On August 7, as distracted Americans were immersed in the HiDef torrent of logo-emblazoned jock-ularity and Olympic pageantry, Bush toady Mikhail Saakashvili saw his opportunity. The Georgian strongman (who ascended to power in a US-backed coup) sent his US and Israeli-trained/supplied military against the South Ossetian capital city of Tskhinvali. Bombs and heavy artillery destroyed government and university buildings.
Residents died, their homes flattened. At least ten Russian peacekeepers stationed there were killed and 30 wounded when their barracks were shelled. Reuters (08/08/08) reported South Ossetia’s president, Edward Kokoity’s estimating “About 1,400 died. We will check these figures, but the order of the numbers is around this. We have this on the basis of reports from relatives.”
“Lyudmila Ostayeva, 50, who had fled with her family… said, ‘I saw bodies lying in the streets, around ruined buildings, in cars. It’s impossible to count them now. There is hardly a building left standing.’” (Reuters)
Media consumers in the US of course, knew little of all this. Their attention was directed to China and the Olympiad’s multi-billion dollar opening extravaganza. Boss Saakashvili had counted on this misdirection, telling CNN, “Most decision makers have gone for the holidays… Brilliant moment to attack a small country.” (Reuters)
Proving that irony is far from dead, he was complaining about Russia’s response to the Georgian aggression. He relied on US media generally downplayng the initial attack and framing the story as renegade-Ruskies-at-it- again. Press accounts here carefully toed the bi-Party Line and, if the initial Georgian terror-bombing was mentioned at all, it was presented as an afterthought — mingled with photos of Georgians reportedly adversely affected by Russian pursuit of Saakashvili’s routed military.
Some gloating followed. AP quoted “Russian separatist official Russian Kishmaria [as] taunting the retreating Georgian forces, saying they had received ‘American training in running away.’”
Faced with a superior Russian contingent, even Georgian “Coalition of the Willing” legionnaires, were quickly flown back from Iraq as the blitz to “restore constitutional order” in South Ossetia against the wishes and interests of the Ossetians came apart. Georgia has been gamely practicing terror in Iraq where it ranks just behind the US and Britain in soldiers committed to the occupation. Sadly, Boss Saakashvili failed to learn the main lesson that is the basis of US foreign policy / “force projection:” Don’t start a fight with anyone that can fight back.
Since the Soviet Union dissolved the world has been portrayed as “unipolar,” with one super power spending half its discretionary budget on a gargantuan military, subverting /invading weaker countries almost at will, and proclaiming “A New World Order.” In the resultant vacuum, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine years ago argued that the US had become a “hyperpower,” noting that “in other times, great dynasties were almost always counterbalanced by other powers. Today, that’s not the case, and therefore there is this question at the center of the world’s current problems.” Vedrine diplomatically referred to the issue of US domination and “unilateralism,” undeterred by a countervailing power, already many times displayed in the Caribbean, Iraq, Yugoslavia and elsewhere.
“How do you counterbalance these tendencies when they are abusive?” Vedrine asked. (International Herald Tribune, 2/5/99)
But as the US spends its blood and treasure pursuing oil company profits in Iraq, exports its useful industry, turns the remnant of its economy over to gamers, shysters, pimps and touts, and feverishly pursues a culture of vapidity, cruelty and waste down the bung-hole of history, perhaps Russia’s limited resistance to Georgian aggression signals the stirring of something helpful.
In constructive opposition to US and US client thuggery, Russia may have done for the US population something it evidently could not or would not do for itself — attempt to demonstrate that America and its favored national goon squads are no longer free to just take whatever they want, whenever they want it, at whatever civilian and democratic cost.
The media/political establishment will howl (as they have) at the thought of any limits being placed on US military adventurism. Their consensus view has been ably stated by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman: “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the…F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicone Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.”
If sneaker makers or television manufacturers want to fire their US workers and move production to Vietnam, Korea, Haiti, Panama, Nicaragua, Yugoslavia, or Iraq, first those countries need to be pummeled / pried open by the not-so “hidden fist.” American workers are of course expected to cheer these efforts and bleed in them. It’s called being patriotic.
Without the Soviet Union’s modest restraint on US power projection and hubris, American corporate warlords have felt free to launch regular wars of aggression, bust unions, beggar workers, repeal the Bill of Rights, declare the “end of history,” and become — well — toweringly creepy. Many/ most in the US population have noticed and (if poll results are any indication) despair the redolent national thuggery. Sadly, given the structural impossibility of majority rule in this country, their only option is to gape and wait to be pulled personally into the broadening downward spiral.
Since we apparently can’t stop the slide, it must fall to others. Not long ago Vladimir Putin offered to save America from itself. He declared this savage new “unipolar world” with “one centre of authority, one centre of force” and one decider to be over. “This is pernicious…unacceptable…impossible,” he said.
Let’s hope for the sake of the world and ourselves, that he is right.
RICHARD RHAMES is chair of the Biddeford, Maine.