Saturday, August 16, 2008

McCain Faking It on Religion

In certain ways, tonight's "values showdown" between John McCain and Barack Obama is going to be a farce. That's because no one can be a very good Christian and devote their whole souls (as they must) to winning election in a large, contentious country like the United States.

But it's a particular problem for McCain because he's faking it. I'm not saying that McCain's an atheist like I am, but McCain appears "uneasy — even forced" when he is called upon to discuss his Christian beliefs because his faith tank is on "E" and he's unwilling to fill up.

McCain's religion is all about politics.

After killing off his 2000 campaign when he said that Falwell and Robertson were "agents of intolerance," McCain wasn't going to get burned by religion again.

So McCain did a 180 degree turn. Just as George Wallace promised that he wouldn't be "outsegged" after a gubernatorial defeat in Alabama, McCain decided that he wouldn't be "out Jesused" the next time he ran for president.

McCain announced his affiliation with the more evangelical Baptists. He also started to make promises to the Christian right in terms of judicial appointments, made his peace with Falwell, and sought the support of megachurch ministers like John Hagee.

It was all calculated. It was all phony. And it's all been successful so far.

The religious right knew that McCain was not being sincere but McCain showed them enough obeisance that the right also accepted that McCain would not be an enemy.

At that point, they could rally around McCain as the "anybody but a Democrat" choice.

And McCain got bonus points from the national media for his insincere pandering. McCain was so utterly unconvincing in his reconciliation with the Christian right that his media friends viewed McCain's discomfort as a sign of his basic integrity.

In other words, McCain's lying became a symbol of his honesty.

I'm not sure that will work for Rick Warren's made for television event tonight.

Obama is up to his eyeballs in religion and much of his success as a speaker comes from his being so immersed in the traditions of the black church (yes, the creepy Jeremiah Wright's black church).

There's a good chance that McCain's cynicism and insincerity will look poorly in comparison.

The Sport of Kings at the Olympics

Great win by Usain Bolt in the 100 meters.

Too bad about American Tyson Gay flaming out in the semis.

Gay's originally from Lexington, KY (Lafayette High School) and has done and said all the right things during his track career. Having suffered a hamstring injury during the Trials, Gay didn't have the conditioning necessary for the big burst needed to be competitive at the Games.

But the really big event on Friday was the men's shot put which was won by Tomasz Majewski of Poland with a heave of 21.51 meters.

American shotputters were favored to sweep but did poorly. Christian Cantwell got the silver on his last throw, but world champion Reese Hoffa was a full meter behind at 20.53. The best known American shotputter, Adam Nelson, didn't even make the finals because of fouls.

Postscript: RSI's neighbors back in Waverly, NY still have warm memories of RSI grunting away hour after hour as he worked on his form as a high school and college shotputter.

Those were the days.

A Big Surprise for Obama's VP?

Patrick Ruffini claims that Obama might be doing a massive head-fake with his VP pick and might nominate Hillary after all.

I've been wondering about the same thing.

Ruffini emphasizes that nominating Hillary would have a galvanizing effect on the Democratic convention--

"Clinton receiving upwards of 40% on the first ballot and then being chosen as the VP could enhance the "catharsis." Obama would simply be bowing to the will of Democratic Convention-goers."
Ruffini's on the right track. Hillary Clinton has a number of other advantages as well.

Above all, Hillary knows how to be an effective team player from her twenty years as Bill Clinton's first lady in Arkansas and the White House.

That itself is worth its weight in gold.

Hillary is also extremely knowledgeable in both domestic and foreign policy. She would be a knockout as Obama's "prime surrogate" and would represent Obama well in debates.

Finally, Hillary would be a valuable person to have in an Obama administration.

But there's still the Bill problem.

Ruffini suggests that Bill Clinton take an eight-week vacation in Tahiti.

My thought is that Bill should develop an interest in deep sea exploration instead.

Friday, August 15, 2008

American Neo-Cons vs Aggressive Nationalists

There's no end to the prominent figures in the neo-conservative movement who advocate a hardline policy toward Russia. Of course, there's John McCain and Dick Cheney (who's probably growing much more comfortable with the idea of John McCain as president). John Bolton got a long op-ed published in the Telegraph today while other neo-conservatives have been filling up cyber-space with their reflections on Russian aggression and Western appeasement.

But that brings a question to mind?

What would McCain, Cheney, Bolton, William Kristol, Max Boot, Robert Kagan, and Robert Kaplan have done if they were Russians? How would these figures have responded to Georgia's incursian into the territory of South Ossetia if they were working for the Russian version of the American Enterprise and giving advice to Putin and Medvedev instead of Bush and Cheney?

There's a variety of questions that need to be answered here. Would a Russian Bolton have accepted any Georgia had right to invade South Ossetia? Or would he have considered any Russian softness as "appeasement? If a Russian Bolton would he have accepted the dislodging of Russian peacekeepers from their posts, or would he have considered the "molesting" of Russia's "brave men" to be an excellent pretext for retaliation against Georgia.

And finally, would a Russian Bolton be eager to withdraw from Georgia now that there is a cease-fire? Or would he have been eager to demonstrate Russian strength, resolve, and will to the Georgians and their American sponsors?

The answer should be obvious. If the John Bolton, William Kristol, and other neo-conservatives had been on the Russian side of the Russia/Georgia dispute, they would have strongly advocated everything the Russians ended up doing. They would have argued for an armed response to the Georgian incursion into South Ossetia. They also would have backed the expansion of the Russian military advance into Georgia proper. Likewise, the neo-cons would have been reluctant to respond to "Western pressure" withdraw.

The main evidence for this conclusion is that John Bolton himself made it clear that he thought Russian actions were more appropriate than either the European or American response.
Fear was one reaction Russia wanted to provoke, and fear it has achieved, not just in the “Near Abroad” but in the capitals of Western Europe as well. But its main objective was hegemony, a hegemony it demonstrated by pledging to reconstruct Tskhinvali, the capital of its once and no-longer-future possession, South Ossetia. The contrast is stark: a real demonstration of using sticks and carrots, the kind that American and European diplomats only talk about.

From Bolton's point of view, the Russians know how to play the power game of carrots and sticks as John Bolton himself would play the game.
In fairness to Russia, it at least still seems to understand how to exercise power in the Council, which some other Permanent Members often appear to have forgotten.

Matthew Yglesias notes the "deep admiration" ofAmerican hawks for "global bad actors." That's because American hawks are actually like a lot of "global bad actors" in being aggressive nationalists. Indeed, the influence of the neo-cons on American foreign policy has made the United States a "bad actor" which launches unprovoked invasions of other countries, engages in the widespread torture of terrorist suspects, and maintains a complicated system of off-shore prisons (Guantanamo) and torture out-sourcing to countries like Romania.

One of the outcomes of Russia's conduct is that we can get a clear view of the bullying viciousness of our own aggressively nationalistic foreign policy elites in Russia's conduct toward the Georgians.

Needless to say, it's not a pretty sight.

Tippecanoe and Johnny McCain Too

Rich Lowry of the National Review Online worries that McCain's (potential) nomination of Joe Lieberman for VP would be "desperate" and "gimmicky," and compares McCain to William Henry ("Tippecanoe") Harrison in 1840.

I don't think so.

Lieberman's the natural choice because he's a "McCain guy" who's absolutely loyal. Lieberman is also an ideal surrogate who is probably more consistently supportive of John McCain's positions than McCain himself.

Actually, the desperation might have been in McCain's efforts to get comfortable with a potential vice-presidential nominee who isn't a member of the Democratic Party like Lieberman.

But, after trying on Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, Sarah Pahlin, Tim Pahlenty, Eric Cantor, Tom Ridge, and other Republican stalwarts, McCain came to the same conclusion as the rest of the country--

McCain just doesn't like Republicans.

I'll Slit My Wrists

Well, maybe not. But if Obama nominates Joe Biden as his Veep, I'll definitely think about it.

The Vitality of Pakistani Democracy

Pakistan certainly has a mountain of problems. But Pakistan's democracy is vital enough that Pakistan's regional government are moving forward with impeachment charges in order to drive President Pervez Musharraf from office.
The push for Musharraf's removal gained steam this month, with three of Pakistan's four provincial assemblies calling for him to step down or face impeachment. Lawmakers in a fourth province, Balochistan, have indicated they'll vote soon on a similar resolution. The resolutions are non-binding, but they signal a growing drumbeat by Pakistani lawmakers to pressure the politically embattled president to leave office.

Can American democracy claim a comparable accomplishment in relation to the Bush administration?

I don't believe so.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

How to Handle Right-Wing Smearing

Right-wing sludge merchant Jerome R. Corsi has finally come out with his hit book on Barack Obama entitled The Case Against Barack Obama.

Media accounts suggest that Corsi's assault on Obama rests primarily on the old right-wing stand-by of "murder by innuendo." For example, Corsi suggests that Obama has

“yet to answer” whether he “stopped using marijuana and cocaine completely in college, or whether his drug usage extended to his law school days or beyond.” “How about in the U.S. Senate?”
When Corsi's critics point out that Obama has stated flatly that he did not use illegal drugs after the age of 20, Corsi just blow them off by saying that “self-reporting, by people who have used drugs, as to when they stopped is inherently unreliable.”

To be perfectly honest, I've always admired the way that chronic liars like Corsi can make stuff up like that on the spot.

But it's still garbage. Corsi wants us to believe that he is speaking truthfully even though he has no evidence to support his claims. Then, on top of that, Corsi refuses to allow Obama's own evidence to count. Who said being a smear artist didn't take a lot of brass.

The classic question then comes up concerning how Obama should respond. Should the Obama campaign stay quiet in order to avoid giving Corsi publicity? Or should they respond forcefully to make sure that large numbers of voters don't start believing what Corsi says?

One of the reasons why the Kerry campaign foundered is that they waited too long to respond to the Swift Boat smears. As a result, the Obama campaign has launched an energetic counter-attack, demanding that an Obama surrogate be given air time to rebut Corsi's charges every time Corsi appears on television and distributing a lengthy point by point rebuttal.

Yuval Levin of the National Review Online responds that Corsi's case might be so lame that Obama doesn't really need to respond.

However, the fact that Corsi's book is being published by former Cheney staffer Mary Matalin in her current role as an editor for Regnery Press is an indication that the Republicans are going to use Corsi's smears as a cornerstone of their fall media campaign.

In this context, the Obama campaign is not only right to insist on rebutting those charges, but would also be within their rights to portray Corsi as part of a broader Republican Party that has little to offer but campaign stunts and vicious smear campaigns. Whether Corsi's effective or not, Corsi's writing is part of a broader tradition of Republican smear campaigns and an integral part of Republican strategy for presidential elections.

Juan Cole on Bush/Putin Analogies

Juan Cole has an article in Salon about how the Bush administration's gutting of international law provided cover for Russia's attack on Georgia.

Amen to that.

But the next question concerns what to do about a situation in which the bigger powers recognize no authority higher than the aspirations of their neo-cons/aggressive nationalists.

The starting point for solutions to the U. S. invasion of Iraq, Georgia's attack on South Ossetia, and Russian invasion of Georgia should be increasing the costs for the aggressive parties.

One way to deter aggressive nationalists is to stress the high costs and humiliating failures of adventures like Serbia's attack on Bosnia, the U. S. invasion of Iraq, and Georgia's assault on South Ossetia. "Iraq" needs to replace "Munich" as the key analogy for thinking about foreign policy.

A second strategy is to strengthen the international legal framework in ways that make unsanctioned attacks like the American invasion of Iraq into war crimes and provide a system of penalties for the nations involved.

There's also a need to emphasize is the value of "entangling bureaucratic process" over "decisive action" in foreign policy. Events of the last twenty years have highlighted the need for more bureaucracy, more negotiations, more compromise, and a lot less eagerness to "go it alone." The EU has become the best model for getting things done and we need to adjust our values accordingly.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Flunkies to Georgia: McCain's Latest Campaign Stunt

John McCain's latest campaign stunt is sending deputies Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham to Georgia. In a way, it's pretty weird. McCain wants to show himself as a "man of action," but Lieberman and Graham aren't actually going to be doing anything.

Unless one considers pulling another campaign stunt as "doing something."

But, McCain's Georgia gambit is also very revealing.

If McCain wins, he might end up deciding that pulling off a perpetual string of campaign stunts might be the only way he can govern. Where Clinton and George W. governed through the "permanent campaign," McCain might have to govern through "endless campaign stunts."

That's because the U. S. has few options in situations like Georgia. The U. S. doesn't want to settle the war on terms favorable to Russia because we don't want to look like we're appeasing Russia. At the same time, we don't have the military capacity to either force the Russians to change their course or punish them.

In other words, all we can do is make "symbolic gestures" to signal our disapproval to the Russians.

McCain seems to view the need to make "symbolic gestures" as an opportunity to pull a campaign stunt. Given that McCain would be reduced to making symbolic gestures on Iraq, the economy, health, energy, and other issues if he were elected president, he would probably end up pulling a lot of these stunts.

Colin Powell Speaks for All Americans

At least Colin Powell speaks for all Americans when he says that he does not "have time to waste on Bill Kristol’s musings.”

The Solution to Georgia--Use the Kosovo Precedent

The solution to the gathering Georgia impasse is popular sovereignty for South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Nobody in the Georgian government, the U. S., or the EU likes that solution because it probably favors the Russians.

But popular sovereignty for South Ossetia and Abkhazia is inevitable. Internationally monitored elections should be held so that the populations of these two enclaves can decide whether they want to be independent, remain a part of Georgia, or become part of Russia.

And everyone should respect their decisions.

After all, this is what the U. S. and its allies did in Kosovo. The U. S. recently recognized Kosovo as an independent nation because the population of Kosovo rejected affiliation with Serbia. Given that the populations of South Ossetia and Abkhazia reject affiliation with Georgia, they should be allowed to go their own way as well.

The EU and American government want to conduct negotiations under the assumption that Georgia should maintain its current territorial boundaries.

But its too late for that.

Georgia has never exercised sovereign control over South Ossetia and Abkhazia and its certain that the two enclaves aren't ever going to acknowledge Georgian sovereignty now.

Neither will the Russians.

The proper way to facilitate the legitimate withdrawal of South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgia is to hold elections to determine what the populations of these countries want.

The U. S. and the E.U. will initially resist elections and secession because it appears to reward the Russians. But rewarding or punishing the Russians is a secondary matter. The primary issue is finding a stable solution to the problems of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Holding elections provides the best hope for a stable solution.

The Shoot People Reflex

Too bad about the murder of Bill Gwatney, the Democratic Party chairman in Arkansas. Although Gwatney was a political figure, the murder doesn't seem to be political in any liberal vs conservative or Democrats vs Republicans way. After shooting Gwatney, it appears that the shooter went to Arkansas Baptist Headquarters (likely a conservative venue) and pointed a gun "at the building manager." He also reportedly said that he "lost his job." It will be interesting to see what was actually going on with the shooter, but what worries me is the number of people who are dealing with personal crisis by shooting strangers.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Barna Group Poll and the McCain Campaign

The Barna Group, which focuses on polling religious voters, came out with the results of a new survey tonight.

Here are some of the highlights:

1. Obama's Lead is Not That Much Less Than Expected. As is the case with every other poll, the Barna group shows Obama ahead--this time by 43-34. But their last poll two months ago had Obama up 50-35. So, the Barna group views the race as "tightening." What's significant is that Obama's ahead by 9. The "tightening" may be completely a result of Obama losing the post-clinching "bump" he had early in June. Moreover, the 9 point margin is pretty close to the 11.8 lead the Democrats have in the generic Congressional ballot. Obama might be closing the gap on the generic Democrat.

There's more good news for Obama in the breakdown between "likely" and "registered" voters. The Barna group shows Obama with a 9 point lead among "likely" voters. The lead expands to 14 (43-29%) if registered voters are included and the Obama campaign has been working overtime to register new voters.

2. McCain Not Gaining. The big movement in the poll was from Obama to undecided with the proportion of "undecideds" increasing from 15% to 21%. The problem for McCain is that he has not been able to increase his own support even though his negative advertising has been effective in creating doubts about Obama. So far, John McCain has not defined a compelling reason for undecided voters to switch their votes to him.

3. The McCain Embarrassment Hidden in the Numbers. The Barna group breaks down its sample into nineteen different religious groups. Being 9 points behind, it's not surprising that McCain is behind in most of the religious groups. Obama leads among
non-evangelical born again Christians (43% to 31%); notional Christians (44% to 28%); people aligned with faiths other than Christianity (56% to 24%); atheists and agnostics (55% to 17%); Catholics (39% vs. 29%); and Protestants (43% to 34%).
McCain only leads among evangelical voters (61-17%) but that's only an 8% slice of the total electorate and McCain's lead has been falling even among that group.

The embarrassment for McCain is that his lead among evangelicals has nothing to do with his own campaigning which has not been reaching out to evangelicals since he denounced Rev. John Hagee in June. For all the good that John McCain's presidential campaign is doing in attracting votes, McCain might as well not be campaigning at all.

If McCain wants to be president, he has get a lot better at being something besides the "un-Obama."

A Place for the Pumpkin Papers

This is a notification for anyone seeking to hide top secret documents. The RSI family now has a pumpkin growing in its backyard. In another month, it will be ready for the next generation of "Pumpkin Papers."

Why Not Invite Russia Into NATO?

According to MSNBC, the Bush administration, NATO, and the G-8 are considering what they all can do to "punish" for their actions in Georgia.

But we don't really have any leverage for punishing the Russians. Boycotting scheduled joint NATO/Russia military exercises or booting Russia out of the G-8 won't work. The boost that Russia's nationalists get from "standing up to the U. S." easily trumps the petty embarrassments we can dish out. More important, these kinds of minor punishments don't make any progress on resolving the tensions between Russia and the former Soviet bloc states along its borders.

Let's try something different then.

Why not invite Russia to apply for membership in NATO along with Ukraine, Georgia, and other former Soviet bloc states that want to get in?

Letting the Russians and other former Soviet bloc states into NATO has significant advantages that should not be overlooked. Most importantly, bringing Russia and the former Soviet bloc states into NATO gives them all a common organizational framework within which they can work out their issues with democratization, minority populations, and natural resources. NATO isn't strong enough to provide the military protection Ukraine and Georgia want. But, NATO can give the parties a framework for working on their problems in a productive way. After the wars in the Balkans, Chechnya, and Georgia, everybody should recognize the depth of the problems in the former Soviet bloc states and be willing to start a long-term effort to develop solutions. A NATO framework with regular meetings, joint military exercises, and requirements for democratization can provide an organizational basis for dealing with short-term flare-ups and engaging in the long-term negotiations necessary to develop solutions.

It could be argued that letting Russia into NATO would be rewarding them for bad behavior or appeasing them. The neo-cons already view the Bush administration's failure to militarily confront Russia as a form of appeasement that is just as cowardly as Neville Chamberlain ceding the Sudentenland to Hitler in 1938.

But the American public should have learned something about aggressive nationalism from our own neo-cons. In particular, neo-cons like Dick Cheney or John Bolton detest the constraints put on the U. S. by international organizations like the U.N. or NATO. They also have an intense dislike of negotiations, compromise, and cooperation with other countries on any terms other than those dictated by the U. S. In other words, they hate anything that ends up constraining our ability to do anything we want. They don't like the ICC, the Geneva conventions against war crimes, or the constraints that our NATO allies have put on our military operations. They get the creeps every time they think that France has a say in the ability of the U. S. to wage wars.

Russian nationalists are the same way--suspicious of alliances, negotiations, or anything else that constraints the ability of Russia to "recapture its rightful place in the world." The same is the case with aggressive nationalists everywhere. They think they should be able to do whatever they want and get enormously frustrated by any kind of constraint.

From this perspective, offering Russia membership in NATO would be the ultimate punishment that we could inflict on the aggressive nationalists in Russia's political and military elite. NATO membership would place the Russians in a huge bureaucracy with large numbers of boring meetings, seemingly useless rules and requirements, and a tremendous bias against quick action. Just think of it. Hot-blooded Russian nationalists would have to spend whole careers listening to French, German, and Dutch diplomats, being "actively engaged" in committees, and attending any number of NATO ceremonies and commemorations.

Far from rewarding Russia's most aggressive policy-makers, NATO membership will give them the boredom that they deserve almost as much as they dread.

In the meantime, NATO will provide a basis for gradually working out the difficulties that Russian nationalists and American neo-cons wanted to go to war over.

Putin: The New Neo-Con Ideal

Perhaps some neo-conservatives are getting ready to shift their loyalties from Israeli Likud to Russia's Vladimir Putin.
If Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin were president of the United States, would Iran try to build a nuclear bomb? Would Pakistan provide covert aid to al-Qaeda? Would Hugo Chavez train terrorists in Venezuela? Would leftover nationalities with delusions of grandeur provoke the great powers? Just ask Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili, who now wishes he never tried to put his 4 million countrymen into strategic play.

In January I urged Americans to draft the Russian leader to succeed George W Bush (Putin for president of the United States, January 8, 2008). Putin's swift and decisive action in Georgia reflects precisely the sort of decisiveness that America requires
Of course, neo-cons always have the option of moving to countries they admire.

New Elections for Georgia!

Russian President Dimitry Medvedev announced a halt to military operations inside Georgia.
"I have reached a decision to halt the operation to force the Georgian authorities to peace . . . The aggressor has been punished and has incurred very significant losses. Its armed forces are disorganized."
Of course, "announcing a halt to military operations" and actually "halting" could turn out to be different things. But taking the Russians at their word, then what?

From CNN's announcement, Russia wants three things:

1. A demilitarized zone around South Ossetia to deter future attacks;

2. That Georgian peacekeepers be removed from the previously joint Russian/ Georgian peacekeeping force in South Ossetia;

3. That President Saakashvili be removed from office.

The point about removing President Saakashvili is something the U. S. should insist on as well.

Saakashvili's decision to attack South Ossetia was a monumental blunder that brought enormous harm to Georgia and risked creating a military confrontation between the U. S. and Russia.

At the very least, we should suggest to our Georgian friends that they hold new elections.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Getting the Georgia Story Straight

Neo-conservative stalwart Robert Kagan (of the Kagan family of neo-conservatives that includes his father Donald Kagan, brother Frederick Kagan and sister-in-law Kimberly Kagan) writes that we should ignore the circumstances behind the current Russian invasion of Georgia.
The details of who did what to precipitate Russia's war against Georgia are not very important. Do you recall the precise details of the Sudeten Crisis that led to Nazi Germany's invasion of Czechoslovakia? Of course not, because that morally ambiguous dispute is rightly remembered as a minor part of a much bigger drama.
But what are the details that precipitated "Russia's war against Georgia?" This is an extremely important question for American policy-makers and public opinion. The top priority is to get the Russian military to end their invasion and retreat to their initial positions in South Ossetia and Russia proper. But after that nailing down the details of what precipitated the war is extremely important to evaluating the role of our own government in this fiasco, evaluating our stance toward Georgia as a potential ally and client state, and determining the stance that the U. S. should take toward Russia as a possible long-term rival.

Obviously, the problem of how to deal with Russia is going to be the most important issue. But before we decide about Russia, we need to evaluate the role of the Georgian government and possibly our own government in precipitating the war.

Some Details. It is well-known is that the Georgian military attacked the breakaway enclave of South Ossetia and moved into the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. It is almost as well known that the South Ossetians are much more favorably disposed toward Russia than they are toward Georgia and that Russian peacekeepers were stationed in South Ossetia.

It is apparent that Georgia attacked Russian peacekeepers as part of their offensive into South Ossetia. The Russians also accuse the Georgians of ethnic cleansing and war crimes (and the Georgians should be prosecuted for those war crimes if they occurred).

It was only after the Georgians took control of Tskhinvali that the Russians attacked.

Far from considering these details to be unimportant, they should be examined closely.

The U. S. Government. The first detail that an "incompetence weary" American nation needs to consider is the performance of the Bush administration. To what extent did the Bush administration know of the Georgia government's plans to invade South Ossetia? If Bush's people did know of Georgia's plans, did they do anything to approve of those plans? Was there any quid pro quo agreement that the U. S. would back Georgia on South Ossetia if Georgia sent troops to Iraq (Georgia had 2,000 troops in Iraq)? Even worse, did the U. S. government do anything to encourage the Georgia government in their thinking or goad them to attack?

In other words, was the U. S. government seeking to "test" or "provoke" the Russians by encouraging our proxy Georgia to move against the Russian proxy of South Ossetia.

Given the Bush administration's record of recklessness, the possibility has to be acknowledged and investigated.

Georgia. It is also important to understand the thinking of the Georgian government of President Mikhail Saakashvili as it decided to attack South Ossetia. Why did Georgia think it would be able to succeed in their attack and reintegrate South Ossetia into Georgia despite the opposition of the South Ossetian population and the Russians? Given that Russia is much larger and much more militarily powerful than Georgia, why did the Georgian government believe that the Russians would be either inclined or able to effectively retaliate.

These are important questions because it appears on the surface that the Georgian government was incredibly stupid and reckless in deciding to invade South Ossetia.

Some quick comparisons to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait illustrate the point because Georgia is in a much worse position compared to Iraq when Iraq challenged the U. S.

When Saddam Hussein launched his invasion of Kuwait, he thought he had an implicit go-ahead from U. S. ambassador April Glaspie. Georgia had no such implicit gesture from Russia. The Iraqis also had more than 500,000 troops who had been battle-tested in a long war with Iran and could see itself as a real challenge for the American military. Georgia's army has 26,000 soldiers and outdated Soviet-era weapons to boot. Finally, Kuwait was thousands of miles away from the territory of the United States and it would take months for the U. S. to move sufficient forces into the theater to dislodge the Iraqis. South Ossetia is on Russia's border and it didn't even take one day for the Russians to generate an overwhelming response.

So why did Georgia think they could win?

So far, liberal writers are the ones most willing to speculate. Fred Kaplan of Slate reports that the Georgians believed that the U. S. would ride to their rescue because of the Bush administration's eagerness to promote Georgia entry into NATO and beef up the Georgia military. But how was the U. S. going to get enough of an army into isolated Georgia to fully engage the Russians who are in neighboring territory?

Matthew Yglesias speculates that the Georgians believed that the Russians did not want to invade Georgia proper or that the Georgians thought they could close the only road from Russia to South Ossetia. But why would the Georgians think the Russians would not want to punish them given that Georgia has been a consistent thorn in the Russian's side--unless they thought the U. S. would rescue them?

What all of this gets down to is that the Georgia government was not capable of making even the most elementary calculations of self-interest as they were launching a war that was likely to draw in a powerful neighbor.

That's bad enough for Georgia and it looks like the Georgians will spend several years rebuilding from the damage caused by the war.

But there's more to it. In its thoughtlessness, the Georgian government also thought it would drag the United States into a confrontation with Russia.

Thanks but no thanks. That's inexcusable in an ally and client state. As the major partner in any U. S./Georgia alliance, the U. S. should be the ones dictating the terms of any actions of Georgia in relation to a major U. S. rival like the Russians.

The fact that Georgia did this on their own is an indication that the Georgian government does not have the savvy and maturity needed to be a long-term American ally.

After this confrontation is resolved, the U. S. should drop its connection with Georgia. It's bad enough that we have a recklessly dumb government of our own. The last thing we need is dumb allies.

More Roads to Iraq, Less to Munich

For American neo-conservatives, all foreign policy roads lead back to Neville Chamberlain's "appeasement" of Hitler at Munich. Saddam Hussein was about Munich, Iran is about Munich, North Korea is about Munich, and Hamas and Hezbollah are all about Munich as well. Thus, it's no surprise that neo-cons like Robert Kagan and William Kristol responded to Russia's invasion of Georgia with well-worn "Munich analogies."

But now there's a rival analogy--the "Iraq analogy" that threatens to make Munich even less valid as a historical analogy than ever.

Let me explain.

Part of the reason Hitler's Germany could invade nation after nation was that the Nazis could not imagine that a "successful invasion" would entail so many costs that it would be a disaster for the invader.

After the American experience in Iraq, that's no longer possible.

Invading and taking over Iraq was easy. But occupying Iraq has been enormously costly to the U. S. in terms of military resources, domestic unity, and international prestige. Bogged down in Iraq, the Bush people had to give up their ambitions to invade Iran, Syria, and other Muslim nations and ended up barely being able to carry the Iraq occupation forward over domestic opposition.

The U. S. has been so weakened by the Iraq occupation that there has been no idea of responding to the Russian invasion of Georgia with military force. Or penalyzing the Russians at all.

However, the Iraq analogy applies to Russia as well. If the Russian government actually tries to enact a full take-over in Georgia, it's easy to imagine that the Russians will be the ones badly weakened by all the effort it takes to sustain the occupation.

In other words, if the United States really learns from the lessons of Iraq, we won't really mind if our big-power rivals like Russia and China to invade annoying little countries like Georgia.

That way, they'll end up bleeding themselves dry.

The Depth of McCain Incompetence

It appears that John McCain cribbed a couple of passages from today's speech on the situation in Georgia from Wikipedia.

Here's the passages (from Political Insider):

First instance:

"one of the first countries in the world to adopt Christianity as an official religion (Wikipedia)


one of the world's first nations to adopt Christianity as an official religion" (McCain)

Second instance:

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Georgia had a brief period of independence as a Democratic Republic (1918-1921), which was terminated by the Red Army invasion of Georgia. Georgia became part of the Soviet Union in 1922 and regained its independence in 1991. Early post-Soviet years was marked by a civil unrest and economic crisis. (Wikipedia)


After a brief period of independence following the Russian revolution, the Red Army forced Georgia to join the Soviet Union in 1922. As the Soviet Union crumbled at the end of the Cold War, Georgia regained its independence in 1991, but its early years were marked by instability, corruption, and economic crises. (McCain)

We know John McCain didn't do this plagiarism himself because McCain doesn't know how to use a computer.

But McCain's speechwriter (probably Mark Salter) appears to know so little about Georgia that he had to go to an online encyclopedia for information and is such a poor writer that he had to plagiarize.

The problem for McCain here is that the only expertise his campaign appears to have access to is his own.

What happens if McCain's elected president?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The End of Civilization as We Know It

The End of the World is at Hand. No, not because Obama is the anti-christ. It's worse than that. Miss Teen RSI and her friends actually have Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" on their Ipods. What's next--Duran Duran?

The Russians Can Be Neo-Cons Too

The Russians seem to have adopted the "Ledeen Doctrine" from American neo-conservative Michael Ledeen.
"Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."
Substitute "Russia" for the United States and that's pretty much what Russia's doing to Georgia right now--throwing a "crappy little country against the wall" to "show the world they mean business."

Russia/Georgia: The Political Entrepreneur's War

The Russian attack on the Georgia is all about political entrepreneurs seizing their opportunities to make a very bad situation worse.

How bad is the situation in Georgia?

First a Little History.

Georgia was formed out of the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

But South Ossetia didn't want to be part of Georgia any more than Georgia wanted to be part of the Russian Confederation.

As a result, South Ossetia rebelled in 1992 and established itself as an autonomous "breakaway republics" with Russian help.

Eventually, Russian peacekeepers were introduced into South Ossetia to keep the two sides apart.

The Four-Cornered Mess.

Side 1. South Ossetia seeks independence and has allied itself with the Russians against Georgia's authority.

Side 2. The Russians have been eager to help South Ossetia because they want to be the predominate power in the Caucasus region. They also have a grudge against Georgia for their original secession.

Side 3. Georgia wants to re-establish its authority in South and has sought an alliance with the United States as a counter-weight to the South Ossetian alliance with Russia. Georgia has been trying to join NATO as a way to make their problems with Russia into America's and Europe's problems with Russia.

Side 4. American neo-conservatives have welcomed Georgia with open arms because they want to extend American influence around Russia's borders and because they want to block the Russians as often as they can.

The Action Commences.

For some reason, President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia decided that he had an opportunity to attack South Ossetia militarily and re-establish Georgian sovereignty. So, Georgia attacked and at least temporarily seized the capital of South Ossetia. But Georgia has a tough calculation to make. The Russians have a peacekeeping force in South Ossetia and could be expected to react to an attack on their peacekeepers if nothing else. President Saakashvili must have calculated that "international pressure" would keep the Russian counter-attack from being very effective.

But Saakashvili was very mistaken.

It turns out that the Russians viewed the Georgian attack on South Ossetia as a golden opportunity to take "a miserable country like Georgian and throw them up against the wall" as a way to demonstrate Russian power.

And that's what Russia's been doing as they've not only repulsed the Georgian offensive against South Ossetia but launched wider attacks inside Georgia. They've been showing Georgia and everybody else who wants to see that defying Russia carries a big price.

What about the United States?

I imagine that most Americans don't care about Georgia and South Ossetia any more than they care about Inner Mongolia. For neo-conservatives however, the Russian attack on Georgia is a golden opportunity to create a permanent Cold War kind of state between the United States and Russia. In general, neo-cons do not want to see countries like Russia and China emerge as "regional powers" with "spheres of influence" around their borders. They view that as a threat to America's status as the only global super-power. As a result, the neo-cons want to treat Russia as an enemy state and view Russian moves against countries like Georgia as equivalent to Russia attacking Canada or France. This is what John McCain is doing with his belligerent statements about the Russians. He's using the South Ossetia situation as an opportunity to define Russia as an enemy and show how tough he would be in the face of that enemy.

And how tough can the U. S. be concerning Russia?

Not very.

The bottom line is that there's no support in the U. S. for a military confrontation with Russia over Georgia and South Ossetia. Besides our military is tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But McCain's not worried about being tough. He wants to establish "talking tough" as the core of American policy with Russia.

Just what we need.