American Afflictions – Afghanistan, Iraq and a Growing Culture of Violence

A little more than a year after Barack Obama succeeded George W Bush as president, United States military hardware and troops are transferring to the Afghan theater in yet another attempt to control the insurgency. Despite the ‘surge’ that General Stanley McChrystal asked for and President Obama approved after weeks of reflection, militants on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border continue to defy American power. High-profile military operations against the Taliban in Helmand, and more recently in Kandahar, illustrate both abilities and limitations of a superpower. This is not new. The Soviet occupation forces went through a similar experience during their occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Like the Soviets, the Americans are increasingly finding that it is possible to wrest control of specific areas, but only as long as their troops are in occupation of those areas. As they move on for other operations, the insurgents make a come back.

There are similarities between the recent American surge approved by President Obama and the increase in the Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan after Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the USSR in 1985. Early on, Gorbachev had decided to bring his troops home following a costly war in Afghanistan. But he also ordered reinforcements similar in size to the American surge now. Ostensibly, it was to give the Soviet armed forces one last chance to win the Afghan war, but more realistically because before a planned withdrawal, the Soviet Union needed to reinforce. Troops being withdrawn have to partially disarm. The heavy equipment to be transported cannot be operational at the same time. Soldiers moving out carry light arms for self-defense, not heavy lethal weapons for attack. At the same time, the surge of more mobile units is intended to warn the enemy of more trouble coming.

President Obama has already announced that American troops will begin to leave Afghanistan by the middle of 2011. My recent visit to South Asia reinforced this impression. Obama is smart enough to know history and its lessons. He has disappointed many of his liberal supporters who had expected much more from him. But there is not much doubt that he would like to withdraw from Afghanistan. Re-election in 2012 would depend on it to a considerable degree, along with the economy. The wreckage of military ventures abroad and economic collapse at home left by the preceding administration must be prominent on Obama’s mind. What Obama will achieve is by no means certain. But there are lessons to be learned from the past.

The presidency of George W Bush was rooted in a manifesto we know as the Project for the New American Century. The project was born in reaction to the Clinton presidency in the post-Cold War decade of the 1990s. The alliance of neoconservatives and the Christian Right provided George W Bush with core support. Above all, the Bush presidency will be remembered for America’s foreign military ventures in the shape of three wars: the Afghan war, the Iraq war, and a third war, borderless and timeless – the ‘global war on terror’.

The events of 9/11 posed an unprecedented security challenge. The most important questions in Washington at the time should have been: Where to start and where to stop? What should be the scale and proportion of America’s response? However, such considerations were absent as the talk of a ‘long war’ or ‘generational war’ illustrated, certainly in the first term of President Bush.

The record of great powers fighting long or generational wars against insurgents is not good. The United States learned this in Vietnam. The Soviet Union did so in Afghanistan. A long war suits insurgent forces deeply embedded in the locale and culture of the theater. They enjoy considerable support in the battleground. Denial of this reality is often fatal. A United States president has numerous issues to deal with. But the overwhelming weight of events of the last decade leads to the conclusion that the Bush presidency was all about war. The foreign ventures he embarked on within months of inauguration eclipsed everything else during his presidency. It is therefore appropriate to evaluate the Bush presidency’s legacy in terms of the ‘war on terrorism’.

The objective of the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 was regime change. There has been a long debate about the true objective of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq: weapons of mass destruction or regime change. Time and events seem to have settled that debate. It was claimed that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons that could be activated within 45 minutes. Such weapons were not found. A lot more about the considerations and deliberations between Washington and London, and in each capital, has come to light. We know more about the private communication between President Bush and the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the run up to the Iraq invasion – communication that other significant figures who should have been made aware of did not know. And we have learned from Tony Blair that even with knowledge of there being no weapons of mass destruction, he would have employed other arguments to remove Saddam Hussein.

Much has been said about mistakes being made in Afghanistan and, more specifically, Iraq. The biggest error of judgment was that two very different countries were given the same treatment of military power. In doing do, the intervenors appeared to act with vengeance more than a planned strategy. Otherwise, why would Afghanistan – an utterly failed state – be subjected to sustained destructive air power and left without a serious attempt at rebuilding for so long. And the primary intervenor moved on to Iraq to dismantle a well-organized state structure, after the dictator had been overthrown. By treating Afghanistan and Iraq in the same way, the intervenors did the opposite of what was needed in each country.

To view al Qaeda and the various nationalist movements in the Arab world as one ‘enemy’ in the ‘war on terror’ was an historic miscalculation. The determination under the Bush presidency to crush nationalism in the Muslim world exacted a high price from the West. But countries in the region paid, and continue to pay, a price even greater. Al Qaeda’s terrorist violence has been answered by the terror of American military power. Differing agendas of regional powers became fused with America’s aims in the ‘war on terror’. The impact was huge across the region, producing anger, resentment and outright rebellion in the wider populace.

In a country without national infrastructure, or where infrastructure is destroyed, there will be certain consequences. The essence of the state’s role is maintaining order. It does so by means of coercion, taxation and distribution. In a country such as Afghanistan, self, family, clan, tribe and ethnic group acquire much greater significance. In a failed or weak state, other agencies – a village elder, tribal chief or warlord – replace the state. They command popular following, because they make things happen.

In Iraq, two early decisions by the American administrator Paul Bremer after the 2003 invasion triggered a multi-layered conflict. By Order Number 1 of May 16, Bremer dissolved the Ba’ath Party. In an article in Le Monde diplomatique, the British academic Toby Dodge described the Iraqi population a month after the arrival of the US forces as dominated by a Hobbesian nightmare. Dodge estimated that between 20000 and 120000 senior and middle-ranking Iraqi officials lost their jobs in the civil service purge alone. They would have constituted the very force capable of restoring order amid chaos and violence. Dodge wrote that 17 of Baghdad’s 23 ministries were completely gutted, stripped of all portable items like computers, furniture and fittings – all within three weeks. There were not enough American troops to stop it.

Bremer’s Order Number 2 dismantled the most important state institutions and subordinates such as government ministries, Iraqi military and paramilitary organizations, the National Assembly, courts and emergency forces. To be prepared with alternatives to take over the functions of these organizations was essential in a country of 30 million people. Bremer’s two edicts left a vacuum that was rapidly filled by new violent players.

I want to offer a brief explanation of the nature of the other conflict – Afghan war – since the 1970s. It also applies to an extent to Iraq. Afghanistan has striking parallels with other conflicts in Palestine, Yemen and elsewhere. These conflicts can be seen in four separate yet overlapping, often simultaneous stages. This is how.

Stage 1: internal conflict. In Afghanistan, internal conflict is a fact of history. For simplicity, let’s begin from the ‘decade of liberalism and modernization’ in the 1960s. The conflict escalated after the overthrow of the monarchy in 1973 – and again after the 1978 coup by young Soviet-oriented military officers, who feared that President Daud was taking the country too close to the United States.

Stage 2: increase in great power involvement. External intervention fuels the unrest, and upsets the balance of forces locally. This, in turn, attracts more external forces, until they begin to dictate the scale and course of events. But their unacceptability among local players, and active resistance by local groups, hinder the creation and functioning of institutions.

Stage 3: state disintegration. In Afghanistan, the death of the state was slow, taking more than two decades. In Iraq, too, considering the effects of sanctions and isolation, we are talking about more than a decade. After Saddam Hussein’s overthrow, the final blow came relatively quickly.

Stage 4: foreign indifference and rise of extremism. I have in mind the decade of the 1990s and the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Soviet state had been defeated and had disintegrated. For the United States, exhausted and occupied with the urgency to manage the wreckage of the Soviet Union, most importantly its nuclear arsenal, Afghanistan was simply not a priority.

There is a general lesson to be learned. A prolonged war leads to fatigue and indifference among external intervenors. A culture of violence matures. Expectations on all sides are altered and violence becomes a way of life. Actors left behind acquire a habit of using coercion. And citizens come to expect solutions to be found through violence. That few intervening powers grasp this lesson is a tragedy.

We have at present a mix of the McChrystal plan of military surge and counterinsurgency and President Obama’s wish to start drawing down the combat forces in mid-2011. His wish is driven by the 2012 presidential election in America. And it is dependent upon recruitment, training and ultimately guaranteed discipline of a 300000-strong Afghan national force.

However, history shows that integrity in the Afghan armed forces is difficult to achieve. Tribal realities among Pashtun officers and rank-and-file soldiers – and distrust for Pashtuns among non-Pashtuns – cannot be wished away. It would require a generation to transform the culture of the armed forces and the country even if the United States and allies had the will. In the absence of that will, I have some fears. They are –

1. As soon as President Obama begins to draw down the combat forces in mid-2011, altering the balance of power, or that prospect is near, dramatic shifts of loyalties will occur in the Afghan armed forces. This has happened before and could happen again.

2. The Karzai government cannot survive if the military disintegrates along tribal and ethnic lines. The Afghan armed forces and police lack cohesion already.

3. Afghanistan has weapons in abundance. Guns poured into the country, with the best possible intention of equipping the military, would fall into the wrong hands. And I am not even talking about increased activity by Pakistan’s ISI and other regional players.

All these are ingredients of a state of nature again.

The answer is a long-term regional project, led but not dictated by the United States, involving Iran, Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China and India; and a deliberate policy of demilitarization, however difficult and painful. Internally, a type of tribal democracy, certainly outside Kabul and other main cities, is what is realistic to hope for.

But the current state of America’s relations with China, Iran and Russia does not favor such a prospect. Tensions have grown with Pakistan and Turkey. And I know there is uncertainty, if not outright unhappiness, over the Obama administration’s policies elsewhere in the region. This makes cooperation much more difficult. The current strategy in Afghanistan lays too much emphasis on military tactics. And it does not appreciate nearly enough how objectionable, how provocative, foreign military presence is to Afghans. The sentiment goes beyond the Taliban.

Ref: Counterpunch

Deepak Tripathi is the author of two forthcoming books – Overcoming the Bush Legacy in Iraq and Afghanistan and Breeding Ground: Afghanistan and the Origins of Islamist Terrorism (Potomac, 2010). His works can be found on http://deepaktripathi.wordpress.com and he can be reached at: DandATripathi@gmail.com.

The demise of the dollar- Business Oil’s dollar pricing ‘under review’

The demise of the dollar

In a graphic illustration of the new world order, Arab states have launched secret moves with China, Russia and France to stop using the US currency for oil trading. In the most profound financial change in recent Middle East history, Gulf Arabs are planning – along with China, Russia, Japan and France – to end dollar dealings for oil, moving instead to a basket of currencies including the Japanese yen and Chinese yuan, the euro, gold and a new, unified currency planned for nations in the Gulf Co-operation Council, including Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Qatar.

Secret meetings have already been held by finance ministers and central bank governors in Russia, China, Japan and Brazil to work on the scheme, which will mean that oil will no longer be priced in dollars.

The plans, confirmed to The Independent by both Gulf Arab and Chinese banking sources in Hong Kong, may help to explain the sudden rise in gold prices, but it also augurs an extraordinary transition from dollar markets within nine years.

Read the rest of the article…

Ref: The Independent

American Hegemony – the timeline A must read!

The US maintains to this day over a dozen direct dependencies, the largest of which is Puerto Rico. Its military forces are active over most of the globe: at last audit about 226 countries have US military troops, 63 of which host American bases, while only 46 countries in the world have no US military presence – a projection of military power that makes the Roman, British, and Soviet empires pale in comparison. The bulk of this document will deal with what is alternatively referred to as “neo-colonialism”, “hegemony”, “proxy rule”, or “informal empire”: roughly, a system of “dual elite” political rule, in which domestic elites (the proxy) recieve backing from (are dependent on – to varying degrees) a foreign elite, and in return protect (to varying degrees) the foreign power’s interests in the country (security, economic, or domestic political interests). This is, at least, the framework within which I use the terms – as it is generally accepted by students of history. To take an explanation cited by Ariel Cohen as “One of the more successful attempts made to create a coherent theory of empires” in Russian Imperialism:

“Empire is a relationship, formal or informal, in which one state controls the effective political sovereignty of another political society. It can be achieved by force, by political collaboration, by economic, social, or cultural dependence. Imperialism is simply the process or policy of establishing or maintaining an empire.”
–Michael Doyle, Empires
As a point of reference formal American imperialism begins (or not – one would have to completely ignore the genocide of the native population, African and Native-American slavery, rapid and continuous expansion of the national borders through war, rapid and continuous expansion of mercantilism through war and the threat of war, the ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples, the mid 1800s mercantilist state established in Nicaragua, etc.) with the aquisition of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Phillipines after the Spanish-American War of 1898. It’s a good point to remember how that war started: part hoax, part sensationalized, war mongering “journalism”, and of course much talk about the brutality of the enemy and the necessity of our intervention on behalf of the suffering – in this case on behalf of the Cubans and their savage treatment at the hands of the tyrannical Spaniards: much better for them to suffer at our hands.

Old habits die hard.

For the sake of what has become a very very poor attempt at brevity, or in recognition of the precedent set by the Nuremberg Tribunal and principles laid out under the UN charter, these notes will mostly focus on post-WWII history – though it would seem imperative to include interventions that fly in the face of the popular misconception that the United States ended its imperial project at the end of the Spanish-American war. There were military involvements during the 1890s by the USG in Argentina, Chile, Haiti, Hawaii, Nicaragua, China, Korea, Panama, Samoa, in extremely brutal labour conflicts within the nation, and something akin to a war on working Americans waged by the National Association of Manufacturers that will otherwise go undiscussed. The Phillipines makes a decent representative example of the US’ first official exercise in colonial imperialism and formal empire [*], also referred to as “civilizational imperialism” – a project we’re presently repeating.

“Lest this seem to be the bellicose pipedream of some dyspeptic desk soldier, let us remember that the military deal of our country has never been defensive warfare. Since the Revolution, only the United Kingdom has beaten our record for square miles of territory acquired by military conquest. Our exploits against the American Indian, against the Filipinos, the Mexicans, and against Spain are on a par with the campaigns of Genghis Khan, the Japanese in Manchuria and the African attack of Mussolini. No country has ever declared war on us before we first obliged them with that gesture. Our whole history shows we have never fought a defensive war. And at the rate our armed forces are being implemented at present, the odds are against our fighting one in the near future.”
–Major General Smedley D. Butler, America’s Armed Forces: ‘In Time of Peace’, 1935.


1898-1914: The Phillipines
1903-1936: Panama
1904-1978: Dominican Republic
1915-1934: Haiti
1912-1979: Nicaragua
1917-1920: Russian Civil War
1932-1972: The Tuskegee Syphilis Study
1936-1958: America
1940: The McCollum Memo.
1942-1945: Japanese-American internment.
1945-1974: Greece.
1945-1960s: China. Tibet. Taiwan.
1945-1952: South Korean Occupation, Cheju Island, the Korean War
1945-1994: Vietnam: “Remember! Only you can prevent forests.”
1945-Present: Projection of American Nuclear Power
1946-1954: Phillipines
1946-1996: Marshall Islands.
1949-1961: Burma
1948-1976: Italy.
1948-1956: Peru
1949: Syria
1949-1953: Ukraine
1949-1976: Thailand
1950-?: Congress for Cultural Freedom/International Association for Cultural Freedom
1950: Puerto Rico
1950s-1970s: United States
1950-1975: Spain
1952-1959: Cuba
1952-1992: South Korea
1953: Costa Rica
1953-1979: Iran
1950-1952: Albania
1950-1952: Poland
1950s: Japan
1953: Segue: explosion of the first Russian hydrogen bomb; Destalinization begins; the McCarthy Era
1953-1996: Guatemala
1954-1965: Pakistan
1955-1958: Indonesia – Operation HAIK
1956-1976: Jordan
957-1975: Laos.
1957-1986: Haiti
1957: Syria
1958-1973: Cambodia
1958: Lebanon
1959: Iraq
1959-Present: Cuba
1960-1963: Ecuador
1960-Present: Congo
1961-Present: Diego Garcia
1962: Brazil
1962-Present: Guyana
1962-1975: Paraguay
1962-1977: Chile
1962-1989: South Africa
1962-1979: The Enemy of Communists are Islamic Fundamentalists are Our Kind of Bastards
1963-1979: Iraq *
1964: Brazil
1964: Panama
1963-1994: Malawi
1964-1971: Uruguay
1965-1987: Phillipines – the Democratizing Virtues of “Constitutional Authoritarianism”
1965: Indonesia.
1966-1967: Guatemala
1966: Ghana
1967: Bolivia; Assassination of Ernesto Guevara
1967: Detroit, Michigan
1968: El Salvador
1968-2000: Peru
1970s: Mexico
1971: Pakistan East and West, or ‘Don’t squeeze Yahya’ [*] [*]
1971: Uganda
1971-1978: Bolivia
1972: Philippines
USG backs overthrow of Philippine republic.
1972-1976: Ecuador
1973: Oman
1973-Present: The “War on Drugs”
1973: Uruguay
1973-1978: Afghanistan
1974: Pine Ridge, South Dakota
1974-1976: Portugal
1974-Present: The Navajo-Hopi Land Settlement Act
1975: Australia
1975-1992: Angola
1975-1999: East Timor: the Indonesian Occupation
1975-?: US backs the Khmer Rouge.
1975-Present: Morocco
1976: Operation CONDOR
Plan CONDOR, Part Deux
1976-1980: Jamaica
1976-1984: Mozambique
1976-1983: Argentina
1977-1978: Ethiopia; Somalia; the Ogaden Swap
1978-2002: Kenya
July 3, 1979-1989: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Operation CYCLONE
1979: Greensboro Massacre.
1979-2001: Sudan
1979-1990: Nicaragua, “The Threat of a Good Example.”
1980s: Iran-Contra; the CIA and the Crack Trade
1980s: Romania
1980: Grenada
1980: Guyana. Fun with FOIA.
1980-1992: El Salvador
1980-1989: Liberia [2]
1962 and 1980.
1980: The Nojeh Coup and the origins of the Iraq-Iran war.
1980-1988: The Gulf War, Genocide of the Kurds
1980-Present: Turkey
Turkey becomes a long-running top recipient of US foreign military aid shortly after the 1980 coup, upon which time the new regime passes several laws banning cultural and literary expression of Kurdish identity: the Kurdish language becomes illegal, as were Kurdish broadcasts, publications, and other means of cultural expression – everything down to Kurdish first names (until August 2002, when such restrictions began being lifted with some relationship to reality under European pressure, though still not much).
Out from under the harsh state repression a Kurish seperatist movement forms in 1984, which the Turkish government duly attempts to wipe out with violence. Throughout the conflict, which by any standard is an explicit campaign of outright cultural genocide, Turkey remains a top recipient of US military support. In fact military aid escalates through the counter-insurgency campaign, in which some of the most brutal tactics are largely dependent on lethal resources generously delivered by the USG.

The war against Kurdish society and the PKK forcibly evacuated anywhere between 500,000 to 2,000,000 Kurds and killed over 30,000; Turkish military razed entire villages as part of the force evacuation program, burning nearly all Kurdish villages in southeast Turkey to the ground by the end of the campaign. Uncritical, unconditional support for Turkey continued despite ongoing political repression and numerous human rights abuses, including the use of torture, “virginity exams”, and racist governmental policies.

The PKK in the meantime has the onerous distinction of being considered freedom fighters when in Iraq and terrorists when in Turkey, demonstrating once again Western politicians’ inability to just call an indigenous nationalist movement an indigenous nationalist movement.

After the capture of the PKK’s top leader the conflict diminished in intensity, but the conflict remains largely unsettled in terms of general Turkish repression of the Kurdish population.

Human Rights Watch: Turkey: Weapons Transfers and Violations of International Law, 1995
1981: Libya
Two Libyan jets shot down in 1981. Evidence of CIA involvement dates back to the early 70s and extends into the late 90s.
1982-84: Lebanon
1982-84 marines expel PLO and back Phalangists and Navy bombs and shells Muslim positions.
1982-1990: Chad
1982: Guatemala
1982-1983: Surinam ^
1983: Guatemala
1983: Grenada
1984-1990: Honduras
1986: Libya
1987: Fiji ^
1987: Bolivia
1988-1989: Panama [*]
1988-Present: Columbia
1989: Libya
1989: Phillipines
1989-1994: Afghanistan.
1990: Segue: Collapse of the Soviet Union
1991: Gulf War II – The Empire Strikes Back.
1991: Kuwait, or “Liberate this!”
1991-2003: Iraq Sanctions, Disarmament, and Bombing
1991-?: De-Industrialization of Russia
1992-95: Balkans
1992: Los Angeles, California.
1992-1994: Somalia, or “Defense Contractor Job Security”
1992: Algeria
1993: Waco: “Crush Satan, Crush Satan”.
1993-2006: Central Asia – The New Friendly Dictators
1994: Rwanda
1995: Croatia
1995: Bosnia
1995-Present: Mexico: Chiapas, Mexico
1998: Sudan
1998: Nicaragua.
1998-Present: Indonesia/East Timor (continued)
2002-Present: Iraq – ‘The attack has been spectacular.’
2004-Present: Somalia – The Hard Power of Reverse Psychology
2006-Present: Iran
Present: The New Colonialism – US Military Cities Abroad
1944-Present: The US government tries to erase its own history.
1950-Present: The IMF, World Bank, GATS, FTAA, NAFTA, WTO, etc.
10/2001-Present: US campaign in Afghanistan. You Too Can Make a Desert and Call It Peace.
4/2002: Venezuela.
School of the Americas: Now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation – an old dog with a new name.
2001-Present: Haiti [* *]

Ref: Flagrancy

Intresting? Then follow the american colonialism thread …
Further reading:

Empire’s Workshop, Greg Grandin.
Legacy of Ashes, Tim Weiner.
Hope and Memory, 1801-2004.
CCR: The Complete 9/11 Timeline
US Foreign Policy in the Periphery: 30 case studies.
PeaceWorks: Backgrounder on the current crisis
The Acts of Democracies, 1945-Present.
US Uses of Force 1870-1995 [pdf].
US Crimes in Africa.
CIA Death Squad Timeline compiled by Ralph McGehee.
US Interventions in the Middle East – A Timeline.
McGehee: CIA Death Squad Timeline
A list of covert US operations, prepared by “Tom Gervasi of the Center for Military Research and Analysis in 1984”.
FAS: Coldwar and US Military Interventions.
Zmag: Timeline of US Policy in the Middle East, US military interventions.
Blum: US Assassination Plots. Read a fairly full accounting of disservices to the nation: Killing Hope. I haven’t yet, but you should.
American Peace
US Intervention in the Middle East
US Labor Timeline
Instances of Use of United States Forces Abroad, 1798 – 1993
imperial stats

Further resources:
American Studies Resources.
1975 Congressional Church Interim Report.
Cold War International History Project.

The Russo-Georgian War and the Balance of Power

The Russian invasion of Georgia has not changed the balance of power in Eurasia. It simply announced that the balance of power had already shifted.

The United States has been absorbed in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as potential conflict with Iran and a destabilizing situation in Pakistan. It has no strategic ground forces in reserve and is in no position to intervene on the Russian periphery. This, as we have argued, has opened a window of opportunity for the Russians to reassert their influence in the former Soviet sphere. Moscow did not have to concern itself with the potential response of the United States or Europe; hence, the invasion did not shift the balance of power. The balance of power had already shifted, and it was up to the Russians when to make this public. They did that Aug. 8.

Let’s begin simply by reviewing the last few days.

On the night of Thursday, Aug. 7, forces of the Republic of Georgia drove across the border of South Ossetia, a secessionist region of Georgia that has functioned as an independent entity since the fall of the Soviet Union. The forces drove on to the capital, Tskhinvali, which is close to the border. Georgian forces got bogged down while trying to take the city. In spite of heavy fighting, they never fully secured the city, nor the rest of South Ossetia.

On the morning of Aug. 8, Russian forces entered South Ossetia, using armored and motorized infantry forces along with air power. South Ossetia was informally aligned with Russia, and Russia acted to prevent the region’s absorption by Georgia. Given the speed with which the Russians responded — within hours of the Georgian attack — the Russians were expecting the Georgian attack and were themselves at their jumping-off points. The counterattack was carefully planned and competently executed, and over the next 48 hours, the Russians succeeded in defeating the main Georgian force and forcing a retreat. By Sunday, Aug. 10, the Russians had consolidated their position in South Ossetia.

On Monday, the Russians extended their offensive into Georgia proper, attacking on two axes. One was south from South Ossetia to the Georgian city of Gori. The other drive was from Abkhazia, another secessionist region of Georgia aligned with the Russians. This drive was designed to cut the road between the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and its ports. By this point, the Russians had bombed the military airfields at Marneuli and Vaziani and appeared to have disabled radars at the international airport in Tbilisi. These moves brought Russian forces to within 40 miles of the Georgian capital, while making outside reinforcement and resupply of Georgian forces extremely difficult should anyone wish to undertake it.

The Mystery Behind the Georgian Invasion

In this simple chronicle, there is something quite mysterious: Why did the Georgians choose to invade South Ossetia on Thursday night? There had been a great deal of shelling by the South Ossetians of Georgian villages for the previous three nights, but while possibly more intense than usual, artillery exchanges were routine. The Georgians might not have fought well, but they committed fairly substantial forces that must have taken at the very least several days to deploy and supply. Georgia’s move was deliberate.

The United States is Georgia’s closest ally. It maintained about 130 military advisers in Georgia, along with civilian advisers, contractors involved in all aspects of the Georgian government and people doing business in Georgia. It is inconceivable that the Americans were unaware of Georgia’s mobilization and intentions. It is also inconceivable that the Americans were unaware that the Russians had deployed substantial forces on the South Ossetian frontier. U.S. technical intelligence, from satellite imagery and signals intelligence to unmanned aerial vehicles, could not miss the fact that thousands of Russian troops were moving to forward positions. The Russians clearly knew the Georgians were ready to move. How could the United States not be aware of the Russians? Indeed, given the posture of Russian troops, how could intelligence analysts have missed the possibility that the Russians had laid a trap, hoping for a Georgian invasion to justify its own counterattack?

It is very difficult to imagine that the Georgians launched their attack against U.S. wishes. The Georgians rely on the United States, and they were in no position to defy it. This leaves two possibilities. The first is a massive breakdown in intelligence, in which the United States either was unaware of the existence of Russian forces, or knew of the Russian forces but — along with the Georgians — miscalculated Russia’s intentions. The second is that the United States, along with other countries, has viewed Russia through the prism of the 1990s, when the Russian military was in shambles and the Russian government was paralyzed. The United States has not seen Russia make a decisive military move beyond its borders since the Afghan war of the 1970s-1980s. The Russians had systematically avoided such moves for years. The United States had assumed that the Russians would not risk the consequences of an invasion.

If this was the case, then it points to the central reality of this situation: The Russians had changed dramatically, along with the balance of power in the region. They welcomed the opportunity to drive home the new reality, which was that they could invade Georgia and the United States and Europe could not respond. As for risk, they did not view the invasion as risky. Militarily, there was no counter. Economically, Russia is an energy exporter doing quite well — indeed, the Europeans need Russian energy even more than the Russians need to sell it to them. Politically, as we shall see, the Americans needed the Russians more than the Russians needed the Americans. Moscow’s calculus was that this was the moment to strike. The Russians had been building up to it for months, as we have discussed, and they struck.

The Western Encirclement of Russia

To understand Russian thinking, we need to look at two events. The first is the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. From the U.S. and European point of view, the Orange Revolution represented a triumph of democracy and Western influence. From the Russian point of view, as Moscow made clear, the Orange Revolution was a CIA-funded intrusion into the internal affairs of Ukraine, designed to draw Ukraine into NATO and add to the encirclement of Russia. U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton had promised the Russians that NATO would not expand into the former Soviet Union empire.

That promise had already been broken in 1998 by NATO’s expansion to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic — and again in the 2004 expansion, which absorbed not only the rest of the former Soviet satellites in what is now Central Europe, but also the three Baltic states, which had been components of the Soviet Union.

The Russians had tolerated all that, but the discussion of including Ukraine in NATO represented a fundamental threat to Russia’s national security. It would have rendered Russia indefensible and threatened to destabilize the Russian Federation itself. When the United States went so far as to suggest that Georgia be included as well, bringing NATO deeper into the Caucasus, the Russian conclusion — publicly stated — was that the United States in particular intended to encircle and break Russia.

The second and lesser event was the decision by Europe and the United States to back Kosovo’s separation from Serbia. The Russians were friendly with Serbia, but the deeper issue for Russia was this: The principle of Europe since World War II was that, to prevent conflict, national borders would not be changed. If that principle were violated in Kosovo, other border shifts — including demands by various regions for independence from Russia — might follow. The Russians publicly and privately asked that Kosovo not be given formal independence, but instead continue its informal autonomy, which was the same thing in practical terms. Russia’s requests were ignored.

From the Ukrainian experience, the Russians became convinced that the United States was engaged in a plan of strategic encirclement and strangulation of Russia. From the Kosovo experience, they concluded that the United States and Europe were not prepared to consider Russian wishes even in fairly minor affairs. That was the breaking point. If Russian desires could not be accommodated even in a minor matter like this, then clearly Russia and the West were in conflict. For the Russians, as we said, the question was how to respond. Having declined to respond in Kosovo, the Russians decided to respond where they had all the cards: in South Ossetia.

Moscow had two motives, the lesser of which was as a tit-for-tat over Kosovo. If Kosovo could be declared independent under Western sponsorship, then South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two breakaway regions of Georgia, could be declared independent under Russian sponsorship. Any objections from the United States and Europe would simply confirm their hypocrisy. This was important for internal Russian political reasons, but the second motive was far more important.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin once said that the fall of the Soviet Union was a geopolitical disaster. This didn’t mean that he wanted to retain the Soviet state; rather, it meant that the disintegration of the Soviet Union had created a situation in which Russian national security was threatened by Western interests. As an example, consider that during the Cold War, St. Petersburg was about 1,200 miles away from a NATO country. Today it is about 60 miles away from Estonia, a NATO member. The disintegration of the Soviet Union had left Russia surrounded by a group of countries hostile to Russian interests in various degrees and heavily influenced by the United States, Europe and, in some cases, China.

Resurrecting the Russian Sphere

Putin did not want to re-establish the Soviet Union, but he did want to re-establish the Russian sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union region. To accomplish that, he had to do two things. First, he had to re-establish the credibility of the Russian army as a fighting force, at least in the context of its region. Second, he had to establish that Western guarantees, including NATO membership, meant nothing in the face of Russian power. He did not want to confront NATO directly, but he did want to confront and defeat a power that was closely aligned with the United States, had U.S. support, aid and advisers and was widely seen as being under American protection. Georgia was the perfect choice.

By invading Georgia as Russia did (competently if not brilliantly), Putin re-established the credibility of the Russian army. But far more importantly, by doing this Putin revealed an open secret: While the United States is tied down in the Middle East, American guarantees have no value. This lesson is not for American consumption. It is something that, from the Russian point of view, the Ukrainians, the Balts and the Central Asians need to digest. Indeed, it is a lesson Putin wants to transmit to Poland and the Czech Republic as well. The United States wants to place ballistic missile defense installations in those countries, and the Russians want them to understand that allowing this to happen increases their risk, not their security.

The Russians knew the United States would denounce their attack. This actually plays into Russian hands. The more vocal senior leaders are, the greater the contrast with their inaction, and the Russians wanted to drive home the idea that American guarantees are empty talk.

The Russians also know something else that is of vital importance: For the United States, the Middle East is far more important than the Caucasus, and Iran is particularly important. The United States wants the Russians to participate in sanctions against Iran. Even more importantly, they do not want the Russians to sell weapons to Iran, particularly the highly effective S-300 air defense system. Georgia is a marginal issue to the United States; Iran is a central issue. The Russians are in a position to pose serious problems for the United States not only in Iran, but also with weapons sales to other countries, like Syria.

Therefore, the United States has a problem — it either must reorient its strategy away from the Middle East and toward the Caucasus, or it has to seriously limit its response to Georgia to avoid a Russian counter in Iran. Even if the United States had an appetite for another war in Georgia at this time, it would have to calculate the Russian response in Iran — and possibly in Afghanistan (even though Moscow’s interests there are currently aligned with those of Washington).

In other words, the Russians have backed the Americans into a corner. The Europeans, who for the most part lack expeditionary militaries and are dependent upon Russian energy exports, have even fewer options. If nothing else happens, the Russians will have demonstrated that they have resumed their role as a regional power. Russia is not a global power by any means, but a significant regional power with lots of nuclear weapons and an economy that isn’t all too shabby at the moment. It has also compelled every state on the Russian periphery to re-evaluate its position relative to Moscow. As for Georgia, the Russians appear ready to demand the resignation of President Mikhail Saakashvili. Militarily, that is their option. That is all they wanted to demonstrate, and they have demonstrated it.

The war in Georgia, therefore, is Russia’s public return to great power status. This is not something that just happened — it has been unfolding ever since Putin took power, and with growing intensity in the past five years. Part of it has to do with the increase of Russian power, but a great deal of it has to do with the fact that the Middle Eastern wars have left the United States off-balance and short on resources. As we have written, this conflict created a window of opportunity. The Russian goal is to use that window to assert a new reality throughout the region while the Americans are tied down elsewhere and dependent on the Russians. The war was far from a surprise; it has been building for months. But the geopolitical foundations of the war have been building since 1992. Russia has been an empire for centuries. The last 15 years or so were not the new reality, but simply an aberration that would be rectified. And now it is being rectified.

American Girl on Fox News: “I was running from Georgian troops, I want to thank the Russian troops”

How the U.S. Invited a War in South Ossetia + winners/loosers

Last week, Georgia launched a major military offensive against the rebel province South Ossetia, just hours after President Mikheil Saakashvili had announced a unilateral ceasefire. Close to 1,500 have been killed, Russian officials say. Thirty thousand refugees, mostly women and children, streamed across the border into the North Ossetian capital Vladikavkaz in Russia.

The timing — and subterfuge — suggest the unscrupulous Saakashvili was counting on surprise. “Most decision makers have gone for the holidays,” he said in an interview with CNN. “Brilliant moment to attack a small country.” Apparently he was referring to Russia invading Georgia, despite the fact that it was Georgia which had just launched a full-scale invasion of the “small country” South Ossetia, while Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was in Beijing for the Olympics. Twenty-seven Russian peacekeepers and troops have been killed and 150 wounded so far, many when their barracks were shelled by Georgian forces at the start of the invasion. Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Temur Yakobashvili rushed to announce that their mini-blitzkreig had destroyed ten Russian combat planes (Russia says two) and that Georgian troops were in full control of the capital Tskhinvali.

Russia’s Defense Ministry denounced the Georgian attack as a “dirty adventure.” From Beijing, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said, “It is regrettable that on the day before the opening of the Olympic Games, the Georgian authorities have undertaken aggressive actions in South Ossetia.” He later added, “War has started.” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev vowed that Moscow will protect Russian citizens — most South Ossetians hold Russian passports. The offensive prompted Moscow to send in 150 tanks, to launch air strikes on nearby Gori and military sites, and to order warships to Georgia’s Black Sea coast.

Georgia’s national security council declared a state of war with Russia and a full military mobilisation. US military planes are already flying Georgia’s 2,000 troops in Iraq — the third-largest force after the United States and Britain — back to confront the Russians. By Sunday, despite early claims of victory, Georgian troops had retreated from South Ossetia, leaving diplomatic rubble behind which will be very hard to clear. Truth is stranger than fiction in Georgia.

The writing has been on the wall for months. Georgian President Saakashvili’s fawning over Western leaders at the “emergency” NATO meeting in April and his pre-election anti-Russian bluster in May made it clear to all that Georgia is the more-than-willing canary in the Eastern mine shaft. The Georgian attack on South Ossetia’s capital Tskhinvali — I repeat — just hours after Saakashvili declared a cease-fire, looks very much like an attempt to reincorporate the rebel province into Georgia unilaterally. But whoever is advising the brash young president ignores the postscript — no pasaran! South Ossetia has been independent for 16 years and is not likely to drape flowers on invading Georgia tanks. It also just happens to have Russia as patron.

The aftershocks of this wild gamble by Saakashvili are just beginning. This is Russia’s most serious altercation with a foreign country since the collapse of the Soviet Union and could escalate into an all-out war engulfing much of the Caucasus region. Russian warships are not planning to block shipments of oil from Georgia’s Black Sea port of Poti, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said on Sunday, but reserve the right to search ships coming to and from it. Another source naval source said, “The crews are assigned the task to not allow arms and military hardware supplies to reach Georgia by sea.” The Russians have already sunk a Georgian missile boat that was trying to attack Russian ships. Upping the ante, Ukraine said it reserved the right to bar Russian warships from returning to their nominally Ukrainian — formerly Russian — base of Sevastopol , on the Crimean peninsula. On Saturday, Russia accused Ukraine of “arming the Georgians to the teeth.”

Georgia’s other separatist region, Abkhazia, was mobilising its forces for a push into the Kodori Gorge, the only part of Abkhazia controlled by Georgia. “No dialogue is possible with the current Georgian leadership,” said Abkhazia’s President Sergei Bagapsh. “They are state criminals who must be tried for the crimes committed in South Ossetia, the genocide of the Ossetian people.” Britain has ordered its nationals to leave Georgia. British charity worker Sian Davis said, “It’s really, really quiet, eerily quiet. Everyone was either at home or had packed up and moved out of the city. People are really, really scared. People are panicking.” So far the more than 2,000 US nationals in this tiny but strategic country are mostly staying put.

This is yet another made-in-the-USA war. US President George W Bush loudly supported Georgia’s request to join NATO in April, much to the consternation of European leaders. NATO promised to send advisers in December. Not losing any time, the US sent more than 1,000 US Marines and soldiers to the Vaziani military base on the South Ossetian border in July “to teach combat skills to Georgian troops.” The UN Security Council failed to reach an agreement on the current crisis after three emergency meetings. A Russian-drafted statement that called on Georgia and the separatists to “renounce the use of force” was vetoed by the US, UK and France. To dispel any conceivable doubt, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday: “We call on Russia to cease attacks on Georgia by aircraft and missiles, respect Georgia’s territorial integrity, and withdraw its ground combat forces from Georgian soil.”

But it’s also yet another made-in-Israel war. A thousand military advisers from Israeli security firms have been training the country’s armed forces and were deeply involved in the Georgian army’s preparations to attack and capture the capital of South Ossetia, according to the Israeli web site Debkafiles which has close links with the regime’s intelligence and military sources. Haaretz reported that Yakobashvili told Army Radio — in Hebrew, “ Israel should be proud of its military which trained Georgian soldiers.” “We killed 60 Russian soldiers just yesterday,” he boasted on Monday. “The Russians have lost more than 50 tanks, and we have shot down 11 of their planes. They have enormous damage in terms of manpower.” He warned that the Russians would try and open another battlefront in Abkhazia and denied reports that the Georgian army was retreating. “The Georgian forces are not retreating. We move our military according to security needs.”

Israelis are active in real estate, tourism, gaming, military manufacturing and security consulting in Georgia, including former Tel Aviv mayor Roni Milo and Likudite and gambling operator Reuven Gavrieli. “The Russians don’t look kindly on the military cooperation of Israeli firms with the Georgian army, and as far as I know, Israelis doing security consulting left Georgia in the past few days because of the events there,” the former Israeli ambassador to Georgia and Armenia, Baruch Ben Neria, said yesterday. Since his posting, Ben Neria has represented Rafael Advanced Defense Systems in Georgia .

By Sunday, Putin was in Vladikavkaz and said it is unlikely South Ossetia will ever be reintegrated into Georgia. There are really only two possible scenarios to end the conflict: a long-term stalemate or Russian annexation of South Ossetia. The former is beginning to look pretty good, and Saakashvili is probably already ruing his rash move. The Georgian president is clearly hoping he can suck the US into the conflict. Alexander Lomaya, secretary of Georgia’s National Security Council, said only Western intervention could prevent all-out war. But it is very unlikely Bush will risk WWIII over this scrap of craggy mountain.

When US puppets get out of line, like a certain Saddam Hussein, they are easily abandoned. Saakashvili would be wise to recall the fate of the first post-Soviet Georgian president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, also a darling of the US (in 1978 US Congress nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize). He rode to victory on a wave of nationalism in 1990, declaring independence for Georgia and officially recognising the “Chechen Republic of Ichkeria”. But South Ossetia wanted no part of the fiery Gamsakhurdia’s chauvinistic vision and declared its own “independence”. Engulfed by a wave of disgust a short two years later, abandoned by his US friends, he fled to his beloved Ichkeria. He snuck back into western Georgia, looking for support in restive Abkhazia, but his uprising collapsed, prompting Abkhazia to secede.

Gamsakhurdia died in 1993, leaving the two secessionist provinces as a legacy, and was buried in Chechnya. Saakashvili rehabilitated him in 2004 and had his remains interred in Mtatsminda Pantheon with other Georgian “heroes”. Truth really is stranger than fiction in Georgia. Now the burning question is: will history repeat itself?

Ref: Counterpunch

Eric Walberg writes for Al-Ahram Weekly. You can reach him at
http://www.geocities.com/walberg2002/

Winners and losers after Georgia conflict

WINNERS:
Russia: It has emerged strongly, able to impose its will in South Ossetia and sending a clear signal about its readiness to assert itself.
It agreed to a ceasefire plan when its objective – control of South Ossetia – was achieved. The plan basically calls for no further use of force and some kind of return to the position before the conflict. However, Russia’s foreign minister said Georgian troops would “never again” be allowed to resume their role as part of the joint peacekeeping force agreed with Russia in 1992. It is not clear whether Russian forces will be reduced to the battalion-sized unit allowed for in that agreement.
This is unlikely. Think more of Cyprus in 1974, when the Turks intervened, making similar claims about protecting their kith and kin. They are still there.

LOOSERS
The truth: This has been a difficult conflict in which to sort out the facts. Russia failed to back up its claims of Georgian atrocities and did not allow reporters and international observers in to check them. Georgia made all kinds of claims that Russia was invading, including a statement that Russian troops had taken over the town of Gori which proved not to be so.
(Update 14 August: this reference was to a Georgian claim during the actual fighting, not to the subsequent Russian presence in Gori after the ceasefire.)
The US and UK at least have chosen to represent this as Russian aggression. Yet it was Georgia that attacked with a rocket barrage which by its nature was indiscriminate.

The West: Once again, the West was taken by surprise. The word in Washington (and London) is that President Saakashvili was warned to exercise restraint. If so, not only has Russia come out on top against a potential Western Nato ally, but that potential ally ignored serious advice from its mentors.

Ref: BBC