Friday, August 15, 2008

Follow the Leader

Well, yes. Obviously, the Russians are without a doubt engaged in bullying tactics against Georgia, though not nearly as barbaric as their bullying of Chechnya a decade ago, which Washington conveniently ignored. The Russians are bullying Georgia just as Georgia bullied Ossetia.

It’s called “realism,” George. You know, like...

...rushing jet fuel to Israel to facilitate its bullying of Lebanon during its summer 2006 invasion or

...arming the Ethiopians for their onslaught against the Somalis or

...invading Iraq and occupying it until it opens its oil industry to foreign control or

...making war on the city of Fallujah or Marine Patrol In Fallujah

...firing missiles into destitute tribal regions of Pakistan or

...supporting the Colombian army’s campaign against the FARC even as Colombia’s rich landowners swallow up more and more of the poor peasants’ land or

...fomenting a coup against the democratically elected leader of Venezuela or

...carrying out a campaign of economic warfare andU.S. Revokes Visas Of Fulbright Scholarship Winners From Gaza collective punishment against the people of Gaza or

...threatening a country with “all options” because it asserts its legal right to develop the same nuclear technology that you have already provided to other regional powers.

When a nation considers itself to be the model for the world, when a nation considers itself to be exceptional, then that nation has an obligation to think about the precedents that it sets by its own behavior. In recent years, the U.S. has established some precedents that Georgians and Russians are now following; unfortunately, many more are likely to follow these precedents in the future. That is your legacy, George.



War in Georgia Shows U.S. Foreign Policy Is a Bust
MWC News - A Site Without Borders - - Monday, 18 August 2008

U.S. policy created a moral-hazard problem. In other words, the Bush
administration’s words and deeds almost certainly emboldened the Georgian
government with respect to South Ossetia and Russia, encouraging it to take
measures it probably would not have taken otherwise.

As we saw, it was a major miscalculation. Saakashvili may have been counting on U.S. support, but what could he possibly have hoped for? The U.S. military, spread thin already in Iraq and Afghanistan, has no forces to spare. But even if that were not the case, did Saakashvili really think the United States and Europe would go to war against Russia? Memories of the bloody 20th century are too fresh in Europe to make that a realistic expectation. It is one thing to invade and occupy Iraq,
quite another to take on Russia. It was out of the question.

The Bush administration, then, made implicit — and perhaps explicit — guarantees to the Georgian government it was in no position to back up.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Georgia and Historical Precedents

Big fish gobble up small fish, and small fish gobble up tiny fish. If it is OK for Georgia to force South Ossetia to remain part of Georgia, then why does the same principle apply to Russian desires to subjugate Georgia? Either we live by the principle that individuals have the right to choose their allegiance or we live by the principle that might makes right. The solution to the long-festering sore of South Ossetia would have been a U.N.-monitored election to select continued membership in Georgia, independence, or joining Russia.

It is rather obvious that looking the other way while Russia subjugated (or perhaps the word should be "obliterated") Chechnya back in the 1990s is now coming back to haunt us. What may not be quite so obvious is the connection between this week's events in the Caucasus and the confrontation between the West and Islam.

History goes through stages. In the midst of one, everyone is consumed by the problems it entails. Historical stages don't last forever, though. Colonialism, the struggle against fascism, the Cold War...all ended, and so will the Western confrontation with Islam. More to the point, the way each stage develops lays the groundwork for the next stage. The failure of the victors to resolve issues such as German reparations, whether or not to treat the Germans with respect, whether or not to keep the German population prostrate and in poverty, whether or not to honor promises of independence made to populations like the Arabs and the Chinese famously set the stage for the horrors of World War II.

How the world manages the Western confrontation with Islam will also do much to set the stage for the next historical era. If international law and global cooperation as symbolized by the U.N. are discarded and replaced by legitimization of torture, collective punishment, "democratization" at the point of a gun, and preventive war, then the Caucasus today may come to be seen as the symbol of the next historical era.

Precedents are powerful things. Precedents provide permission for acts people wanted but never dared to commit. If preventive war becomes accepted as legitimate behavior, then what is to stop Israel from attacking Iran, India from attacking Pakistan, China from attacking Taiwan, Russia from attacking Ukraine? If collective punishment of the people of Fallujah or Gaza is OK, then why not collective punishment of the people of Georgia or Taiwan, Ukraine...or, indeed, any Western population that terrorists may select as their next target? If "democracy" is defined as elections held at the point of a gun, then why not have "democracy" in Taiwan at the point of Chinese guns or "democracy" in Georgia at the point of Russian guns or "democracy" in Kashmir at the point of Indian guns?

Today's actions are tomorrow's precedents. An intelligent species thinks about the long-term impact of its behavior.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Taliban Consolidates Control in FATA

In Lowi Sam (Loyesam), Pakistan, near the Afghan border 12 km west of the military base at Khaar in Bajaur Agency, the Pakistani military sent in 200 soldiers who were surrounded and besieged by several hundred Taliban. After fighting for three days, with the support of tanks, jets, and helicopters, most of the battered force succeeded in escaping. This is my interpretation, based on facts reported by Dawn.

It is noteworthy that this was not a trap sprung by surprise on troops who thought they were at peace. On the contrary, this was the result of a Pakistani offensive, and as such constitutes a stunning defeat. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Maulvi Umer had stated at the beginning of the battle that they would use “all resources” to regain control of the region, and they have, for the moment, achieved their goal.

Although the ultimate impact of this Taliban victory is anyone’s guess, it is important to keep in mind that this was a defensive victory for the Taliban; they were defending territory arguably already under their control and termed by Pakistani officials as the center of their territory
against a Pakistani government offensive.
As for the immediate consequence, one might expect that it would concentrate the minds of Pakistani politicians currently focused on political turmoil surrounding the on-going campaign to replace the military dictatorship with a stable democratic system. It also strengthens any argument the Taliban might care to make about being the legitimate governing authority of FATA.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Republicans on the Issues

The Republican National Committee, an organization not known for self-reflection, seldom communicates with me, but today, they did, requesting my opinion on what they seem to consider the key issues of the day.

One thing really confused me. They referred to "liberal Democrats." Except for Kucinich, I wasn't aware that they existed any more! Anyway, these "liberal Democrats" evidently want to restore Constitutional guarantees of civil liberties by repealing the highly dangerous and undemocratic Patriot Act. Wow. Glad I know that. I had no idea the Democrats were going to repeal the Patriot Act - best news I've heard since Clinton's last-minute protection of all that parkland from evil corporate exploitation.

The RNC also seems addicted to trick questions, so slanted that no intelligent response could possibly be given.

It asked if the Republicans should fight for a balanced budget, without indicating whether they would cut social services or the bloated offense budget (Gee, help me here...). Obviously, I was all set to respond with a loud YES, since I do think that trimming back on the obscene array of toys the Pentagon is playing with in every corner of the world would be a great way to restore health to the nation's economy (even as it muted that same nation's arrogance). But then I saw the question "Should Republicans fight Democrat efforts to impose Clinton-era cuts in the Pentagon's budget?" You mean the Republicans intend to spend even more money on all their endless wars AND balance the budget in the midst of a recession when Americans are losing their houses; can't afford health insurance; and are seeing Federal government protections over their food, water, and parklands dwindle?!?

Then there was the one about the Republicans' "pro-growth achievements." Don't laugh. Sure, it is true that we are setting a record for house foreclosures at the moment. But think of the growth in the mercenary business, think of the growth in oil company profits, think of the growth in the production of armor-plated Humvees. I don't commute any more, but man would I love to have driven one of those to the office!

They really put their foot in their mouth when they brought up health care. If my party had been leading the country for the last 8 years, I'm not sure I'd want to start a discussion about that particular issue. Anyone with an elderly relative walked through a nursing home lately? You may not suffer from clinical depression when you walk in, but I'm not so sure about when you walk out. And speaking of depression, don't even think about getting help from our nation's health care system for that problem.

Then there was, "Should we do everything we can to stop Democrats from weakening border security?" Everything? You mean, like building an Israeli-style wall or keeping "all options on the table" or allowing armed private groups to terrorize anyone they don't like on our side of the border or making the development of a successful Mexican democracy and economy (so Mexicans will be happy living at home) a primary US goal? Somehow, I really don't think that last one is exactly what the RNC has in mind.

And I loved this one: "Do you agree that sowing the seeds of democracy and freedom in the Middle East is a worthy goal?" Now, how am I supposed to respond to that?

  • Is threatening an unprovoked nuclear attack on Iran part of "sowing the seeds of democracy?" (Yes, No, Undecided)
  • Is confining the population of Gaza in a huge, open-air prison, depriving them of food and energy and medical care, part of "sowing the seeds of democracy?" (Yes, No, Undecided)
  • Is firing missiles into Pakistan and Somalia part of "sowing the seeds of democracy?" (Yes, No, Undecided)
  • Is giving Iraq's oil industry to the industrial fat-cats of the U.S. oil industry part of "sowing the seeds of democracy?" (Yes, No, Undecided)
  • Is the dropping of cluster bombs all over southern Lebanon part of "sowing the seeds of democracy?" (Yes, No, Undecided)
  • Is the conversion of farmland to raise biofuels while the world's poor see the price of grain rise to the point where they can no longer afford to eat part of "sowing the seeds of democracy?" (Yes, No, Undecided)

I need some answers. Republican National Committee, please respond! But whether the RNC responds to the short questionnaire above or not, I owe them thanks for sending me this revealing letter.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

American Decline

John F. Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." My, how we have changed. I suppose those ringing, inspirational words just evoke snickers today from a population that clearly does not do sacrifice.

Yes, I know; I'm hard-hearted. Americans are "suffering" from the exorbitant cost of filling their SUV's tank (the cost of filling their tank's tank, one might say) for that dangerous expedition to the office or grocery store. No exaggeration - grocery store parking lots are packed with monstrous SUVs every day; go check out the one near you. One never knows when a sports-utility moment might strike.

So now the man who would bring change wants to borrow from the nation's emergency oil reserve to bribe voters into electing him. The man who would bring change also called America's passion for petroleum an "addiction." I confess to being puzzled. One does not usually offer a drunk another stiff one on the way to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

But OK, I'm willing to compromise. Let's pretend the uptick in gas prices is truly a national emergency threatening our security. I'll go along then with using our emergency oil reserves to lower gas prices a bit between now and the end of the emergency (first Tuesday in November), but first do the following (after all, it's an EMERGENCY!):

1. fine any SUV, truck, or sports car, caught exceeding the speed limit $1,000.00, with 90% of the fines to be transferred to low-income people;

2. cancel 2008 income tax for all people earning less than $25,000 per year, to be balanced by a tax on imported oil or those making over $200,000 per year or oil companies or arms manufacturers;

3. return to home ports half of that huge gas-guzzling armada of U.S. naval vessels circling endlessly in the Persian Gulf like hungry sharks;

4. end the economic war against Iran so they can import technology to upgrade their oil production facilities;

4. call by national leaders on Americans to cut consumption to show they can do something for their country.

Then, if a bribe is still needed, pass out the bribe.