I. Whoa. 9-11 really did change everything!
I guess this is one of those "blahblahblah has changed everything" moments. Moments which don't in fact change anything, but by proclaiming they do, we grant ourselves license to flaunt the rules and norms of civil society and human decency, and, by acting like savage beasts on a divine mission, we do end up changing everything. Or enough of it that all the important stuff is totally FUBAR. And the need to fix the totally FUBAR situation(s) gives rise to a new wave of "everything has changed" moments. One vicious circle of creative destruction. And such is the history of mankind, my friends. History: fun and educational when it exists in picture books and stock footage documentaries. Not when you are in the midst of it. This is one arena in which the method of "learn by doing" is not recommended. Barack. This is why little children are made to attend history class and why God invented Ken Burns. You need to know all of the reasons Russia might have to want to attack you before they hop into their tanks. Because Russians in tanks make it very very difficult for anyone to concentrate on anything else. Just look at the BBC. How is the Euro faring in the current economy? "OMG. OMG. Russian tanks have just rolled by our SUV." What is the medal count at the Olympics? "Breaking News! Breaking News! Russian tanks have just entered Gori. What is going on? Someone tell us what is going on!" Why are those people in South Ossetia crying? "Gah! Russian bombers are chasing us over a mountain! Help!"
We will have the rest of human history to debate and decide if Russia started this war. But I state with absolute confidence right now that Russia is to blame for whatever insanity happens next. They should know better. You don't just take a country hell bent on war, in the midst of economic strife and desperation, a nation which, on a good day, is inclined to give little import to rational thought and long term planning, and show it pictures of Russian tanks. You might as well go around to all of the prisons and mental hospitals and arm everyone with assault weapons and tell them, "You know. I could kill you right now if I wanted to." Damn it. Someone is going to get hurt.
Then again, nuclear annihilation would spare us all the long, hot, slow painful deaths by Global Warming.
Some Odds & Ends, huh? The scenario of Russia taking over the world is only funny when the scenario of Russia taking over the world is not being used by US politicians looking for votes and cash. Unlike Russia, America doesn't wait around for good excuses to start dropping bombs. And unlike Russia, we're on a massive losing streak. I for one welcome our new alien overlords, but it's a personal opinion, and one not shared widely outside Russia and South Ossetia. Plus, regardless of the nearly infinite benefits of Russian hegemony, I'm none too fond of the "killing people to achieve it" bit. I have enough trouble sleeping at night knowing my own government is busy inventing new ways to destroy my life. I don't need Russians looking to teach us a lesson hanging over my head.
Speaking of trouble sleeping: The annual "Air and Water Military Industrial Complex Show" is going on right now. I sure hope there are no BBC reporters in Chicago. If someone gets on the TV and tells you Russia is invading Naperville, just ignore them, ok?
Bah! You've heard this one before. Whatever. I'll tell it again. When I was in the 5th grade in 1985, a boy in my class asked the teacher when we would go to war with Russia. She said we were not going to go to war with Russia. That they'd been saying that since she was a kid, and it never happened. And it is not going to happen now. I knew it. Then she showed the class a film of a day in the life of a Russian schoolchild, which confirmed my long held suspicion that they did not have pointy tails and horns. Probably in past week Sting is back to wondering if Russians love their children too (you so obviously didn't see Nastia and Valeri Liukin), but I'm left to wonder if U.S. classrooms have enough Mrs. Schoeberle's in them in 2008... I gather myself. There is not going to be a new cold war with Russia. There is not going to be any American war with Russia. They've been saying that since I was a kid, and it didn't happen then. And it is not going to happen now. Perish the thought that, well, yeah, but back then we had the sober and constructive foreign policy of Ronald Reagan.
The very fact such a thought could enter my mind proves anything is possible, doesn't it? Usually the credo of optimists, these words fail to comfort me.
You know - I really don't think that Russia and the regime of Vladimir Putin/that other guy who is the "President" is operating under the guiding principles of an imperialist ideology. Don't ask me under what the guiding principles the American government is operating. Unless a profound absence of principles is a principle itself. Nor do I Russia is so emboldened, so drunk on power, so immune to consequence (er, yet...), that we are about to witness a live reenactment of the establishment of the Soviet Union. They are really good at diplomacy with non-delusional types who are not shooting at them. Up until now, they've done a good job of getting what they need before they have to mow your country down.
In a recent press conference in Georgia with Saakashvili, Condoleeza Rice said, "This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia." She said it like she'd just been passed a memo. "Bin Laden determined to attack in U.S." "This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia." Like it were grave, breaking news she was stubbornly determined to ignore. I don't even think her "Russia expertise" (how's that working out for you, Condi?) extends much beyond 1968 anyway. Oh, and I totally did not notice how " 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia" was just like those creepy FYI's Republicans use to win elections. "Hi, Mr. Smith. We're just calling to tell you Barack Obama is not a disciple of Osama bin Laden. He does not have a bastard love child with a transgendered Burmese lover who has been committing genocide in the Sudan. He did not have Tim Russert killed. Thanks! Have a nice day!" "This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia." Don't think of an elephant. Whatever you do.
Rice didn't say this wasn't 1938 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, though, did she? Nor did she mention anything about 2003 and Iraq.
III. Filed under: You have reasons to be concerned, and not just in your paranoid imagination.
There will not be war between Russia and America, of course. It's probably moronic and irresponsible to even speak in such terms. A fog has descended and it is impossible to know what lies ahead for us, but certainly we must progress with slow, measured steps. Saber rattling and mass hysterics and fear mongering cannot be helpful at this moment. So I am going to just ignore the following items.
Mark Ames, who has been making laughing stocks of irresponsible opportunists behind books with the title, The New Cold War and who calmly explained to us that the hype about a new cold war was just a business deal gone sour, nothing to see here, boys and girls, move along, has just written a little article called,
"The war we don't know."
When even Ames stops acting like a know-it-all, your blood should run cold. But just ignore it.
These two guiding concepts for international relations-national sovereignty and the right to self-determination-are locked in a zero-sum battle in Georgia. Sometimes, the West takes the side of national sovereignty, as it is in the current war; other times, it sides with self-determination and redrawing of national borders, such as with Kosovo.
In that 1999 war, the United States led a nearly three-month bombing campaign of Serbia in order to rescue a beleaguered minority, the Albanians, and carve out a new nation. Self-determination trumped national sovereignty, over the objections of Russia, China and numerous other countries.
Why, Russians and Ossetians (not to mention separatist Abkhazians in Georgia's western region) ask, should the same principle not be applied to them?
The answer is clear: because we say so. That sort of logic, in an era of colossal American decline and simultaneous Russian resurgence, no longer works on the field.
But sadly, this news hasn't been conveyed to neocon hawks like Robert Kagan or to John McCain, who seem to still be living in 2002, when American military power was seen as the answer to all the world's problems. There is even evidence to suggest that America encouraged Saakashvili to think he could solve this conflict by war. Ever since 2002, when American Green Berets dropped into Georgia to train its troops against phantom Al Qaeda cells, the Bush Administration has drawn the former Soviet nation closer into what appeared to be a military alliance, culminating in Georgia's 2,000-man contribution to the Iraq coalition forces (the third-largest contingent), and American joint training exercises in July, just a few weeks before Georgia's blitzkrieg attack on South Ossetia. In the UN, Russian attempts in the early hours of the war to pass a resolution calling for a cease-fire were shot down by American and British diplomats, who objected to the clause calling on both sides to "renounce violence"-exactly Saakashvili's position.
The question we must ask is: Are we willing to risk war, including nuclear holocaust, in order to fulfill the aspirations of Mikhail Saakashvili? While Bush and McCain speak of Saakashvili as if he's a combination of Thomas Jefferson and Nelson Mandela, he's seen by his own people as increasingly authoritarian and unbalanced. Last year, Saakashvili sent in his special forces to violently disperse opposition protesters in the capital city, followed by a declaration of martial law. He sacked the opposition television station (partly owned by Rupert Murdoch), exiled or jailed his political opponents, and stacked the courts with his own judges while removing neutral observers, leaving even onetime neocon cheerleaders like Bruce Jackson and Anne Applebaum feeling queasy. Hardly the image of the "small democratic nation" that everyone today touts.
Also ignore all mentions of nuclear holocaust.
And of a new world order:
Georgia's (still) President Mikhail Saakashvili threw the dice and lost everything. His blind ambition to return South Ossetia to Tbilisi's control through force has resulted in an unmitigated defeat for Georgia's sovereignty. The world needs to take note and it signals things to come.
South Ossetia is a small and poor place. Who would have thought that it would herald the start of a new world order? But it has in ways almost no one could have imagined.
Saakashvili's crazed mission to capture South Ossetia through war ends a paradigm - what is called the post-Cold era. Russia, for the first time as a new and very different state, used force beyond its borders since 1991. It did it in the name of protecting Russian citizens and defending internationally recognised peacekeepers. And both are justified - the West does the same. The world would be advised to get used to this as other ethnic Russians appeal for help beyond Russia's borders.
End of paradigm. Get used to it. Signal of things to come. I feel better already.
I'm also going to ignore the fact that I was incredulous and believed that "New Cold War" nonsense was the absolute height of silliness. Oh, it is extremely entertaining and a great excuse to put on your "Hits of the 80's." If I actually owned a tape player, I'd be jumping on my bed listening to "99 Red Balloons" right now. But come on people! That's not a political strategy! That's childhood nostalgia. Why, you'd have to be morons to base international policy it! And all of the anti-Russia rhetoric in the media, it is just for ratings, right? We have to have someone to hate, and it's considered declasse to bait Muslims right now, since we got caught torturing them and everything. Or else, it it just more of the standard ignorance and incompetence bred in J-schools throughout the English speaking world. It is not really black propaganda, right? I mean, look at our leaders: who could exemplify the ideal of "Bromance" more than George Bush and Vladimir Putin? New Cold War? Pshaw! So I'm just going to deflect attention away from my misplaced optimism and faith that reason prevails.
I'm also not going to read anything into the fact that the peace/nuclear disarmament movement is so incredibly defunct and impotent that even the Hapsburg dynasty has better odds at making a successful comeback. And how, between the Dr. Strangeloves and Rapturists penning US policy, the possibility is dim that anyone in the room is interrupting to say, "Uhm, so, maybe war with Russia would be bad. You know. Unnecessary. Poor long term thinking. Even if it were just served cold. Aw heck, who are we kidding. You cowboys probably think "cold war" is an oxymoron! Hahaha. uh. Yeah. Anyway. Just wanted to ... ya know ... add my few cents. I have grandchildren, is all... Ok. I'll shut up now. Ahem." If we really thought Russia were baaack, you know, in the "You and your little dog too!" way, why is no one trying to talk them down? As Colman wrote, The Ruskies are back. Praise the Lord! Indeed there seems to be an explicit desire for this confrontation. The American commentariat are not on a soapboxes with pleas for peace and cooperation and mutual respect, but breaking out in a cold sweat at the resurrection of this bitter feud . For our journalists, war is not a profoundly sad consequence of selfish and arbitrary decision-making and planning. It's S&M with maps. Sick.
IV. The 2nd casualty of war.
The first are the lives sacrificed for the gain of others. Truth? If we had enough respect for it during peacetime, there would be no war. People only bother looking for the truth once the bombs have been dropped. Truth is a casualty of intellectual laziness, not war. The second casualty is sanity. War wracks us with grief for the suffering and loss of our fellow man. War enrages us at the sheer absence of civility and humanity. War inundates us with more information than we can process, information meant to overpower not inform us, a different kind of weapon. How can people remain sane and objective? How can they concentrate and think clearly? I can laugh at Saak munching on his tie, but if I had one, I would have eaten it too. And I'm just a spectator to this. It frightens me that important decisions are made amidst such widespread panic and confusion and heightened emotions. How does Putin not lose it such times? (Bush never had it to lose, and Saak lost it.) Is it the daily swims, or all that KGB psychological training? People have said the Kremlin overreacted. I suspect most of us would have been in less control in a similar situation. We're human. We kick the machines that eat our change. Anyway, I hope he keeps up the swimming or martial arts or whatever keeps him from invading Ukraine out of sheer vengeance. Because despite what I read in the papers, he appears to be the least rash of all the maniacs that have collectively contributed to this situation.
I recently saw the movie, Aleksandra, which takes place in a Russian army base in Chechnya. In one scene, a Russian grandmother is being escorted home by a Chechen boy, who tells her the thing he wished for most is his freedom. Freedom from the Russians. She says, if only it were so simple. Then she tells him this little parable, about being able to ask God for one thing, what would it be? The correct answer is Reason. Strength comes from reason, not guns, she says.
I've been thinking about that a lot lately.
V. An argument only a godless heathen like me could ever make...
It occurs to me that while the rhetoric and effect may be eerily similar to the previous Cold War, the actual grievances of the sequel seem to have deviated from the official script. Well, this is certainly not about Democracy and Communism anymore, since nether party can claim to be a paragon of either ideology. This isn't even about Imperialism v. Sovereignty. The way America jet sets about the globe invading sovereign nations, Poland and Georgia should be happy Russia is their enemy. Otherwise we'd attack them. Just because we can. Unlike Russia, we don't wait for reasons; we make 'em up. It's too bad. I enjoy a good battle of ideas. It's my idea of a good time. Ideas armed with militaries is not so brilliant, but I enjoy watching the full-contact wrestling matches. (Considering the respective sports of Putin -judo- and Cheney -letting birds out of a cage and shooting at everything in a 10 mile radius- it is a good thing we have term limits AND not governmental post of Prime Minister...) It's not even simply about world domination and personal profit. Those explain the actions of the interested parties, but hardly the popular hysteria this Caucasus crisis has unleashed in America. How does one explain that? On what grounds do our people so eagerly embrace the narrative of Russia as the enemy? What makes it so easy for people to ignore, even gamble away the gains of the last 20 years?
Timothy Post recently hypothesized that Russophobia was a relic of the "godless Russians" associated with the Communism, and Right-wing Christianity was at its roots.
Ok, we did face off for 70 years in a Cold War and so it's only to be expected that people would have some lingering resentments and mistrust. But this historic "hang-over" doesn't really explain the deep dislike of Russia, and in particular the Putin government, on the part of a significant group of the American Right.
Listen to John McCain or Dick Chaney. Listen to the American Ambassador to the United Nations. There's a fundamental distrust and dislike of Russia. Now matter what Russia does or says, it's the "bad guy."
So back to Craig Pirrong. He wrote:
"...It is this fundamental philosophical and moral divide between the
classical liberal views I espouse, and the anti-liberal views of the
Putinists, that explains my intense antipathy for the current Russian
government and state, and which is the wellspring of my trenchant
criticism. It is not a divide that can be bridged, as these are
antithetical conceptions of the roles of the individual and the state...."
After reading this passage I had a heated debate with an American friend of mine who became incensed when I questioned his interpretation of these "classical liberal views" (he used the word "ideals"). Read the last sentence by Professor Pirrong above. "...not a divide that can be bridged..." That's what my friend said too. Basically, if you don't accept their interpretation of these ideals/values you are a "heretic" and the conversion is finished. End of story. Done.
Huh? I was a bit confused by this semi-Religious approach to foreign policy debate. But maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised after 7 years of Bush's foreign policy.
So I did a little research. I "Googled" the terms "American Christian Fundementalists Russia" and the 2nd link was a review of a book by Esther Kaplan called 'With God on Their Side' I thought to myself, can the divide in American foreign policy really by broken down into 2 camps, Secularists and Fundamentalists? Of course not. Not all people fall into those two ends of the spectrum. However, it does seem to me that much of the reaction to Russia from the far Right in Washington can be explained by the fact the Russia is perceived as a God-less society.
I originally dismissed this on the basis that some of my best non-religious friends share that "intense antipathy for the current Russian
government and state," and because a lot of Russians are Christians. Yet, attempting to grasp the logic behind the way Russia has been singled out as the new Public Enemy #1, I note a disturbing pattern of condemnation couched in creepy religo-thinking. Examples below:
~ "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."
In what circumstances would it be acceptable for Russia to use force? In what circumstances would it be acceptable for Russia to assert itself? It is ok for anyone to poke, prod, encircle, provoke, badger and torment Russia. It is never ok for Russia to respond to anything out of frustration, anger, punishment or, it seems to me, even self-defense. While we get to play by rules be judged by standards for humans, when Russia is not acting like Christ, they are acting like the Devil. Being complex and human is not an option we grant them.
~ "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."
In what circumstances do we judge Russia on the merit of the actions in question and not on past history? Yes, we understand Georgia ignited this particular incident. But Russia is hardly innocent either. Russia's done all kinds of bad things. While we get to play by rules of right and wrong, when Russia enters the scene, there is always enough blame to go around to implicate them as guilty party. Because Russia is never innocent, Russia should never be meting out punishments for Georgia. Acknowledgement of and repercussion for actions committed against Russia is not an option we grant them.
~ "You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth."
Putin is a bad person, an authoritarian who will kill or imprison anyone who gets in this way. He is a murderous thug. The fact that he is in fact rather popular among his own people is not seen as a sign that he has done anything right, anything beneficial. It's a symbol of his implicit creepiness. In whacked out Puritan American logic, Popularity=Idolatry=Anti-Christ. You saw the McCain ad. They apply the same symbolism to Obama. Of course, being crazy popular, esp. among teens, doesn't implicitly mean you are on the side of good. But it doesn't implicitly mean you are the devil, either. (See: Rock music.)
~ Manifest Destiny/City Upon a Hill.
America does not need to justify its actions. America is good. America is blessed by God. Therefore, whatever America does is good and blessed by God. Furthermore, anyone who interferes with our mission, must, by default, be bad and playing for Team Devil. What Russia did this week was not wrong because innocent lives were lost. It was wrong because Georgia is our ally. Georgia is on our team. If you're playing against them, you are playing against God. So you are bad. Period. Any 2 year old can understand that.
~ Invoking Communism/Soviet Union.
Nothing new here. Except, uhm, the little fact everyone seems to be overlooking, which is that Russia is neither Communist or Soviet. But they are authoritarian. But they are throwing their weight around. But they are curbing civil liberties. But they are sad about the end of the Soviet Union. Close enough. Oh, except for the other fact: they are not an atheist State anymore. Orthodoxy is making a comeback. Which we would have to acknowledge if we bothered to list off the ways in which Russia were and were not neo-Soviet. So, er, instead, let's skip that. We decide if you are godless. Real Christians love America. Heretics.
~ Witch hunts and Inquisitions.
Confirmation bias reaches a fever pitch. We decide up front Russia are heathens hell bent on destroying us. Witches. Then we wait for them to do do something witchy. Soviet-y. When they go about their business behaving relatively non-witchy/Soviety-like, we test their patience until they break. The litmus test of training and arming a small neighbor and getting the small neighbor to fire at them to prove Russia is dangerous is just the type of rationale the inquisitors of days past would have appreciated. Then when they lash out, Oh! Look! See? Told ya! Witches! Soviets! The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming! Well, I guess we needed those missile shields and NATO encirclement after all. Nothing like inciting a bit of hysteria to justify your need to lay down the law and incriminate those who are unhelpful. Nothing like a bit of religious semantics to incite hysteria.
Just in case someone hasn't gotten the message by now that Russia is evil by design, it is always helpful to bust out the photoshop to illustrate your point. Or, heck, just say what you mean. Vladimir Putin is the Devil.
For some reason, metaphysical conceit seems to be the only way the talking heads in this country can understand anything. Opiate of the masses, perhaps, but methamphetamine of the punditry. And it doesn't matter how shockingly hypocritical it all is. In a battle of ideas, hypocrisy is a fault. In religious terms, we are all sinners. Hypocrisy is not just acceptable, it is downright obligatory.
Oh, I know that the first Cold War was more a struggle of world powers than beautiful ideas. But ideas were the currency used. And even though the ideas were armed with nukes, they still had a seat at the table. There was always the possibility that reason could prevail. Religion, blind faith, armed with nukes, however, offers no such peace of mind. Of course, it's no guarantee that we will all perish in one magnificent mushroom cloud of glory. Leaving a loaded gun the hall closet is no guarantee that your small child will blow his brains out. Who the hell wants to gamble it? People who are sure they are going to heaven, I guess...
I don't have the answers. I don't understand what is going on. That's fine. But I don't think the people running my country really understand what is going on either. Or they don't care because there are no consequences. For them, anyway.
I feel like a kid whose parents are on the verge of a divorce. These are the two countries who have shaped who I am today. Why can't they just fucking get along? Jesus! I just want to run into my room, slam my door shut and blast "99 Red Balloons" on my tape player. Except. I'm not a kid anymore. I don't even have a functioning cassette tape-player. I am a citizen. What am I supposed to do? What can I do? Any ideas? Let me know if you come up with something. In the meantime, I'll be in my room listening to 80s Europop and dreaming about the good old days of the first Cold War, when everything was less complicated because I was 10, because everyone thought it would be over soon, because walls were coming down instead of being built up. Because back then I had faith in people and the things we could accomplish when we worked together.