Saturday, August 16, 2008

Framing the Russian-Georgian War

Does history repeats itself? According to the way many commentators have recently framed the current Russian-Georgian war/crisis, it does, and Putin is either Hitler or Stalin while Georgia equals the Sudetenland and Chamberlain and Daladier is played by French President Nicholas Sarkozy.

Of course comparing foreign leaders to Hitler has long been a past time of American politicians, and (particularly but not exclusively) neo-con advocates. Would-be Hitlers have been numerous: from Egyptian President Nasser in 1956 (after he nationalized the Suez Canal) to Yasser Arafat, Hugo Chavez, Manuel Noriega and of course, best of all, Saddam Hussein.

As you can read in this article by Michael Dobbs (not to be confused with Lou, thank God!) in the Wash Post , “the events of the past week in Georgia have little in common with either Hitler's dismemberment of Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II or Soviet policies in Eastern Europe.”.

The power of the 1930s analogy is pretty obvious: it is the only analogy that most Americans understand, it overly simplifies a complex (if not complicated) situation with its specificities and it provides a very clear answer for warmongers.
Not only is the reality more complex than a comfortable binary view of good-v-evil but there also seems to be a lot of PR involved as well - on both sides. The war between Russia and Georgia has indeed also “exploded onto the media and cyberspace theater”.
I am struck however by how the media seem to have all taken the cause of Georgia without even mentioning that it is Georgia’s president (Mikheil Saakashvili) ’s ill-judged assault on South Ossetia that gave Russia a pretext for the invasion of Georgia. What is cleat is that the events that led to the war are still murky:

It is unclear how the simmering tensions between Georgia and South Ossetia came to the boil this month. The Georgians say that they were provoked by the shelling of Georgian villages from Ossetian-controlled territory. While this may well be the case, the Georgian response was disproportionate. On the night of Aug. 7 and into Aug. 8, Saakashvili ordered an artillery barrage against Tskhinvali and sent an armored column to occupy the town. He apparently hoped that Western support would protect Georgia from major Russian retaliation, even though Russian "peacekeepers" were almost certainly killed or wounded in the Georgian assault.
The Russian incursion into Georgia proper has been even more "disproportionate" -- in President Bush's phrase -- than the Georgian assault on Tskhinvali. The Russians have made no secret of their wish to replace Saakashvili with a more compliant leader. (
Wash Post)

And for sure, G. W Bush knows a little something about "disproportionate response"!

In any case it seems to me that we ought to expect our leaders to put things into perspective and act with more wisdom than in the recent past, and try to add some gray into the picture. I thought that people were fed up with the good-v-evil paradigme used by the Bush administration. But maybe not, maybe they are too lazy.
The funny thing is that it has all been a lot of talk and posturing and one can easily understand why Russia is not impressed :
The bottom line is that the United States is overextended militarily, diplomatically and economically. Even hawks such as Vice President Cheney, who have been vociferously denouncing Putin's actions in Georgia, have no stomach for a military conflict with Moscow. The United States is bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and needs Russian support in the coming trial of strength with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.
Instead of speaking softly and wielding a big stick, as Teddy Roosevelt recommended, the American policeman has been loudly lecturing the rest of the world while waving an increasingly unimpressive baton. The events of the past few days serve as a reminder that our ideological ambitions have greatly exceeded our military reach, particularly in areas such as the Caucasus, which is of only peripheral
importance to the United States but of vital interest to Russia. (
Wash Post)
And to answer our initial question about whether history repeats itself, it is enough to quote Mark Twain: "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme".


At 20:45, Blogger Tororoshiru said...

Now that we can look back to the Cold War era from some distance, it appears that one of this era's widest divides might well have been the one between Europa's and US's views on the very nature of Cold War. US officials sounded then (and some still sound now) like they had been defiant of communist Russia only because it was communist, while most Europeans (both from the left and from the right side) were defiant of it mainly because... well, it was Russia (although they were, for obvious diplomatic reasons, much less outspoken about this concern than Americans were about theirs). History doesn't repeat itself, but, no matter whether it's Act 4 or Act 5 that's now playing, sometimes the way the catch lines are delivered may sound familiar to the ears of those in the audience that were there since Act 1... as long as the same actors are onstage (with only minor changes in the choice of cosmetics being made backstage by part of the make-up artists crew).


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