Archive for August 12th, 2008

American Hypocrisy

I ask forgiveness in advance, because I’m going to use my blog-given right to go on a rant. It’s a rant directed at both political parties, the media, and it’s about foreign policy. Feel free to disagree with my rant, my words are harsher than I am!

On the 9th I commented on the conflict in Georgia, and criticized the reaction of American politicians, who were blaming Russia for the attack. Reading the vehement attacks on Russia, especially from the McCain camp (Bush and Obama too, but they aren’t quite as rhetorically charged), I’m getting a bit disgusted with the hypocrisy and double standards being shown.

First: Georgia started this particular war. Georgia tried to use the cover of the Olympics to launch an attack on separatists controlling South Ossetia, hoping that Russia would be afraid to respond. I’m not sure why they miscalculated in thinking Russia wouldn’t use this as an opportunity to show muscle in the region. How could they not see that Russia would want to assert it’s self in Russia’s so called “near abroad,” especially after years of NATO expansion eastward and Kosovo’s recent independence? Maybe they thought their ties with the US would protect them; perhaps a bit of group think convinced them that Russia would accept it. But their attack killed Russian peacekeepers and put the people of South Ossetia at risk. Russia responded fast, showing they were ready (and eagerly awaiting) Georgia’s misjudgment.

The South Ossetians are not Georgian, even though legally their territory is in Georgia (thanks to how the Soviets divided up the USSR). North Ossetia is in Russia, and most South Ossetians would prefer to be in Russia too, and use Russian currency and passports. Georgia has not controlled the region. This creates a difficult situation, one which Georgia escalated to war by trying for a military solution.

Back in 1999 the same kind of thing happened back in the Balkans. Kosovo was a predominately Albanian enclave in Serbia, and its people did not want to be part of the Serb Republic. Unlike South Ossetia, Kosovo was not controlled by separatists, the rebels were a small group of insurgents known as the Kosovo Liberation Army, an organization long considered by the US to be a terrorist organization. The Serbs decided to come down on the organization with force. Not only did they not invade with the brutality of the Georgians in South Ossetia, but they killed far fewer civilians. They also didn’t target western peacekeepers, it was an internal Serb affair.

The US, however, decided that this was a violation of human rights, and demanded the Serbs cede autonomy to the Kosovars. The Russians joined the Serbs in resisting this call, saying that Serbia was simply engaged in its own sovereign effort to defeat an insurgent terrorist organization. NATO the US dismissed that, citing Albanian rights and the fact civilians were in danger. The result was a long bombing of Serbia, with the Serbs finally surrendering Kosovo. The hundreds of thousands Albanian refugees came AFTER NATO started bombing, so that can’t be put forward as a reason for that war.

So when Russia is confronted with a similar situation, but even worse when an already autonomous region on the border of Russia, with people who identify with Russia, gets attacked by Georgia and Russian peacekeepers are killed. Well, there is far more rationale for Russia to respond than there was for NATO in Kosovo in 1999! Russian concerns about Serb sovereignty were dismissed then, but suddenly the West has intense concerns about Georgian sovereignty? Give me a break!

Don’t get me wrong. I opposed NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999, and I think Russia was wrong to respond to Georgia’s invasion with a massive military intervention. If I were Russian, I’d be one of the few voices arguing that this is an immoral policy, and probably be vehemently against Russian nationalists. Yet looking at it in a detached manner Georgia deserves even more condemnation for starting this war to begin with, and not being able to accept that South Ossetia does not want to be part of Georgia. Also, if NATO had not gotten involved in the Balkans in 1999, and had agreed with Russia’s argument about sovereignty, the US would have far more standing to criticize Russia now. We could point at them for engaging in double standards, defending Serb sovereignty but not Georgian (though the killing of Russian peacekeepers would give them some cause).

But clearly NATO changed the rules of the game back in 1999, and so appeals based on Georgian sovereignty are misguided at best.

So what should the US do? First, I don’t think we should transport Georgian troops back in order to fight the Russians. If Georgia wants to leave Iraq, great. But they should get themselves back, we should do nothing that would expand or extend an existing conflict. Second, we should condemn Georgia for its aggression into South Ossetia, and then condemn Russia for responding to it with a massive invasion. We should be clear that we are not taking sides, but believe that the way both countries are approaching the South Ossetian problem is wrong, and needlessly endangers civilians, including children. Third, we should make it clear to Georgia that until the South Ossetian issue is solved with Russia in a peaceful manner, there is no chance of NATO membership for Georgia (that goes without saying, giving that the Europeans have a more realistic view of the situation than the US). Finally, we should do whatever we can to extend humanitarian aid to anyone affected, and offer our ‘good offices’ for any help mediating a cease fire or even better, a solution to the conflict. Perhaps we could make an exchange: the US would recognize and support South Ossetian independence, if the Russians recognize and support Kosovar independence.

I note that there have been others who made the same comparison I did to Sarajevo in 1914. America’s hypocrisy in its response to this invasion is one reason why I worry that people might push this out of control. Unless we can understand how the Russians perceive this, and show some appreciation for the fact Georgia started this, we react in a manner that is provocative and insulting. World politics is practiced by humans, and humans are driven by emotion, imagination-driven understandings, and far too often various forms of group think.

It’s time to step back and instead of fanning the flames, try to figure out a solution that recognizes the interests of all sides (Georgia, Russia and the South Ossetian people), and come to grips with our own double standards and hypocrisy on the world stage.