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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “In Georgia, all is not as it seems”

    To read the papers this month, you would think America stood on the verge of a third world war. Russia hasn’t seemed like much of a threat in a while, but when it sent troops and tanks into neighboring Georgia on August 8, a casual readerÿof the news could be forgiven for thinking that the old communist superpower itself had returned, bent on reviving the Cold War.

    “”Thousands of soldiers and hundreds of tanks, ships and warplanes were waiting for Mr. Putin’s command,”” thundered the Wall Street Journal, as if it were shocking to learn that the world’s third largest superpower has a well-prepared military. Innumerable pundits, politicians and ideologues were waiting for it too; they greeted the invasion of Georgia like a sudden burst of sunlight after a dismal, rainy night.

    “”Today, we are all Georgians,”” declared John McCain, ever eager to don the tattered mantle of Winston Churchill. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned of “”consequences for the actions that Russia has taken against a sovereign state.”” Robert Kagan, John McCain’s foreign policy advisor, claimed in the Washington Post that the event was “”no less significant”” than the fall of the Berlin Wall. To disagree with this interpretation, Kagan grimly declared, was nothing less than “”appeasement,”” on par with Britain’s weak-kneed response to Adolf Hitler in 1938.

    Indeed, there seems to be a virtual consensus among the political and media elites: Georgia was an innocent, Vladimir Putin is the second coming of Hitler, and Russia is bent on conquering the world.

    All of these contentions are utterly false. They are also dishonest in the way that they frame the so-called “”crisis.””

    The truth is that Georgia fired the first shot. Puffed up by years of American support, Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia’s ambitious president, ordered the invasion of neighboring South Ossetia (a country whose independence is recognized by Russia, but not by Georgia) on August 7. Two days later, Russia came to South Ossetia’s aid, killing 2,000 Georgians and sending tens of thousands into hiding.

    It was no pleasant spectacle, but the reckless Saakashvili had clearly brought it on himself -ÿand, tragically, on his countrymen, who had cared little about keeping South Ossetia within their territorial borders. Those borders, after all, had been drawn decades ago by Joseph Stalin.

    Indeed, South Ossetia’s rather confusing history sheds considerable light on the “”crisis.”” When the Soviet Union ended in 1990, the small country attempted to declare its independence. Georgia’s response was notably brutal, and it hasn’t been forgotten: According to Spiegel Online, 99 percent of South Ossetians voted in favor of independence from Georgia in a 2006 referendum.

    Despite this, no major Western power has ever recognized South Ossetia’s independence -ÿlargely because that would alienate Georgia, which is widely regarded as the West’s most important “”ally”” against Russia.

    Despite the sympathetic way in which he’s been portrayed, Saakashvili is no democratic hero. As The Atlantic reported, he’s been criticized at home with suppressing demonstrations and cracking down on civil liberties.

    The notion that Russia poses any threat to the West is equally false. As Richard Beeston, a columnist for the U.K. Times, pointed out on August 13, most of the country’s weapons date back to the Cold War and most of its troops are conscripts with little combat experience.

    Nor is there much support for world domination in Russia. As Brzezinski himself noted, Russia’s money barons, with their massive holdings in Western banks, would “”stand to lose a great deal in the event of a Cold War-style standoff.””

    Finally, it is ludicrous to contend that Putin is another Hitler. Putin is clearly an autocratic leader with no qualms about shedding blood to suit his ends.

    Unfortunately, in this regard, he’s no different from most successful Russian rulers, dating back to Peter the Great. With the notable, honorable exceptions of Alexander Kerensky and Boris Yeltsin, both of whom ruled immediately following revolutions, Russia has never had a democratic leader.

    Despite the unfortunate brutality and high-handedness of its response to Georgia’s actions, Russia isn’t behaving irrationally. A country that has repeatedly been invaded in the last two centuries – by Napoleon, by the Kaiser’s Germany, and by Hitler -ÿhas a strong interest in surrounding itself with friendly countries.

    Why are these facts being largely downplayed – or even unreported altogether -ÿin most of the American coverage of such an important story?

    Unfortunately, the idea of an aggressive Russia behaving irrationally plays right into the fantasies of many of our political ideologues. Vladimir Putin reportedly regrets the fact that the Soviet Union came to an end; so, too, do many of our political and media elites, who enjoyed having an ongoing excuse for an inflated foreign policy and an endless series of manufactured crises.

    Portraying Russia as irrational and imperialistic in this “”crisis”” requires fudging the facts, or ignoring them altogether. Thus Kagan, one of the loudest neocon voices in the country, opened his column on the “”crisis”” by declaring: “”The details of who did what to precipitate Russia’s war against Georgia are not very important.””

    This is a ridiculous conceit. It matters “”who did what.”” It matters who fired the first shot. It matters why people act as they do. Those who attempt to sweep such “”details”” off the table are likely doing it because they have agendas of their own.

    Whatever lies behind those agendas, they bode ill for those who hope to avoid another deadly – and potentially lethal -ÿconfrontation of the world’s two great superpowers.

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