Saturday, August 16, 2008
Friday 15 August 2008
By: Michael Winship, Truthout \ Perspective
In a letter written in 1648, Swedish statesman Axel Oxenstierna, chancellor to both King Gustavus Adolphus and Queen Christina, counseled, "Know, my son, with how little wisdom the world is governed."
The fighting between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia is an unnerving reminder of that, and of how quickly the balance of global power can be tilted from unexpected directions with barely a warning.
Some hawks and neo-cons called for NATO intervention or even suggested we send in Stinger missiles or the 82nd Airborne as a peacekeeping force. President Bush warned, "Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century."
Perhaps, but the reality of the early 21st century is that, in the short run, at least, the president's words ring hollow. In spite of past promises of support to Georgia, Russia is key to our efforts in the Middle East and our European allies are dependent on Russia for energy. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have both our military strength and our international credibility stretched perilously thin at a time when oil-rich Russia is reemerging as a superpower. We've boxed ourselves in.
It was in that light that I came upon the Oxenstierna quote the other night, while re-reading the late historian Barbara Tuchman's "The March of Folly," a knowing compendium, from ancient Troy to Vietnam, of the ways in which, given half a chance, those in power will steer their ships of state straight into the rocks. In the first chapter, she also quotes American President John Adams: "While all other sciences have advanced" - you can almost hear him sighing - "government is at a stand; little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago."
Andrew J. Bacevich probably would agree with all of the above. The retired Army colonel, a West Point graduate, teaches history and international relations at Boston University. His latest book, "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism," explores our nation's current predicament, not just on the world stage, but here at home as well. He spoke with my colleague, Bill Moyers, on this week's edition of the PBS series, Bill Moyers Journal.
Bacevich speaks truth to power, no matter who's in power, which may be why those of both the left and right are eager to hear his views. Perhaps it's also because when he challenges American myths and illusions, he does so from a genuine patriotism forged in the fire of his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam and the death a year ago of his son, an Army lieutenant in Iraq. "The Limits of Power" is dedicated to the young man, but the senior Bacevich, a man of quiet, solid gravitas, holds his grief privately between himself and his family.
"Our foreign policy is something that is concocted in Washington, DC, but it reflects the perceptions of our political elite about what we the people want," he told Moyers. "And what we want, by and large is ... this continuing flow of very cheap consumer goods. We want to be able to pump gas into our cars regardless of how big they may happen to be. And we want to be able to do these things without having to think about whether or not the books are balanced at the end of the month, or the end of the fiscal year."
To that end, he says, "One of the ways we avoid confronting our refusal to balance the books is to rely increasingly on the projection of American military power around the world to try to maintain this dysfunctional system or set of arrangements that have evolved over the last 30 or 40 years."
"... I think historians a hundred years from now will puzzle over how it could be that the United States of America, the most powerful nation in the world, as far back as the early 1970's came to recognize that dependence on foreign oil was a problem, posed a threat, compromised our freedom of action. How every president from Richard Nixon down ... declared, 'We're going to fix the problem.' [But] none of them did."
He continued, "The clearest statement of what I value is found in the Preamble to the Constitution. There is nothing in the Preamble to the Constitution which defines the purpose of the United States of America as remaking the world in our image, which I view as a fool's errand. I believe that the framers of the Constitution were primarily concerned with focusing on the way we live here, the way we order our affairs. To try to ensure that as individuals, we can have an opportunity to pursue our, perhaps, differing definitions of freedom, but also so that, as a community, we could live together in some kind of harmony. And that future generations would also be able to share in those same opportunities.... With the current crisis in American foreign policy, unless we do change our ways, the likelihood that our children, our grandchildren, the next generation will enjoy the opportunities that we've had is very slight because we're squandering our power. We are squandering our wealth."
Bacevich believes, "The Congress, especially with regard to matters related to national security policy, has thrust power and authority to the executive branch. We have created an imperial presidency. The Congress no longer is able to articulate a vision of what is the common good. The Congress exists primarily to ensure the reelection of members of Congress."
That imperial presidency, he says, "has made our democracy a false one. We're going through the motions of a democratic political system. But the fabric of democracy, I think, really has worn very thin."
Iraq, Bacevich concludes, "was a fundamental mistake. It never should have been undertaken. And we're never going to do this kind of thing again." This might, he thinks, "be the moment when we look ourselves in the mirror [and] ... see what we have become. And perhaps undertake an effort to make those changes in the American way of life that will enable us to preserve for future generations that which we value most about the American way of life."
Andrew Bacevich's words should echo down the corridors of Congress and the halls of the White House, no matter who becomes our next president.
The full broadcast of Bill Moyers Journal will be devoted to Bill's conversation with Bacevich (check local listings) http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/about/airdates.html
, and further discussion will continue online at the Moyers Blog. http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/index-flash.html
Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday nights on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers.
Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday nights on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers.
Friday, August 8, 2008
Tbilisi, Georgia - Russian troops moved into South Ossetia hours after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned Georgia that its attack on the breakaway region would draw retaliation, Russian television reported Friday.
The Russian move comes after Georgian troops launched a major military offensive earlier Friday to regain control over South Ossetia and the president accused Russia, which has close ties to the separatists, of bombing Georgian territory.
The fighting in South Ossetia has raised fears of an all-out war that could draw in Russia, which has peacekeepers in the region. Putin said an unspecified number of the peacekeepers have been wounded.
Russia's Channel 1 television showed a convoy of Russian tanks which it said entered South Ossetia. The tanks were reportedly expected to reach the provincial capital, Tskhinvali, in a few hours.
There was no immediate comment from Georgian officials.
Putin had earlier said the Georgian attack will draw retaliation and the Defense Ministry pledged to protect South Ossetians, most of whom have Russian citizenship.
An Associated Press reporter saw tanks and other heavy weapons concentrating on the Russian side of the border with South Ossetia and villagers were fleeing into Russia.
"I saw them (the Georgians) shelling my village," said Maria, who gave only her first name. She looked shocked and was reluctant to speak. She said she and other villagers spent the night in a field and then fled toward the Russian border as the fighting escalated.
NATO has called for an immediate end to fighting. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said he is seriously concerned about the fighting and that the alliance is closely following the situation.
Separatist officials in South Ossetia said 15 civilians had been killed in fighting overnight. Georgian officials said seven civilians were wounded in bombing raids by Russia.
South Ossetia officials said Georgia attacked with aircraft, armor and heavy artillery. Georgian troops fired missiles at the regional capital, Tskhinvali, an official said, and many buildings were on fire. The Russian news agency Interfax said a hospital was hit by Georgian shelling.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said Russian aircraft bombed several Georgian villages and other civilian facilities.
"A full-scale aggression has been launched against Georgia," Saakashvili said in a televised statement.
He also announced a full military mobilization with reservists being called into action.
Seven civilians were wounded when three Russian Su-24 jet bombers flew into Georgia and bombed the town of Gori and the villages of Kareli and Variani, Deputy Interior Minister Eka Sguladze said at a briefing.
She said four Russian jets later bombed Gori, the hometown of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, but that raid didn't cause any casualties.
Saakashvili urged Russia to immediately stop bombing Georgian territory. "Georgia will not yield its territory or renounce its freedom," he said.
A senior Russian diplomat in charge of the South Ossetian conflict, Yuri Popov, dismissed the Georgian claims of Russian bombings as "disinformation," the RIA-Novosti news agency reported.
Moscow Denounces 'Dirty Adventure'
Russia's Defense Ministry denounced the Georgian attack as a "dirty adventure." "Blood shed in South Ossetia will weigh on their conscience," the ministry said in a statement posted on its Web site.
"We will protect our peacekeepers and Russian citizens," it said without elaboration.
Georgia, which borders the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia, was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the breakup of the Soviet Union. The country has angered Russia by seeking NATO membership - a bid Moscow regards as part of a Western effort to weaken its influence in the region.
Saakashvili long has pledged to restore Tbilisi's rule over South Ossetia and another breakaway province, Abkhazia. Both regions have run their own affairs without international recognition since splitting from Georgia in the early 1990s and built up ties with Moscow.
Most residents of South Ossetia and Abkhazia have Russian passports. An open war could prompt Russian to send in more forces under the claim of protecting its citizens.
Putin Warns of 'Retaliatory Actions'
Putin, speaking in televised remarks Friday during his trip to the opening of the Beijing Olympics, said Georgia's military action causes "grave concern and it will certainly lead to retaliatory actions."
Saakashvili said government troops have seized the outskirts of Tskhinvali and are fighting for control of the center. Georgian forces also have seized several villages around the capital.
Gen. Mamuka Kurashvili, a Georgian military officer in charge of operations in the region, said on Rustavi 2 television that Georgian forces were moving to "establish constitutional order in the region."
The leader of Russia's province of North Ossetia rushed to Tskhinvali. "We are jointly organizing defenses here," Teimuraz Mamsurov said in the city, according to the Interfax news agency.
Mamsurov said hundreds of volunteers from North Ossetia were streaming across the border into South Ossetia, Interfax said. It also quoted the separatist leader of Abkhazia as saying that some 1,000 volunteers from his region were heading to South Ossetia.
Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Temur Yakobashvili said Georgian officials were doing everything they could to avoid casualties and the destruction of property.
But Boris Chochiyev, a minister in the South Ossetian government, said that Georgian troops shelled the center of Tskhinvali with truck-launched missiles. He asked the Russian government to defend South Ossetians.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Malakhov called on Tbilisi to commit itself to peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Yakobashvili said Friday that Georgia was ready to negotiate, but claimed the South Ossetian officials were dragging their feet in starting talks.
At the request of Russia, the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session in New York but failed to reach consensus early Friday on a Russian-drafted statement.
The council concluded it was at a stalemate after the United States Britain and some other members backed the Georgians in rejecting a phrase in the three-sentence draft statement that would have required both sides "to renounce the use of force," council diplomats said.
"We think that this is a very serious error of judgment and political blunder," Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said of the council members' disagreement. "I hope that the Georgian side will reconsider its reckless actions in the area of the Georgia-South Ossetia conflict."
The Georgian attack came just hours after Saakashvili announced a unilateral cease-fire in a television broadcast late Thursday in which he also urged South Ossetian separatist leaders to enter talks on resolving the conflict.
Georgian officials later blamed South Ossetian separatists for thwarting the cease-fire by shelling Georgian villages in the area.
Worst Fighting Since 1992
The fighting was the worst outburst of hostilities in the region since it won a de-facto independence in a war that ended in 1992.
Russia has soldiers in South Ossetia as peacekeeping forces, but Georgia alleges they back the separatists. Russia also was criticized by the West as provoking tensions by sending warplanes over South Ossetia last month.
Most of South Ossetia, which is roughly 1.5 times the size of Luxembourg, has been under the control of an internationally unrecognized separatist government since 1992. Georgian forces hold several swaths of it.
Relations between Georgia and Russia worsened notably this year as Georgia pushed to join NATO and Russia dispatched additional peacekeeper forces to Abkhazia.
Article by the Associated Press