Don’t Know Much About History…

They obviously don’t teach cold war history at the law schools at Columbia in New York or George Washington in the nation’s capital, otherwise Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, who attended both institutions, would have thought twice about encouragement from the US for his ill-fated attack on South Ossetia a week ago. Saakashvili could have read vivid accounts of broadcasts, via the CIA-controlled Radio Free Europe, encouraging the Hungarians in 1956 to believe that if they rose against the Soviet occupier NATO troops would race to their aid.

Hungarian-language programs broadcast news of the unfolding political and military drama in Budapest as the radio station advised on tactics of armed resistance. The CIA’s director of operations, Frank Wisner, had promoted Hungarian hopes for intervention, but President Eisenhower never had the slightest intention of doing so. Wisner was devastated and suffered a severe breakdown, ultimately committing suicide.

Another lesson for Saakashvili from this period of fierce cold war tension came in the dawn of the Kennedy administration, when Cuban exiles seeking to topple Castro in the Bay of Pigs landing, waited vainly for US air support which they thought the CIA had guaranteed. Kennedy declined to make such an order and the furious exiles claimed they had been stabbed in the back. Some think they took revenge with the assassination of JFK  nearly three years later.

I don’t believe for a moment there was a carefully rounded US plot to lure Putin into his foray into South Ossetia, maybe as cover for an impending attack on Iran. That’s nonsense. But there are obviously American players with an identifiable motive for encouraging Saakashvili to believe that his onslaught on South Ossetia would receive support more substantial than some pro forma quacks of protest from George Bush, dragging his eyes from  comely volley ball players in Beijing to the anodyne text placed in font of him by his advisors. Republican contender John McCain needs bare-knuckle confrontations with America’s enemies. In such eyeball-to-eyeball crises he can strut before the cameras as the seasoned warrior with “experience”, unafraid  to lead America to the very brink of nuclear Armageddon. Ever since Harry Truman in 1948, it’s been a reliable way of getting elected as President.

McCain’s chief foreign policy advisor, a rabid hawk called Randy Scheunemann, has until recently worn two hats, acting as McCain’s lead foreign policy man and also as a lobbyist for Georgia. Filings by the McCain campaign and reports to the US Department of Commerce required of all lobbyists acting for foreign governments show that between Jan. 1, 2007, and May 15, 2008, the McCain campaign paid Scheunemann nearly $70,000 and, across the same period , the government of Georgia paid Scheunemann’s firm,Orion Strategies, $290,000 in lobbying fees. Scheuneman has since quit the lobbying firm, a 2-man operation.

So Scheunemann indubitably had the ears of both Saakashvili and of McCain. What advice he tendered his patrons is a matter of speculation, but any advisor to McCain would certainly regard a vintage cold-war era confrontation between the United States and Russia as potentially a huge plus for McCain.  The Republican candidate certainly seized the opportunity for manly bluster about Russia’s conduct.

Equally rabid is Zbigniev Brzezinski, a sometime advisor to Obama and a veteran cold warrior from the Carter presidency of the 1970s. Brzezinski has publicly boasted of his role, as President Carter’s foreign policy adviser, in luring the Russians into their ill-fated intervention in Afghanistan in 1979. A year later the US boycotted the Moscow Olympics of 1980, accompanied in this gesture by China. Brzezinski, a Pole, is fanatically anti-Russian and has been thundering on the TV talk shows about the era of darkness that will descend on mankind if Russia is permitted to put Georgia in its place.

As a professional globe-spinner, Zbig is given to rhetorical sweeps, opening his 2004 book “The Grand Chessboard” with the thumping dictum that “Ever since the continents started interacting politically, some five hundred years ago, Eurasia has been the center of world power…..” The key to controlling Eurasia, Brzezinski says grandly, is controlling the Central Asian Republics. This portentous nonsense goes back to the British geographer Halford John Mackinder, whose “heartland” theory was hugely influential in the first half of the twentieth century. “Who rules East Europe,” Mackinder proclaimed at the time of the Versailles peace conference in 1919,  “commands the Heartland; Who rules the heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World.” Mackinder, like Brzezinski, was a great threat-monger about the Russians, and a big promoter of White intervention against the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Revolution. (The most readable expression of the “heartland” obsession, close relative of “the great game”  – is John Buchan’s thriller, Greenmantle.

Barack Obama, whose initial public comments to the Russian entry into South Ossetia, were relatively demure, has also felt it necessary to ratchet up his rhetoric, dutifully pinning the Hitler label on Putin. Nonetheless, his foreign policy team has murmured – far too decorously — to the press that McCain is a cold war zealot, perfectly capable of blowing up the planet.

So is the electorate ready to be pushed into McCain’s column on the grounds that he can stand up to the Russians? It could happen. As noted above, no politician here ever lost a race by overplaying  determination to face down supposed threats to national security. President Saakashvili is goading McCain to put his money where his mouth is and McCain is well on his way towards re-fighting the Cold War. Let’s see how that plays with the electorate in October.

Obama is certainly having a bad month, eerily reminiscent of John Kerry’s bad summer four years ago. As McCain seizes headlines with ringing calls to stand by plucky little Georgia, Obama is captured on videotape trying to surf in Hawai’I and being tossed about in the waves. I imagine the Republicans will not be reluctant to run this footage in campaign ads in a few weeks. Meanwhile Obama has meekly surrendered his Convention to the Clintons.

For the moment, a big slice of the US electorate is glued to the TV, watching the Olympics. Their mind is not on Russia, but on China. They couldn’t care less about Georgia or South Ossetia. As for the Bush administration, it is too late to be playing some complicated piece of poker along Brzezinskian lines. Back in May, so Ha’aretz is now reporting, the US specifically warned Israel not to attack Iran and denied that country weapons and equipment it might use for such an enterprise. Bush doesn’t necessarily want to go out in a blaze of guns.

Countdown to Loofah Day

Whereas millions of Americans despise Bill  O’Reilly as a loathsome polluter of the airwaves, fanning ignorance and hatred with every word he utters,

Whereas no opportunity should be missed to expose this contemptible scoundrel to ridicule,

Whereas at 11.06 pm on September 1, 2004   the above-mentioned O’Reilly made a lewd phone call to his Fox producer Andrea Mackris, depicting a prospective sexual encounter between the two of them in which  “You would basically be in the shower and then I would come in and I’d join you and you would have your back to me and I would take the little loofa thing… and kinda’ soap your back … and I would put it around front, kinda’ rub your tummy with it and then with my other hand I would start to massage your boobs, get your nipples really hard… ‘cuz I like that and you have really spectacular boobs….I’d be rubbing your big boobs and getting your nipples really hard, kinda kissing your neck from behind… and then the other hand with the felafel thing”….

Whereas this conversation was recorded by Ms Mackriss and subsequently exposed to public scrutiny in court documents,

Whereas this engendered mirth among the millions of O’Reilly haters and much satisfaction at his humiliation,

Be it proclaimed that September 1, 2008 will be recognized as Loofah Day and citizens should honor it by proceeding at noon to the nearest Fox studio with a loofah and, standing outside the Fox studio, brandish said loofahs in mirthfull derision of O’Reilly.

Footnote: Many  CounterPunchers may have missed O’Reilly’s recent show, where Fox’s blusterbuss, denouncing Edwards’ payoffs,  demanded that Edwards disclose to the last penny the exact sums he disbursed to Rielle Hunter to ensure her silence.  Payoffs, Mr O’Reilly? Battered by public ridicule during the Mackris affair  O’Reilly finally  announced on his show that “to protect my family” he had settled with Ms Mackris and her lawyer Benedict Morelli, thus cutting off what millions of O’Reilly haters had hoped would be a protracted season of public humiliation for Fox’s apex bully. The settlement established that all parties agreed there had been no wrong doing and that as an earnest of good faith O’Reilly  had paid an undisclosed sum (anywhere from $2 million to $10 million if you believe the New York Daily News) to ensure Ms Mackris’ silence.

On the topic of  apex bullies, catch this disgusting comment by the great dirigible of drivel himself, Rush Limbaugh, the man the NYT honored with an awestruck profile in the Sunday Magazine. Remember that the Enquirer broke the Rush oxycontin story and Elizabeth Edwards pointedly asked how Rush got his draft deferments.

Limbaugh: “I’ve got a theory about the motivations. Well, I don’t know that I could — I don’t know that I can put this one on the air…We know — we’ve been told that Elizabeth Edwards is smarter than John Edwards. That’s part of the puff pieces on them that we’ve seen. Ergo, if Elizabeth Edwards is smarter than John Edwards, is it likely that she thinks she knows better than he does what his speeches ought to contain and what kind of things he ought to be doing strategy-wise in the campaign? If she is smarter than he is, could it have been her decision to keep going with the campaign? In other words, could it be that she doesn’t shut up? Now, that’s as far as I’m going to go…It just seems to me that Edwards might be attracted to a woman whose mouth did something other than talk…my theory that I just explained to you about why — you know, what could have John Edwards’ motivations been to have the affair with Rielle Hunter, given his wife is smarter than he is and probably nagging him a lot about doing this, and he found somebody that did something with her mouth other than talk.”

Remembering George Best

Frank Bardacke reminds me of a wonderful remark by the late great soccer player George Best.  At a late stage in his career Best, penniless, came to the US to regain his financial balance by playing in the American Soccer League. A reporter from the San Jose Mercury News asked him what had happened to all his money.

Best: “I spent it on booze, fast cars and loose women. The rest of it I squandered.”
Al Gore for Veep?

It can’t be! Surely not. But commentators have noted something odd, namely Gore’s invisibility on the speaking schedule at the upcoming Democratic Convention in Denver. Will the bloat prince of hot air be installed as Obama’s running mate? The only plus would be that it would take the splotlight off the Clintons.

Buy, buy, buy!

Those who want a full account of O’Reilly’s loofah debacle can order, from this site, End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate – a very fine collection, edited by Jeffrey St Clair and yours truly.  Given the speculation about Al Gore, you can also order St Clair and Cockburn’s indispensable and very funny Al Gore, A User’s Manual. And while you are in the buying mood, don’t forget to subscribe to our exclusive newsletter. In our latest issue subscribers can read Marcus Rediker’s report of popular resistance in the comunas in Medellín, Colombia. Here at CounterPunch we greatly admire Rediker for his book The Slave Ship, also for his tremendous book written with CounterPuncher Peter Linebaugh, The Many-Headed Hydra. We’re excited to have Marcus aboard.

Not only is Russia giving NATO the finger in the Caucasus — a well-justified finger in my opinion – it is setting the legal stage for seizing a third of the capital of America’s oldest bank, the Bank of New York, a slimy institution now welded to the Mellon interests. In this latest issue of the newsletter I relate this fascinating affair.

Also in the newsletter, in a very important article, Ruth Horowitz writes fascinatingly about false confessions either volunteered for complicated psychological reasons or extorted by police interrogators by guile and fraud.

How this plays out in the U.S. justice system and how the abuses of coerced confessions can be curbed is Horowitz’s theme, starting with an appalling case, reminiscent of the “Satanic abuse” trials of the late ’80s and ’90s, where an obviously innocent immigrant, Khemwatie Bedessie, was bullied into a “confession” that has put her in prison for 25 years.

Top these treats off with a fine commentary on the EU by Serge Halimi, director of Le Monde Diplomatique.

Subscribe now and give yourself a treat.

Footnote: an earlier version of the first item runs in the First Post. ALEXANDER COCKBURN can be reached at



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Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.