Archive for August, 2008

Saakashvili: The Caucasian Calimero

Who doesn’t remember that little chick in the half-shell who used to go around blaming his misfortunes on the fact that ‘they are big and I is small’? ‘It’s just not fair’, he used to say as once again he had mucked up a situation. I was always of two minds about Calimero; I pitied him on one level (after all, life can’t be easy if you’re the smallest thing on legs), but at the same time there was something deeply annoying about him.’What this guy needs’, I used to think, ‘is someone even smaller than him.’For I knew, even then, that many of our problems tend to disappear as soon as we have someone we can kick around.

We in the West, with our big hearts bursting and a ready tear in our eye at the merest hint of the big bullying the small, are unfortunately an easy prey for those who have perfected the art of suffering and being put upon in full public view. Our politicians, our media and public opinion have in the past been manipulated to good effect; the Kosovo Albanians and the Bosnian muslims are cases in point. So much better were they  than the Serbs at wailing, hair-tearing and teeth-gnashing with the world’s cameras in attendance that -without bothering to study the exact merits of the claims made on all sides- we waded in, guns blazing, to protect the weak from the strong. In our humanitarian zeal we completely omitted to examine the way the Albanians and the muslims in Bosnia behaved towards minorities in their midst. In order to convince ourselves that we understand a problem we have to be able to reduce it to a simple matter of good versus evil, black versus white.

We’ve made the same mistake again, haven’t we? When, last week, the news broke that Russian troops had come to the aid of the separatists in the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and began giving the Georgian forces (who, until then, had been bombing the bejezus out of the South Ossetians, after a bit of encouragement from Washington) a bloody nose we were hoodwinked yet again. This time, the hoodwinker was already a good friend of the West; Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili, whose years of study and work in the USA have made him a committed Americanophile. Just the kind of man the Bush administration would fancy as leader of a former Soviet republic. And so it came to pass. NATO membership for Georgia now seems firmly on the cards, as it does -in a slightly more distant future- for Ukraine. And with that, the encirclement of Russia by western-friendly (read: anti-Moscow) countries would be virtually complete.

Not a situation, you will agree, that a major power likes to find itself in. For the sake of argument: if, at the time of the Cuba missile crisis, Canada and Mexico had announced their intention to join the Warsaw Pact very few of us would be here today. Every self-respecting big boy needs a backyard in which he can dominate -and, if need be, bully- the smaller kids. Grenada, Panama, Cuba and even Chili will be able to confirm that. So I am not at all surprised that the Russian leadership is unhappy with Washington’s plans to set up missile monitoring systems in Poland or with Georgia’s murderous harrasment of pro-Russian Ossetians and Abkhazians. Why, with the Cold War allegedly over, the West still feels it necessary to engage in this Russian bear-baiting is beyond me. Is it? Not really. The truth is: the Cold War was a great boon to the West. It spurred on the development of newer and ever more sophisticated arms (which everyone knew would never be used), it kept the military-industrial complex raking in large amounts of money and it allowd governments to use the threat of an attack by a foreign power to keep the population on side. Now that the reckless military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have lost them popular support, the Bush Boys are trying to revive that old and trusted battle cry: ‘The Russkis Are Coming!’. Alan Arkin eat your heart out. Dubya’s anointed successor, John McCain, has even had the chutzpah to tell us: ‘we are all Georgians now!’ Is anyone going to fall for this theatrical but meaningless rubbish and vote for him in November? Probably. When a Russian general the other day warned that, by allowing the US to set up an anti-missile shield on its territory (which the Russians firmly believe is directed against them) Poland would make itself a target that, in the event of a military conflict, would be one of the first to be hit, the more rabid elements in the Western media came out with headlines like ‘Russia Says: We’ll Nuke You!’. Not quite.

The really annoying thing is, of course, that Washington is waging this propaganda war on Moscow knowing full well that military action of any kind against Russia is totally out of the question. Their hope is that, by constant harping and misconstruing Russian acts and intentions, they can provoke Moscow into doing something unwise. So far, though, president Medvedyev and prime minister Putin have behaved like models of restraint. The West should do the same and refuse to fall for the chicanery of the Georgian president. But that, given the uncontrollable rush of warm motherly love we habitually reserve for the small when they’re in trouble with the big, may well be too much to ask. And so, along with the totally avoidable dead and wounded in Georgia, truth, too, has once again been added to the list of casualties. Beep, beep.

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