South Ossetians driven from their homes by fighting, eat in a canteen in a refugee camp in the town of Alagir, 40 km (25 miles) south of Vladikavkaz, in the Russian province of North Ossetia, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)
Friday, August 15, 2008Damian Lataan
The war in Georgia seems to have reignited the neoconservative’s passion for what they would like us to think is ‘anti-communism’ and has reinflamed their old animosities toward the ‘East’ with the latest confrontation providing them with an opportunity to reinvent themselves as guardians of the ‘West’ as the ‘War on Terrorism’ fizzles due to a lack of any credibility.
Notorious neocon commentator, Max Boot, writing in the LA Times a few days ago opened his piece commenting on the conflict in Georgia by writing: “It took the Red Army -- excuse me, the Russian army -- only two days to secure Abkhazia and South Ossetia.” He then went on to regurgitate the same old Cold War writing style that we were familiar with during 60s, 70s and 80s prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Boot writes: “By crossing Georgia's borders, the Russians have committed their worst violation of international law since the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979,” and he adds, “At a time like this, it is vital for the leaders of the West to stand together and make clear that this aggression will not stand.” Boot even resurrects the old anti-communist fear-mongering rhetoric that the West used to justify its ‘stand’ against communism in South East Asia. He says: “Likewise, the Russian attacks on Georgia, if left unchecked, could easily trigger more conflict in the future. The Kremlin has embarked on a campaign to destabilize not just pro-Western Georgia but other former Soviet satrapies that refuse to toe its line. Many of these states have their own Russian minorities whose alleged maltreatment provides the perfect excuse for Russian meddling. Today, Georgia; tomorrow, Ukraine; the day after, Estonia?”
Arch neocon William Kristol writing in The New York Times just couldn’t help himself as he jumped on the rickety bandwagon of Cold War invocation. “Will Russia get away with it?” is the title of his 10 August piece. Then in the opening lines he invokes the memory of brave little Georgia’s brave stand against ‘Soviet rule’. “In August 1924, the small nation of Georgia, occupied by Soviet Russia since 1921, rose up against Soviet rule.”
Kristol takes a slightly different tack than Boot. Kristol prefers to lump Putin in with China’s Hu Jintaos to make the communist connection, and then, just to tie things up with Kristol’s other object of paranoiac fear, Iran, gives President Ahmadinejad a mention as well. Just to reinforce that particular aspect of the connection Kristol adds: “Incidentally, has Russia really been helping much on Iran? It has gone along with — while delaying — three United Nations Security Council resolutions that have imposed mild sanctions on Iran. But it has also supplied material for Iran’s nuclear program, and is now selling Iran antiaircraft systems to protect military and nuclear installations.” As the ‘War on Terrorism’ slips aimlessly in to historical oblivion Kristol tries to give it the kiss of life attempting to connect Russia, now, if we are to go along with the neocons, the new enemy of the West, with the Islamic enemies the neocons created for us in 2001
Meanwhile, over at the Washington Post, that other notorious warmongering neocon writer Charles Krauthammer writes echoing the Boot and Kristol line. Again, the old Soviet and Cold War analogies are invoked. Krauthammer tells his readers that the Russian “…objective is the Finlandization of Georgia through the removal of President Mikheil Saakashvili and his replacement by a Russian puppet.” Apart from the obvious hypocrisy of this observation, considering America’s own history of promoting puppet governments all around the world, there is also the not insignificant fact that many observers contend that Saakashvili is actually a puppet of the West himself.
Krauthammer also invokes the analogy of the ‘Domino Affect’ of nations systematically being forced to come under Russian influence if Russia has its way in Georgia. He says: “Subduing Georgia has an additional effect. It warns Russia's former Baltic and East European satellites what happens if you get too close to the West. It is the first step to re-establishing Russian hegemony in the region.” Again, however, the hypocrisy is transparent; was not the invasion of Iraq and the replacement of Saddam with a West-friendly leader under pseudo-democratic rule supposed to have had exactly the same effect in the region?
Soon the neocons will be claiming victory in the ‘War on Terrorism’ as they scurry to clamour for the next war: the ‘War to Defend Democracy”?
posted by Damian Lataan
|August 15, 2008|
|by Justin Raimondo |
Refugees from South Ossetia are waiting to hear from their loved ones.
Amid all the geopolitical analyses and ideological posturing on the occasion of the Three-Day War between Russia and Georgia, we are losing sight of the very real human costs of this conflict: thousands of civilians killed and grievously wounded, a city, Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, in ruins, and the hopes and dreams of the inhabitants of this largely overlooked backwater dashed on the rocks of a politician's hubris.
That politician is Mikheil Saakashvili, the all too glib president of Georgia, whose slickness is so apparent that it seems to leave an oily residue on every word he utters. The decidedly apolitical, non-ideological Web site Reliefweb put it this way:
"The place that has suffered most is South Ossetia which is home to both ethnic Ossetians and Georgians, the latter accounting for about a third of the population. The destruction there has been appalling and it looks as though many hundreds of civilians have died, in the first place as a result of the initial Georgian assault of August 7-8. Gosha Tselekhayev, an Ossetian interpreter in Tskhinvali with whom I spoke by telephone on August 10 said, 'I am standing in the city center, but there's no city left.'
"Ossetians fleeing the conflict zone talk of Georgian atrocities and the indiscriminate killing of civilians."
They may be talking of Georgian atrocities, but we in the West have not heard them – nor will we, given the bias of our media, which is in thrall to the Georgia lobby and its U.S. government sponsors. The "mainstream" has already settled on a narrative to explain events in the Caucasus, and nothing short of a South Ossetian holocaust will wake them from their hypnotic state. The Russians, in their view, have got to be the bad guys, i.e., the aggressors. Anything that doesn't fit into that storyline is cut from the script. Yet, as Reliefweb reports:
"On August 7, after days of shooting incidents in the South Ossetian conflict zone, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili made a speech in which he said that he had given the Georgian villagers orders not to fire, that he wanted to offer South Ossetia 'unlimited autonomy' within the Georgian state, with Russia to be a guarantor of the arrangement.
"Both sides said they were discussing a meeting the next day to discuss how to defuse the clashes.
"That evening, however, Saakashvili went for the military option. The Georgian military launched a massive artillery attack on Tskhinvali, followed the next day by a ground assault involving tanks.
"This was a city with no pure military targets, full of civilians who had been given no warning and were expecting peace talks at any moment."
As if to underscore the utter indifference of Western media to the suffering of anyone politically incorrect enough to be pro-Russian, CNN broadcast footage of war-torn Tskhinvali even as its news announcer solemnly "reported" that the Russians were wreaking devastation on a city in Georgia proper, a classic case of the Orwellian media manipulation techniques that pass for journalism in the West. An unintended irony: the footage was a few feet from the spot where Russian peacekeepers had been slaughtered, the first victims of the Georgian assault. Or was it intended?
The tragicomic aspects of this media-induced cognitive dissonance came to the fore on Fox News the other day, when the announcer was interviewing a 12-year-old American girl who happened to be sitting in a café in Tskhinvali when Georgian bombs started raining down on her head. The announcer's eyebrows shot up when the girl thanked the Russian soldiers. After the girl and her aunt finished their recounting of Georgian atrocities, the announcer capped off his report by intoning: "There are gray areas in war."
The matter of attacking civilians is no doubt a moral "gray area" for the neocons at Fox, but what about the rest of the media – or is there no longer much of a difference, at least when it comes to the Russian question?
The Georgians were the aggressors here, and not only that, it was a particularly vicious sneak attack, undertaken while "peace talks" were supposedly taking place. As Reliefweb put it:
"The attack looked designed to take everybody by surprise – perhaps because much of the Russian leadership was in Beijing for the opening of the Olympic Games. It also unilaterally destroyed the negotiating and peacekeeping arrangements, under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, that have been in place for 16 years. Russian peacekeeping troops based in South Ossetia were among those killed in the Georgian assault."
The Georgian offensive provoked a massive exodus to the north. Thousands fled, and with good reason. As the Guardian reports:
"Many had traveled in their nightclothes on rocky roads through the mountains and gave bloodcurdling accounts of Georgian atrocities. 'I came in the boot of a car. Georgian snipers were firing at us from the forest. My brother stayed to fight. Our grandparents' home was reduced to rubble. We don't know where they are. Nothing is left of their village. It was totally destroyed by rockets and tank fire,' Alisa Mamiyeva, 26, a teacher in Tskhinvali, said from the safety of Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia."
The South Ossetians claim 1,400 dead, thus far, most of them victims of the Georgian assault on Tskhinvali, and Vladimir Putin went so far as to accuse the Georgians of launching a "genocide." According to the BBC, however, "Russia failed to back up its claims of Georgian atrocities." Not that the West is all that interested in airing the evidence. As Variety put it in a piece on how this war is being reported,
"Coverage in the U.S. and Europe is leaning heavily toward reports on the Georgian casualties of Russian bombing over the weekend. Few details are being given about the thousands said to have been killed when Georgia attacked Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, on Thursday and Friday."
The blatant media bias displayed by the "mainstream" news organizations is more than matched by the shameful cover-up of Georgian atrocities by the mainline "human rights" organizations, first and foremost Human Rights Watch. In the most brazen display of willful ignorance since Walter Duranty overlooked the Soviet gulags, HRW spokeswoman Anna Neistat told the Guardian that Ossetian claims of Georgian atrocities were "suspicious":
"The figure of 2,000 people killed is very doubtful. Our findings so far do not in any way confirm the Russian statistics. On the contrary, they suggest the numbers are exaggerated."
Neistat avers that no more than 44 were killed and around 200 were wounded in the Georgian attack on Tskhinvali. Perhaps she should talk to International Red Cross spokeswoman Anna Nelson, who reports area hospitals "overflowing" with the dead and the wounded.
The voices of the Ossetians are barely reaching the West, but when they do – as in this Australian Broadcasting Corp. news report – they underscore the sheer ugliness of HRW's appalling apologetics::
"One woman told how a family of four including two children tried to flee from a Georgian tank but it 'fired on their car and they were all burned' to death, said Angela, who like all the refugees only gave her first name. In another incident, a woman eight months pregnant and two family members fleeing from the city under attack were hit by tank fire and 'nothing remained of them,' Angela said.
"She saw the Georgian tanks roll into Tskhinvali, the soldiers shouting 'Hail Saakashvili,' who is the president of Georgia. 'They destroyed the city,' added Inna, 33, who said she could not understand how the Georgian troops 'could do that to civilians.'
"'You see your friend's home burning and there's nothing you can do. You just watch and cry, it's a genocide,' Inna said. An old woman among the refugees said all she had left was the dress she was wearing. 'My house is destroyed,' she said."
More important than the hypocrisy and ideology-induced moral myopia of the "human rights" crowd, however, is the very real human suffering that is being pointedly overlooked. These are real people being killed and rendered homeless, people who now live in terror and uncertainty while we in the West sit around discussing the geopolitical implications as if individual human beings were pieces on a chessboard.
The U.S. is now delivering "humanitarian" aid under the aegis and protection of the U.S. military, a gesture that underscores the Bizarro World absurdity of a foreign policy that has us arming the Georgians and then paying to clean up the damage done by our proxies. This is truly an odd sort of "humanitarianism," one inextricably linked to the inveterate sadism of our foreign policy.
This "humanitarian" gambit is just that: a device designed to legitimize our growing intervention in the region. While Defense Secretary Robert Gates is clearly not at all thrilled by the prospect of U.S. soldiers entering the battle zone, it seems unavoidable, at some point, since we'll be supervising "humanitarian" flights and relief efforts. (Not to mention future military joint exercises involving U.S. and Georgian forces, such as the ones that concluded shortly before the war commenced.) With Russian troops intent on staying in Ossetia, Abkhazia, and other regions such as Adjaria eager to take this opportunity to break free of the Georgian central government, the likelihood of renewed fighting is high.
To Antiwar.com's audience, and regular readers of this column, none of this – Saakashvili's folly, the Ossetian question, the volatile immediacy of the crisis – is anything new. As I wrote in November 2006:
"Russian 'peacekeepers,' OSCE 'observers,' South Ossetian troops, and the U.S.-trained-and-equipped Georgian military are facing off along ill-defined borders, with renegade 'rebel' bands supporting one side or the other running wild in the no-man's land in between. This is a recipe for disaster, and an armed confrontation is bound to occur, with the distinct possibility of escalating into all-out warfare. The Russians would soon be drawn in, and the U.S. could not escape being dragged into this particular vortex – with fateful consequences all 'round.
"I can just hear McCain barnstorming the country in '08, denouncing 'Russian imperialism' and demanding that we 'stop Putin' in the Caucasus before Russian troops cross the Bering Straits."
'I've never heard anything so monstrous as people shelling a hospital'
Tom Parfitt travelled to Tskhinvali, in a trip organised by the Kremlin, to witness first hand the destruction caused by the battle for South Ossetia
A convoy of three buses and an escort of armed Russian Special Forces soldiers travelled across the border with Russia into South Ossetia yesterday, in a trip organised by the Kremlin for foreign media to witness first hand the destruction in Tskhinvali.
At the village of Dzhava 20 miles beyond the border a huge queue of Russian military hardware stood pointing south, testament to the might of the resurgent Russian state.
Several truck-mounted rocket launchers were a sign of Moscow's intent to hold Tskhinvali at all costs. Approaching Tskhinvali, the group of reporters was transferred to armoured personnel carriers because of the risk of fire from Georgian snipers, said the Russian officers leading the trip.
In villages close to the city there were many burned out houses, and others were still ablaze. In the city itself it was clear that claims the city had been levelled to the ground by artillery were exaggerated. However, it was also evident that while some neighbourhoods were intact, there were patches of terrible destruction.
At a crossroads in the north of the city there was evidence of a fierce fire fight. Three destroyed Georgian tanks were slewed across the road, a mess of ash and twisted metal. The heavy turret of one tank had been tossed across the street, falling through a shop front. Nearby on the ground lay a human foot.
Colonel Igor Konashenko of the Russian army said: "There were Georgian attacks overnight but our troops are in full control of the city. So far we've had no orders to move south into Georgia."
Hearing of a ceasefire yesterday, civilians began to emerge from bunkers and basements. At the crossroads, Izolda Deppiyeva, 50, looked out on the scene of ruined ground floor apartment in a block riddled by gunfire. She recalled the moment when Georgian artillery first hit the city.
"There was a great wave of pressure which twisted me and flung me against the kitchen wall."
A former theatre stage actress, Deppiyeva said she had lived for four days in a cellar with her relatives without food and water.
"I could not leave," she said. "This land is my body, my home. We are a proud beautiful people and we are not leaving. I survived, I am alive!"
In the yard behind the apartment block a group of Ossetian fighters were seated at a wooden bench eating mutton and drinking wine: "We are raising a toast to those who are left," said Ruslan Kostoyev, 33. "Those tanks in the street, we hit them with rocket propelled grenades from the basement."
Kostoyev accused Western leading countries of arming Georgia in the conflict: "A Georgian only knows how to ride a cow," he said, "the aeroplanes which destroyed the building were Ukrainian," he said.
Another fighter said: "The Georgians were 30 times stronger than us. They wanted to kill us to destroy everything. But we held them off."
Outside in the street, a priest in an immaculate black cassock walked through the scene of devastation. Saurmag Bazzate, an Ossetian prior, arrived in Tskhinvali on Monday. "I came to be with my people," he said. "Those who perpetrated this horror are criminals who must be punished by God. This war is a result of Georgian fascism, which has flourished with the support of the West."
Russian officials in the city say their main aim is now to contain a humanitarian disaster by repairing water supplies insuring that bread factories are working and re-establishing an electricity supply.
Close to the centre of the city Russian officers led the group to the city's main hospital which was hit by small arms fire and shells during the first days of fighting. Doctors at the hospital said they had been forced to carry out operations in corridors and the basement of the building without electricity, water or light.
Tina Zakharova, one of the doctors, pointed out chunks of shrapnel which had hit the building.
"This is the humanitarian aid that Georgia sent us," she said, "and that," she said, pointing at a field hospital nearby, "is the help we received from Russia. Which do you think we should chose?" She added: "I've never heard anything so monstrous as people shelling a hospital."
In total, said Zakharova, 224 injured people had been treated at the hospital and two people had died there. Just south of the city centre a group of reporters were shown a street entirely destroyed by a Grad missile attack. Homes along the 100m street had been reduced to rubble.
One man showed the Guardian the metal casing of a Grad rocket lodged in the ruins of his home: "We managed to escape to the shelter just in time," he said, pointing at the mouth of a cellar protected by huge chunks of concrete.
Colonel Konashenko said: "The Georgians could not get tanks through these narrow streets. So first they turned it to ruins with a Grad attack and tried to punch through here to the centre of the city. There was heavy fighting in the streets. I think more than 500 bodies were pulled out of this part of town."
Asked if there had been atrocities against civilians the Colonel replied: "I personally saw one man beheaded lying in the street and others say they witnessed civilians who had been finished off with a shot to the back of the head."
Back at the hospital there were sounds of gunfire and then the crump of mortars landing somewhere in the city. First one explosion, then a second. When a third hit, sounding louder, the Colonel said: "It's time to move. Let's go."