Monday, September 8, 2008

Russia and Georgia: It Depends on How You Look at It

A comment from someone in the Anonymous community reminded me of how much difference a person's point of view makes. (" 'Quagmire's' Back: Georgia, Russia, Nato, Bush, and the Blame Game" (August 24, 2008))

The inconvenience Georgia has recently been experiencing with Russia is seen quite a few ways.
  • Humanitarian aid turned away by Russia
  • Puppet of imperialist America thwarted by Russia
  • Small country trying to negotiate its way out of Russian occupation
  • Russia cooperating with UN observers
I'm oversimplifying, of course. You'll find links to each of these articles below.

"My Mind is Made Up: Don't Confuse Me With the Facts"

Having knee-jerk reactions isn't a problem: as long as we recognize them for what they are. It's a good idea, though, to do a reality check: sometimes the real world doesn't cooperate with our preferences.

Sure, Russia Has a Point: But Was Invasion the Answer?

I've got my own views about Georgia and Russia, of course. Based on what I've scraped out of news and other sources, it looks like the Georgian president ignored Washington advice and sent troops into South Ossetia. That was not only of very dubious legality, considering agreements the two countries had, but very, very stupid.

Sort of like a puny hiker walking up to a grizzly, and whacking it on the nose. Even if the grizzly is standing on the hiker's copy of Accountant's Quarterly, that's a stupid move.

Then, after an encounter which left some Russian soldiers dead, Russia invaded Georgia. And is still occupying the country.

Or, rather, maintaining a group of peacekeepers there. Maybe they're being called something else this week.

I think Russia had a legitimate complaint. I also think that Russia's response was massively disproportionate.

When Russia invaded Georgia one of my first reactions was that, whatever the legal and ethical situation, Georgia was too small to be a viable independent nation.

I'm an American, sharing a government and local economy with over 300,000,000 other people. A country with about the population that my home state of Minnesota had in 2000 doesn't seem very big.

But size isn't everything. Quite a few countries, including Comoros, Liechtenstein, and Vanuatu, have maintained their independence with small populations. Granted, Comoros is one of the poorest countries in the world, and Vanuatu's 200,000 or so people depend mostly on small-scale agriculture for a living. On the other hand, the people in Liechtenstein aren't doing at all badly.

So, maybe Georgia's aspiration to independence isn't crazy.

In which case, United Nations members' concern over Russian occupation of Georgia makes sense.

Humanitarians, Imperialists, Diplomats, and Monitors

Here's how four different news services, each on Google's News search service, handled parts of the Russia-Georgia situation.

  • "Russia blocks UN convoy in Georgia; Sarkozy holds talks in Moscow"
    International Herald Tribune (September 8, 2008)
    • "KARALETI, Georgia: Russian soldiers turned back a United Nations convoy for no apparent reason Monday in a blunt demonstration of who is in charge in a tense zone around Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia....
  • "Georgia crisis: The End of the Americanist illusion! "
    Axis of Logic (September 8, 2008)
    • "The crisis inaugurated last week by Georgian president Saakachvili, now resulting in Moscow making a run for the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall, is a major turning point. It is the first visible sign of the collapse of the "Dollar Wall" which used to protect the US might since 1945; a Wall whose perimeter had significantly grown since the fall of the « Berlin Wall » (which used to protect the ex-USSR)...."
  • "Sarkozy urges Russia to honor Georgia pledge"
    CNN (September 8, 2008)
    • "MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday urged Russia to honor its pledge to withdraw its troops from Georgia and warned the Kremlin that the European Union is united on this position...."
  • "Russia gives monitors access to Georgia buffer zone"
    Reuters AlertNet (September 4, 2008)
    • "KARALETI, Georgia, Sept 4 (Reuters) - International military monitors gained brief access to a Russian-imposed buffer zone adjacent to South Ossetia on Thursday for the first time since the Georgia-Russia conflict last month....

A Slightly Over-The-Top Comparison

This may put the Russia-Georgia situation in perspective.

Let's say that Arizona seceded from America, and was recognized as an independent country by many of the world's nations: sort of like what happened with Georgia, after the Soviet Union broke up.

The American state of Arizona has roughly one and a half times the population (6,500,000) as Georgia (4,600,000). America has about twice Russia's population (Russia's, 140,000,000; America 307,000,000).

Remember, this is just hypothetical: a mental exercise.

Now, let's say that some people in Mohave and La Paz Counties decided that they wanted to be Americans, and started breaking windows and torching cars to prove their point. The United Nations allowed some American soldiers to keep order in parts of those countries. The Arizonan president sent Arizona troops into Mohave County, and about a dozen American soldiers got killed.

In reaction, the American armed forces invaded Arizona; occupied Flagstaff; and blocked Interstate 10, west of Phoenix.

If America made such an unbalanced response, some 'America is always right' people would approve, but I doubt that many others would defend America's actions.

In the real world, an American professor made a remarkable defense for Russian imperialism, explaining that all Russia really wanted was a little empire to call its own. And that this was reasonable. (Yes, I'm oversimplifying: but not by much.)

Others, reading this post, will say that Bush and Cheny's invasion of Iraq was comparable to Russia's actions in Georgia. Never mind that a coalition of over two dozen nations, with a United Nations mandate, was involved.

As I said before, it depends on how you look at it.

For my part, I prefer to season my facts with opinions, not the other way around.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.