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August 17, 2008

Pouting at Putin

By: Bernard Chazelle

Pretend for a minute, if you will, that you're Russian.

Look back and what do you see? A Western power invaded you 67 years ago and killed 20 million of your compatriots. If you fear the West, perhaps you're entitled to your paranoia.

Look around and what do you see? In virtually every country in or bordering your defunct Soviet Union, US military forces as far as the eye can stretch. Please follow me on a quick tour of US military installations. Counterclockwise, you've got the NATO countries, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania. Outside NATO, you've got Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Georgia, all of which have a US military presence. Then Russia's near-abroad, Afghanistan, Iraq, and more NATO countries, eg, Bulgaria and Turkey: again, an arsenal of US weaponry.

So there you are, entirely surrounded by hostile US military forces. And all you hear from the Americans is that a missile defense system aimed over you toward Iran is on its way to Poland and the Czech Republic. All you hear is that Georgia and then the Ukraine need to join NATO just to complete the perfect encirclement of your Western front. All you hear is that it's perfectly OK for Kosovo to secede from Serbia but a triple Nyet for South Ossetia to bolt out of Georgia's hated mini-empire.

And all you hear is that it's unacceptable for big countries to attack small ones. As John McCain said,

In the 21st century, nations don't invade other nations.

Fine, maybe for McCain the US counts as an empire, not a nation, but what about Georgia, John? Isn't Georgia a nation? And didn't Georgia invade Iraq in the 21st century? If McCain wants us to sing "We're All Georgians," then perhaps Georgians can try "We're All Iraqis." Now that they know how it feels to be invaded, they can add genuine pathos to their singing.

The performance of the US media has been reliably Pravda-esque. A callow, excitable New York trained lawyer attacks a city in the middle of the night by shelling it. That's perfectly fine. Not a word of condemnation from the US mainstream media. Until, that is, the attacker gets a black eye; then it all becomes a "miscalculation."

Let's be clear about one thing: Russia did not attack; Georgia did. Yes, Russia has been destabilizing a region that, incidentally, wants nothing to do with Georgia. Yes, the Kremlin tried to bump off Shevardnadze, Saak's predecessor, at least twice. But is that an excuse for unleashing a massive, sustained barrage of rockets in the middle of the night on a civilian population?

Is Shock-and-Awe the new Western way of saying Hello?

Putin is a thug (ask Groznians). President Saakashvili gave him an opening and he took it. In 6 days, Putin has undone the 6 years of US-led military buildup meant to bring Georgia up to NATO standards. Perhaps not since Pearl Harbor has so much US military equipment been destroyed so quickly. Or sent to "enemy" labs for reverse engineering.

Bush is a thug (ask Fallujans). But there's a big difference between the two leaders. Putin has won every war he's fought. Bush hasn't won a single one. Worse, he's helped his friends lose their own (Lebanon'06, Georgia'08). No time for glibness, but if you want to lose a war a good first step would be to follow President Saakashvili's lead and rename the main road to your airport "George W. Bush Street," as a starstruck Saak gleefully did. Perhaps he could have gone one step further and renamed the nation of Georgia "GeorgiaBushi." Saak was so flattered to welcome thousands of US and Israeli military advisors to his country. Now, that really helped.

As thuggish as he may be, Putin does not seek confrontation with the West. All the evidence, in fact, points the other way. Contrary to Western propaganda, he never turned off the gas spigot to Europe and his only "crime" toward the Ukraine was to charge them for gas at "market price" (vile capitalist he!)

The consensus among the American power elite, from the White House to the MSM, is that Russia is the new evil enemy. Obama's advisor, Brzezinski (the man who armed bin Laden's Afghan friends) called Putin the new Hitler. (Did you notice how the US reincarnates Hitler about every 5 years on average?) Make no mistake, Bibi Saakashvili's "miscalculation" has changed everything. The Georgian Netanyahu has caused the US its biggest setback since 2003. Georgia and the Ukraine are essentially "lost" to the West.

What game is the US playing? Is it all about keeping the world safe for Cheney's pipelines? Well, yes, but you don't come to ATR for such banal insight, do you? There is a subtext. America's foreign policy nightmare is that Putin will decouple Europe from the US. Let's be more precise. The UK, the Baltic states, and Eastern Europe are safe, reliable poodles: when the US asks them to jump, they say "How high?" But Continental Europe, especially France and Germany (but also Italy and Spain) have had a long, privileged relationship with Russia (with its inevitable bumps... you know, Hitler, Napoleon, etc.) This predates the "energy" situation. Go back to Ostpolitik and de Gaulle's "Tous Azimuts" policy. More important, go back to the last 300 years of European culture and you'll find Russia an integral part of it.

Russia has been a responsible player on the energy front. It is a reliable gas supplier for Europe, which it needs desperately as a customer. Gas is different from oil in that it can't be rerouted without major infrastructure: Russia, as it happens, is the gas infrastructure king. Russia does not want to reconstitute its Soviet empire: it has legitimate security concerns and it wants its own regional Monroe Doctrine. (The US, on the other hand, has its own planet-wide Monroe Doctrine.)

NATO is a dangerous charade. If Georgia had been a member, does anyone seriously believe that the West would have gone to its rescue by risking war with the world's second nuclear power? In her recent trip to Georgia, Condi Rice, America's professional pouter, only confirmed America's weakness. She can huff, she can puff, but in the end it's up to Sarkozy to arrange a cease-fire. McCain is dispatching Lieberman to the region and Obama is sending Biden on the Great Senatorial Pilgrimage of Impotence.

America has no business encircling Russia with US military forces. Perhaps war is the only way Americans learn geography. But is it also the only way Americans will learn they don't own the planet?

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at August 17, 2008 02:28 PM

I have been stunned by the ubiquitous acceptance in MSM of the Russia-as-unprovoked-aggressor meme.

Posted by: cavjam at August 17, 2008 03:09 PM

One of the things I despise most about the evil in our government is that they manage to make petty, banal and murderous men abroud look good. Putin deserves little better than a quick cut to the jungular, but Bush's naked imperialism puts him on the side of angels. The highest principle of international law in an age of "democracy" would be self-determination. In fact, it is natural for a democrat to think that there can be no wrong done to an illegitimate government. Shipping arms to a rebellious majority is no different than training the police force of a healthy, sovereign country.

But the Earth has never seen such an age.

It is pathetic that the media played along so sharply. The most depressing thing is that Russia means little to most Americans so the brazen contradictions will fail to wake anyone up.

A side-note: is there anyone in the U.S. who a) basically understands NATO and yet b) believes it exist to protect anyone from anything? Do even the pundits buy this shit?

Posted by: No One of Consequence at August 17, 2008 03:10 PM

Hitler did not consider his Germany a "Western power," nor did most of his Volksgenossen. Nor did the Western powers, whom he attacked while Stalin smiled.

Posted by: donescobar at August 17, 2008 03:23 PM

Most excellent piece.

Thanks for writing it.

Posted by: jharp at August 17, 2008 03:35 PM

This'd be a good time for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to give a sharp tug on the credit leash. It'd greatly help all parties recognize the contemporary distribution of actual global power.

Posted by: Pvt. Keepout at August 17, 2008 05:26 PM

If we are all impotent in our foreign policy wishes, and starting fights we can't finish, and unable to see the depth of the hole we've dug ourselves into, then for once McCain was right. We are all Georgians now.

Georgia - the joker in our house-of-cards foreign policy!

Posted by: dcs at August 17, 2008 05:45 PM

Excellent, Bernard.

And from Comedy Central/UK we have this from David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary: "Russian aggression against Georgia and threats to other neighbouring countries, such as yesterday's to Poland, are unacceptable and run contrary to the principles of national sovereignty and respect for the territorial integrity of independent countries."

It's interesting that the cease-fire accord that Condi and others are quoting hasn't been published yet (why?). According to the Russians (but not to Condi) it allows their troops to remain in Georgia as peacekeepers, and if so wouldn't that make Georgia's coming NATO membership interesting.

Posted by: Don Bacon at August 17, 2008 06:06 PM

I'm not familiar with the details of NATO's structure and its MO; is it for the most part a tool of the US military-industrial complex, or is it, at least to some extent, a system of collective defense? If it the latter, or if it's evolving into it, then adding new members can actually be a good thing. It seems that countries like Poland or Estonia would be less willing to participate in high-stake gambles, the US influence will be diluted somewhat. Though I don't know if this really is the case.

Posted by: abb1 at August 17, 2008 06:37 PM

When you say "American", are you referring to a country or are you lumping us South American dwellers in with you North Americans?

Posted by: otto at August 17, 2008 07:07 PM

NATO's role as a system of collective defense provides a growing market for US producers of military hardware.
Admitting countries which are located on Russia's border into NATO is not necessarily a good thing, unless you favor Americans giving their lives in the collective defense of Georgia or Poland, especially given loose cannons like Georgia's President Saakashvili.
It is difficult to dilute US influence by widening it; in fact the opposite is the case.

Posted by: Don Bacon at August 17, 2008 07:12 PM

If the MSM in USA and UK are not telling GWB about his blunder and arrogance, Ms Lisa Karpova of Pravda has plenty to say to him.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at August 17, 2008 11:16 PM

I'd say that Lisa got it just about right.
It's enough the make Saakashvili eat his tie:

Posted by: Don Bacon at August 17, 2008 11:56 PM

Japan also belongs in your list of circling countries with a US military presence.

Posted by: Cloud at August 18, 2008 12:28 AM

And Korea, where the Pentagon has just discovered that North Korea is no longer a threat fifty-six years after the armistice so . . .US troops will be withdrawn, right? No, just kidding. Korea will now be an accompanied tour, which means that new bases will be built to accommodate military families, complete with family housing, schools, swimming pools, McDonald's, golf courses and all the other amenities that a military town needs, about one hour by jet plane from Vladivostok, Russia.

Posted by: Don Bacon at August 18, 2008 01:22 AM

It is difficult to dilute US influence by widening it; in fact the opposite is the case.

Why, widening something usually makes it thinner.

It's one thing when all you need to do is to push the big red button, it's a different story when you need approval of 20 different states, some of whom have a lot to lose if something goes wrong, even slightly.

But again, I don't know to what extent the US can exercise control over the NATO forces in general and its own component of the NATO forces in particular.

Posted by: abb1 at August 18, 2008 03:56 AM

This is what President Sarkozy had to say today.
USA should keep out and keep its hands off the situation to prevent it from getting worse. Enough damage has been done.
I have been hearing and reading that Russia has used disproportionate response to provocation by Georgia. Yes. But where were the experts when Israel destroyed Lebanon in 2006 for kidnapping of two soldiers?

Posted by: Rupa Shah at August 18, 2008 08:01 AM

An excellent write up by one of Israel's great journalists.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at August 18, 2008 08:21 AM

NoOnOCon: Bush makes Putin look like an angel!

And by making threats to attack Poland, even with nukes, Putin makes Bush look good!!!

And as far as treaties go, this administration does not abide by any that it does not like and will exploit those which serve its grand design!

Posted by: Rupa Shah at August 18, 2008 08:40 AM
And by making threats to attack Poland, even with nukes, Putin makes Bush look good!!!

I don't agree. I don't see this as much a threat as a statement of fact. Putin is being frank with the population of Europe by telling them, "If you place offensive weapons close to my border, I will be forced to reciprocate. Is that what you're signing up for? I understand that the military-political in these countries understand the ramification, but I want the constituent public in these countries to understand it as well."

Way too often we get into a crisis, and the constituent public runs around with their hair on fire, "Oh, who could have predicted this?" (Ala 9/11 even).

Who indeed.

Posted by: Labiche at August 18, 2008 09:00 AM

Labiche: I agree with you. I personally do not believe Putin intends to attack Poland, however, the MSM has suddenly brought 'COLD WAR' from the dead creating a frenzy as to how bad the Russians are and statements coming from Russia like the ones above, will only divert the public's attention from this administration's shenanigans.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at August 18, 2008 09:53 AM

Saakashvili was trained and funded through the State Department by the "Support Freedom Act," a funding apparatus of the NED (National Endowment for Democracy) model. The U.S. funded the huge military buildup (according to the Tiraspol Times of last November, even the soldiers' pay was covered by American taxpayers) for no other purpose than to attack the breakaway provinces.

(Read the article here and note the dateline: )

In short, this was a planned feint at Russia. Russia had no option other than to squash Georgia. What does the U.S. get out of this? A new Cold War, more money for "Star Wars," more justifications for little client wars around the world, more military spending, more paranoia at home, more laws to keep control of the restive citzenry. Just in time for the Democratic President. "Mr. President, Air Force One is having mechanical problems."

Saakashvili was either April Glaspied (what choice did he have after being bought and having his country filled with military hardware and trainers?) or he was in on this. A loss now as a loss leader to greater things for the empire.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at August 18, 2008 10:07 AM

Well, the cold war was the good war, compared to this nonsense we have now. At least ideologically it was easy for most Americans to understand. So now we're back to that -- and just in time too! Because the American electorate is on the cusp of wholesale evaluation of the strategic policies and if the cost was worth the result.

Now that the cold war is back, the military industrial complex could be stoked up again.

And to think that there was a possibility of evaluation to see if our money was well spent in the last 7 years. Luckily that's a bullet we dodged and could have sent us back to a pre-9/11 mindset.

I really do get such amusement from the consolidated media. Having fucked up the GWOT for the last 7 year up, down and sideways, they now fall back to a familiar trope.

Print media is dead? Oh baby, I can't wait for the motherfuckers on consolidated teevee to meet the same fate.

Posted by: Labiche at August 18, 2008 10:10 AM

A voice of sanity and a great read-Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on
'Serious Mistakes by the West',1518,572686,00.html

This also proves Prof Chazelle's point ( with president Sarcozy's Op-Ed ) about French and German relationship with Russia.

Thanks Prof Chazelle for this post

Posted by: Rupa Shah at August 18, 2008 11:42 AM


Here is an article that argues that for the US the Cold War never ended.

Posted by: StO at August 18, 2008 11:51 AM

StO: Many thanks for the link. Excellent article.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at August 18, 2008 12:41 PM

Here is firsthand account from a 12 yr old and behaviour of FOX news!

Grey areas!! my foot.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at August 18, 2008 02:00 PM

Can anyone recommend any good books about post-Soviet Union Russia?

Posted by: anonymouse at August 18, 2008 02:48 PM

Just wondering if Georgia was encouraged to attack South Ossetia by GWB and gang to improve chances for the republican ticket!!! in the forthcoming elections! Sen McCain said, 'We are all Georgians' ( I am not, so count me out ) and recent polls indicate he would be a better commander in chief ( whatever that means )!!!

Posted by: Rupa Shah at August 18, 2008 07:56 PM

But Continental Europe, especially France and Germany (but also Italy and Spain) have had a long, privileged relationship with Russia

Plus, they did save our asses in WWII... ;)

Posted by: Dunc at August 20, 2008 07:13 AM

Rupa Sha @ 7:56PM--Karl Rove loved tactics which provided more than one positive for his candidates--and he is providing behind the scenes advice on the presidential election.

By stirring up the mess in Georgia, a Rove-type thinker might see a twofer at the very least: 1) Bring fear of the Big Bad Russian Bear back to the forefront of voters' thinking, thus increasing support for the Daddy Party's security issue and for McCain as president, and 2) stirring the ashes of the Cold War and bringing more business to arms manufacturers, another issue for the NeoCons, and hope for holding power in the election and worldwide. Got Poland to sign on to the specious reason for missiles in Poland and may get other former Soviet client states to do the same. Hey, a threefer! More "constructive chaos," as those NeoCons like to call the death and destruction of war.

Just bcz it's not the most brilliant strategy in the world? Heh.

Posted by: jawone at August 20, 2008 08:13 PM

jawone: Seeems like the game plan is working. McCain is ahead in the polls today and Russia has again threatened ( indirectly )today to attack Poland because of the new treaty bet USA and Poland. Strangely, according to an expert on PBS this evening, the sysyem to be installed in Poland will not be ready for 5-7 years so wanting to sign the treaty NOW ( Poland now allegedly demanding protction instead of having to be convinced by the administration for the need of one!! ), definitely fits into the neocons' chess game. Sadly, it will have a disastrous ending like their other adventures.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at August 20, 2008 09:12 PM

Excellent article on hypocricy of Brzezinski's statements.
Deconstructing Brzezinski’s Russia

Posted by: Rupa Shah at August 23, 2008 11:43 AM