to wield his formidable weapon

of satire. The immediate object of his frustration was

the renowned General Funston. "No satire of Funston

could reach perfection," Twain lamented, "because

Funston occupies that summit himself... [he is] satire incarnated."

It is a thought that often comes to mind, again in

August 2008 during the Georgia-Ossetia-Russia war.

George Bush, Condoleezza Rica and other dignitaries

solemnly invoked the sanctity of the United Nations,

warning that Russia could be excluded from

international institutions "by taking actions in

Georgia that are inconsistent with" their principles.

The sovereignty and territorial integrity of all

nations must be rigorously honored, they intoned - "all

nations," that is, apart from those that the US chooses

to attack: Iraq , Serbia , perhaps Iran , and a list of

others too long and familiar to mention.

The junior partner joined in as well. British foreign

secretary David Miliband accused Russia of engaging in

"19th century forms of diplomacy" by invading a

sovereign state, something Britain would never

contemplate today. That "is simply not the way that

international relations can be run in the 21st

century," he added, echoing the decider-in-chief, who

said that invasion of "a sovereign neighboring unacceptable in the 21st century." Mexico

and Canada therefore need not fear further invasions

and annexation of much of their territory, because the

US now only invades states that are not on its borders,

though no such constraint holds for its clients, as

Lebanon learned once again in 2006.

"The moral of this story is even more enlightening,"

Serge Halimi writes in Le Monde Diplomatique and

CounterPunch newsletter, "when, to defend his country's

borders, the charming pro-American Saakashvili

repatriates some of the 2,000 soldiers he had sent to

invade Iraq ," one of the largest contingents apart from

the two warrior states.

Prominent analysts joined the chorus. Fareed Zakaria

applauded Bush's observation that Russia 's behavior is

unacceptable today, unlike the 19th century, "when the

Russian intervention would have been standard operating

procedure for a great power." We therefore must devise

a strategy for bringing Russia "in line with the

civilized world," where intervention is unthinkable.

There were, to be sure, some who shared Mark Twain's

despair. One distinguished example is Chris Patten,

former EU commissioner for external relations, chairman

of the British Conservative Party, chancellor of Oxford

University and a member of the House of Lords. He wrote

that the Western reaction "is enough to make even the

cynical shake their heads in disbelief" - referring to

Europe's failure to respond vigorously to the

effrontery of Russian leaders, who, "like 19th-century

tsars, want a sphere of influence around their borders."

Patten rightly distinguishes Russia from the global

superpower, which long ago passed the point where it

demanded a sphere of influence around its borders, and

demands a sphere of influence over the entire world. It

also acts vigorously to enforce that demand, in accord

with the Clinton doctrine that Washington has the right

to use military force to defend vital interests such as

"ensuring uninhibited access to key markets, energy

supplies and strategic resources" - and in the real world, far more.

Clinton was breaking no new ground, of course. His

doctrine derives from standard principles formulated by

high-level planners during World War II, which offered

the prospect of global dominance. In the postwar world,

they determined, the US should aim "to hold

unquestioned power" while ensuring the "limitation of

any exercise of sovereignty" by states that might

interfere with its global designs. To secure these

ends, "the foremost requirement [is] the rapid

fulfillment of a program of complete rearmament," a

core element of "an integrated policy to achieve

military and economic supremacy for the United States ."

The plans laid during the war were implemented in

various ways in the years that followed.

The goals are deeply rooted in stable institutional

structures. Hence they persist through changes in

occupancy of the White House, and are untroubled by the

opportunity for "peace dividends," the disappearance of

the major rival from the world scene, or other marginal

irrelevancies. Devising new challenges is never beyond

the reach of doctrinal managers, as when Ronald Reagan

pulled on his cowboy boots and declared a national

emergency because the Nicaraguan army was only two days

from Harlingen Texas , and might lead the hordes who are

about to "sweep over the United States and take what we

have," as Lyndon Johnson lamented when he called for

holding the line in Vietnam . Most ominously, those

holding the reins may actually believe their own words.

Returning to the efforts to elevate Russia to the

civilized world, the seven charter members of the Group

of Eight industrialized countries issued a statement

"condemning the action of our fellow G8 member,"

Russia, which has yet to comprehend the Anglo-American

commitment to non-intervention. The European Union held

a rare emergency meeting to condemn Russia 's crime, its

first meeting since the invasion of Iraq , which

elicited no condemnation.

Russia called for an emergency session of the Security

Council, but no consensus was reached because,

according to Council diplomats, the US , Britain , and

some others rejected a phrase that called on both sides

"to renounce the use of force."

The typical reactions recall Orwell's observations on

the "indifference to reality" of the "nationalist," who

"not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed

by his own side, but ... has a remarkable capacity for

not even hearing about them."

The basic facts are not seriously in dispute. South

Ossetia, along with the much more significant region of

Abkhazia, were assigned by Stalin to his native

Georgia. Western leaders sternly admonish that Stalin's

directives must be respected, despite the strong

opposition of Ossetians and Abkhazians. The provinces

enjoyed relative autonomy until the collapse of the

USSR. In 1990, Georgia 's ultranationalist president

Zviad Gamsakhurdia abolished autonomous regions and

invaded South Ossetia . The bitter war that followed

left 1000 dead and tens of thousands of refugees, with

the capital city of Tskhinvali "battered and depopulated" (New York Times).

A small Russian force then supervised an uneasy truce,

broken decisively on August 7, 2008, when Georgian

president Saakashvili's ordered his forces to invade.

According to "an extensive set of witnesses," the Times

reports, Georgia 's military at once "began pounding

civilian sections of the city of Tskhinvali , as well as

a Russian peacekeeping base there, with heavy barrages

of rocket and artillery fire." The predictable Russian

response drove Georgian forces out of South Ossetia ,

and Russia went on to conquer parts of Georgia , then

partially withdrawing to the vicinity of South Ossetia .

There were many casualties and atrocities. As is

normal, the innocent suffered severely.

Russia reported at first that ten Russian peacekeepers

were killed by Georgian shelling. The West took little

notice. That too is normal. There was, for example, no

reaction when Aviation Week reported that 200 Russians

were killed in an Israeli air raid in Lebanon in 1982

during a US -backed invasion that left some 15-20,000

dead, with no credible pretext beyond strengthening

Israeli control over the occupied West Bank.

Among Ossetians who fled north, the "prevailing view,"

according to the London Financial Times, "is that

Georgia's pro-western leader, Mikheil Saakashvili,

tried to wipe out their breakaway enclave." Ossetian

militias, under Russian eyes, then brutally drove out

Georgians, in areas beyond Ossetia as well. " Georgia

said its attack had been necessary to stop a Russian

attack that already had been under way," the New York

Times reports, but weeks later "there has been no

independent evidence, beyond Georgia 's insistence that

its version is true, that Russian forces were attacking

before the Georgian barrages."

In Russia , the Wall Street Journal reports,

"legislators, officials and local analysts have

embraced the theory that the Bush administration

encouraged Georgia, its ally, to start the war in order

to precipitate an international crisis that would play

up the national-security experience of Sen. John

McCain, the Republican presidential candidate." In

contrast, French author Bernard-Henri Levy, writing in

the New Republic , proclaims that "no one can ignore the

fact that President Saakashvili only decided to act

when he no longer had a choice, and war had already

come. In spite of this accumulation of facts that

should have been blindingly obvious to all scrupulous,

good-faith observers, many in the media rushed as one

man toward the thesis of the Georgians as instigators,

as irresponsible provocateurs of the war."

The Russian propaganda system made the mistake of

presenting evidence, which was easily refuted. Its

Western counterparts, more wisely, keep to

authoritative pronouncements, like Levy's denunciation

of the major Western media for ignoring what is

"blindingly obvious to all scrupulous, good-faith

observers" for whom loyalty to the state suffices to

establish The Truth - which, perhaps, is even true,

serious analysts might conclude.

The Russians are losing the "propaganda war," BBC

reported, as Washington and its allies have succeeded

in "presenting the Russian actions as aggression and

playing down the Georgian attack into South Ossetia on

August 7, which triggered the Russian operation,"

though "the evidence from South Ossetia about that

attack indicates that it was extensive and damaging."

Russia has "not yet learned how to play the media

game," the BBC observes. That is natural. Propaganda

has typically become more sophisticated as countries

become more free and the state loses the ability to

control the population by force.

The Russian failure to provide credible evidence was

partially overcome by the Financial Times, which

discovered that the Pentagon had provided combat

training to Georgian special forces commandos shortly

before the Georgian attack on August 7, revelations

that "could add fuel to accusations by Vladimir Putin,

Russian prime minister, last month that the US had

'orchestrated' the war in the Georgian enclave." The

training was in part carried out by former US special

forces recruited by private military contractors,

including MPRI, which, as the journal notes, "was hired

by the Pentagon in 1995 to train the Croatian military

prior to their invasion of the ethnically-Serbian

Krajina region, which led to the displacement of

200,000 refugees and was one of the worst incidents of

ethnic cleansing in the Balkan wars." The US-backed

Krajina expulsion (generally estimated at 250,000, with

many killed) was possibly the worst case of ethnic

cleansing in Europe since World War II. Its fate in

approved history is rather like that of photographs of

Trotsky in Stalinist Russia, for simple and sufficient

reasons: it does not accord with the required image of

US nobility confronting Serbian evil.

The toll of the August 2008 Caucasus war is subject to

varying estimates. A month afterwards, the Financial

Times cited Russian reports that "at least 133

civilians died in the attack, as well as 59 of its own

peacekeepers," while in the ensuing Russian mass

invasion and aerial bombardment of Georgia , according

to the FT, 215 Georgians died, including 146 soldiers

and 69 civilians. Further revelations are likely to follow.

In the background lie two crucial issues. One is

control over pipelines to Azerbaijan and Central Asia .

Georgia was chosen as a corridor by Clinton to bypass

Russia and Iran, and was also heavily militarized for

the purpose. Hence Georgia is "a very major and

strategic asset to us," Zbigniew Brzezinski observes.

It is noteworthy that analysts are becoming less

reticent in explaining real US motives in the region as

pretexts of dire threats and liberation fade and it

becomes more difficult to deflect Iraqi demands for

withdrawal of the occupying army. Thus the editors of

the Washington Post admonished Barack Obama for

regarding Afghanistan as "the central front" for the

United States, reminding him that Iraq "lies at the

geopolitical center of the Middle East and contains

some of the world's largest oil reserves," and

Afghanistan's "strategic importance pales beside that

of Iraq ." A welcome, if belated, recognition of reality

about the US invasion.

The second issue is expansion of NATO to the East,

described by George Kennan in 1997 as "the most fateful

error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war

era, [which] may be expected to inflame the

nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies

in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the

development of Russian democracy; to restore the

atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations."

As the USSR collapsed, Mikhail Gorbachev made a

concession that was astonishing in the light of recent

history and strategic realities: he agreed to allow a

united Germany to join a hostile military alliance.

This "stunning concession" was hailed by Western media,

NATO, and President Bush I, who called it a

demonstration of "statesmanship ... in the best

interests of all countries of Europe, including the Soviet Union ."

Gorbachev agreed to the stunning concession on the

basis of "assurances that NATO would not extend its

jurisdiction to the east, 'not one inch' in [Secretary

of State] Jim Baker's exact words." This reminder by

Jack Matlock, the leading Soviet expert of the Foreign

Service and US ambassador to Russia in the crucial

years 1987 to 1991, is confirmed by Strobe Talbott, the

highest official in charge of Eastern Europe in the

Clinton administration. On the basis of a full review

of the diplomatic record, Talbott reports that

"Secretary of State Baker did say to then Soviet

foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze, in the context of

the Soviet Union 's reluctant willingness to let a

unified Germany remain part of NATO, that NATO would

not move to the east."

Clinton quickly reneged on that commitment, also

dismissing Gorbachev's effort to end the Cold War with

cooperation among partners. NATO also rejected a

Russian proposal for a nuclear-weapons-free-zone from

the Arctic to the Black Sea , which would have

"interfered with plans to extend NATO," strategic

analyst and former NATO planner Michael MccGwire observes.

Rejecting these possibilities, the US took a

triumphalist stand that threatened Russian security and

also played a major role in driving Russia to severe

economic and social collapse, with millions of deaths.

The process was sharply escalated by Bush's further

expansion of NATO, dismantling of crucial disarmament

agreements, and aggressive militarism. Matlock writes

that Russia might have tolerated incorporation of

former Russian satellites into NATO if it "had not

bombed Serbia and continued expanding. But, in the

final analysis, ABM missiles in Poland , and the drive

for Georgia and Ukraine in NATO crossed absolute red

lines. The insistence on recognizing Kosovo

independence was sort of the very last straw. Putin had

learned that concessions to the U.S. were not

reciprocated, but used to promote U.S. dominance in the

world.Once he had the strength to resist, he did so," in Georgia .

Clinton officials argue that expansion of NATO posed no

military threat, and was no more than a benign move to

allow former Russian satellites to join the EU

(Talbott). That is hardly persuasive. Austria , Sweden

and Finland are in the EU but not NATO. If the Warsaw

Pact had survived and was incorporating Latin American

countries - let alone Canada and Mexico - the US would

not easily be persuaded that the Pact is just a Quaker

meeting. There should be no need to review the record

of US violence to block mostly fanciful ties to Moscow

in "our little region over here," the Western

hemisphere, to quote Secretary of War Henry Stimson

when he explained that all regional systems must be

dismantled after World II, apart from our own, which

are to be extended.

To underscore the conclusion, in the midst of the

current crisis in the Caucasus, Washington professes

concern that Russia might resume military and

intelligence cooperation with Cuba at a level not

remotely approaching US-Georgia relations, and not a

further step towards a significant security threat.

Missile defense too is presented here as benign, though

leading US strategic analysts have explained why

Russian planners must regard the systems and their

chosen location as the basis for a potential threat to

the Russian deterrent, hence in effect a first-strike

weapon. The Russian invasion of Georgia was used as a

pretext to conclude the agreement to place these

systems in Poland , thus "bolstering an argument made

repeatedly by Moscow and rejected by Washington : that

the true target of the system is Russia ," AP

commentator Desmond Butler observed.

Matlock is not alone in regarding Kosovo as an

important factor. "Recognition of South Ossetia 's and

Abkhazia's independence was justified on the principle

of a mistreated minority's right to secession - the

principle Bush had established for Kosovo," the Boston

Globe editors comment.

But there are crucial differences. Strobe Talbott

recognizes that "there's a degree of payback for what

the U.S. and NATO did in Kosovo nine years ago," but

insists that the "analogy is utterly and profoundly

false." No one is a better position to know why it is

profoundly false, and he has lucidly explained the

reasons, in his preface to a book on NATO's bombing of

Serbia by his associate John Norris. Talbott writes

that those who want to know "how events looked and felt

at the time to those of us who were involved" in the

war should turn to Norris's well-informed account.

Norris concludes that "it was Yugoslavia 's resistance

to the broader trends of political and economic reform

- not the plight of Kosovar Albanians - that best explains NATO's war."

That the motive for the NATO bombing could not have

been "the plight of Kosovar Albanians" was already

clear from the rich Western documentary record

revealing that the atrocities were, overwhelmingly, the

anticipated consequence of the bombing, not its cause.

But even before the record was released, it should have

been evident to all but the most fervent loyalists that

humanitarian concern could hardly have motivated the US

and Britain , which at the same time were lending

decisive support to atrocities well beyond what was

reported from Kosovo, with a background far more

horrendous than anything that had happened in the

Balkans. But these are mere facts, hence of no moment

to Orwell's "nationalists" - in this case, most of the

Western intellectual community, who had made an

enormous investment in self-aggrandizement and

prevarication about the "noble phase" of US foreign

policy and its "saintly glow" as the millennium

approached its end, with the bombing of Serbia as the jewel in the crown.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to hear from the

highest level that the real reason for the bombing was

that Serbia was a lone holdout in Europe to the

political and economic programs of the Clinton

administration and its allies, though it will be a long

time before such annoyances are allowed to enter the canon.

There are of course other differences between Kosovo

and the regions of Georgia that call for independence

or union with Russia . Thus Russia is not known to have

a huge military base there named after a hero of the

invasion of Afghanistan , comparable to Camp Bondsteel

in Kosovo, named after a Vietnam war hero and

presumably part of the vast US basing system aimed at

the Middle East energy-producing regions. And there are many other differences.

There is much talk about a "new cold war" instigated by

brutal Russian behavior in Georgia . One cannot fail to

be alarmed by signs of confrontation, among them new US

naval contingents in the Black Sea - the counterpart

would hardly be tolerated in the Caribbean . Efforts to

expand NATO to Ukraine , now contemplated, could become extremely hazardous.

Nonetheless, a new cold war seems unlikely. To evaluate

the prospect, we should begin with clarity about the

old cold war. Fevered rhetoric aside, in practice the

cold war was a tacit compact in which each of the

contestants was largely free to resort to violence and

subversion to control its own domains: for Russia , its

Eastern neighbors; for the global superpower, most of

the world. Human society need not endure - and might

not survive - a resurrection of anything like that.

A sensible alternative is the Gorbachev vision rejected

by Clinton and undermined by Bush. Sane advice along

these lines has recently been given by former Israeli

Foreign Minister and historian Shlomo ben-Ami, writing

in the Beirut Daily Star: " Russia must seek genuine

strategic partnership with the US , and the latter must

understand that, when excluded and despised, Russia can

be a major global spoiler. Ignored and humiliated by

the US since the Cold War ended, Russia needs

integration into a new global order that respects its

interests as a resurgent power, not an anti-Western

strategy of confrontation."


Noam Chomsky's most recent book is Failed States: the

Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy.

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