« Your Liberal Media | Main | In Water Games, Washing the Rocks Below »

August 11, 2008

Comments

Not to excuse Bush--I have little doubt he said it, or something like it--but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to look at the US military position right now and know that we're stretched really thin, and that any support Georgia was likely to receive would be little more than tough talk, assuming it went that far. Even if we were willing to get involved in a shooting war with Russia, what would we shoot with? What troops would we move into the area? Saakashvili should have looked at that side of it before making the moves he did.

True. I think all of the following: (a) Saakashvili was monumentally dumb if he counted on us being willing to go to war with Russia, as well as monumentally dumb for making this move in the first place; (b) Russia is generally utterly amoral, and in this case should just stop right now; but also (c) if we encouraged, or even failed to do whatever we could to stop, Saakashvili's assault, we should be ashamed.

I mean, if you encourage someone to do something. "they should have known better than to believe me" isn't much of an excuse.

avril glaspie anyone ?

The plot thickens, from Al Jazeera 15th July:

US army exercises begin in Georgia


Georgia Today, 1st August:

The International Training “Immediate Response 2008” conducted with the joint efforts of the USA and Georgian Armed Forces was held at Vaziani Military Base on July 15-31.

That airbase has just been bombed.

second link fixed

Bush: "Hey, Ah wuz busy playin' grabass with the volleyball girlies! An' anyway, why 'spect me to start actin' preznitial now?"

Well there was that story on Ossetian Radio and repeated in Izvestia, yesterday or the day before, that an American advisor had been captured in South Ossetia with a Georgian unit. If this is true it would be a smoking gun; it's one thing for advisors to be with Georgian units inside Georgia proper, but to be engaged in an offensive operation would clearly require foreknowledge at the highest levels. That might have just been a crazy rumour though.

There is speculation over at a fistfulofeuros that Georgia had been played from the inside as exhibited by the fact that the Russian army was inexplicably able to respond quickly to protect the only way in or out (the tunnel-road) and the Georgian army inexplicably didn't act to secure it first. But at this point who knows.

we should be ashamed.

Well yeah, but that's pretty much the Bush foreign policy in a nutshell, isn't it?

There is speculation over at a fistfulofeuros that Georgia had been played from the inside as exhibited by the fact that the Russian army was inexplicably able to respond quickly to protect the only way in or out (the tunnel-road) and the Georgian army inexplicably didn't act to secure it first. But at this point who knows.

The only thing which seems clear to me at this point is that sorting out exactly what happened to trigger this phase of the conflict (in the sense of assigning blame for who started it first) will take more time than the immediate military conflict is likely to last, if we are ever able to get to the bottom of it. I suspect that what we will eventually find was a rather intricate chain of tit-for-tat escalation in which both sides were at fault, or at least had opportunities to de-escalate which were ignored. The other thing which seems obvious is that the Russian military had a well planned operation waiting for circumstances such as this and were ready to mobilize and escalate rapidly as soon as the opportunity arose to do so.

I can’t see how Georgia could have blundered into this trap without a massive miscalculation and/or intelligence failure on their part, in which we (the US) may eventually be implicated.

also, what Incertus said at 9:58 AM. No intelligent and well informed observer of world politics and the current state of US military affairs would have predicted an immediate US military response to an attack on Georgia. To think otherwise was terribly myopic. It isn't as if the precedents weren't already there (Hungary 1956) for this sort of situation.

It seems to me unlikely in the extreme that the U.S. promised military aid, or that Georgia expected U.S. troops to help out. It's more likely that we promised to back them in the U.N. A quick, bloodless assertion of authority in South Ossetia, a bumbling Russia unable to respond quickly, blustering U.S. talk warning Putin off any belated response, that is probably the scenario the Georgians were expecting, and that (perhaps) we encouraged them to believe.

Here's a little more background from Wired:


Ground Zero in the New Caucasus Conflict:

Officially, SSOP [Sustainment and Stability Operations Program] was supposed to prepare Georgians for service in Iraq. But Georgian trainees I spoke to in 2006 at the Krtsanisi training range saw things a bit differently. A female sergeant told me: “This training is incredibly important for us, because we want to take back Georgia’s lost territories.”


Did the U.S. Prep Georgia for War with Russia?:

As Sergei Shamba, the foreign affairs minister of Abkhazia, told me in 2006: “The Georgians are euphoric because they have been equipped, trained, that they have gained military experience in Iraq. It feeds this revanchist mood… How can South Ossetia be demilitarized, when all of Georgia is bristling with weaponry, and it’s only an hour’s ride by tank from Tbilisi to Tskhinvali?”

One of the U.S. military trainers put it to me a bit more bluntly. “We’re giving them the knife,” he said. “Will they use it?”



Ilya Somin has an interesting post on the ethics of sucession at

Argh I must have screwed up the html. It is at Volokh

A useful background link re. Georgia (h/t Crooks and Liars)

I think Sebastian was trying to link here.

An article in the Guardian reports that:

The Russian prime minister, Vladmir Putin, has criticised the US for flying Georgian troops home from Iraq, claiming the west has mistaken the real aggressor in the conflict over the separatist region of South Ossetia.

Putin, who is directing Russia's invasion of South Ossetia and its attacks on greater Georgia, said Moscow would take its mission in the region to "a logical conclusion" and accused some US politicians of having a cold-war mentality. [...]

Putin, speaking on state television, said: "It is a shame that some of our partners are not helping us but, essentially, are hindering us. I mean … the transfer by the United States of a Georgian contingent in Iraq with military transport planes practically to the conflict zone. [...]

Saakashvili told the US vice-president, Dick Cheney, in a phone call that Russian aggression must not go unanswered. Cheney did not spell out what might follow, but threatening to expel Russia from the G8 is one possibility that has been raised in the past by the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain.

ed:
avril glaspie anyone ?

I don't think the analogy holds. Or rather, lacking further detail I don't think (and dearly hope) it does not hold. The major difference would be that in April's case, we would have US officials leading on a foreign state to commit an act of war that was geopolitically advantageous to the US. I cannot conceive any reasonable line of thought that would make starting the current conflict a good idea from an American point of view.

(Having said this, I can conceive unreasonable ones; I can only hope they're not accurate.)

Never heard "put paid to" before nor did I know what it meant.

Now I do.

Cool locution.

It just occurred to me- on the one hand, we're condemning Bush for possibly not giving Georgia a red light signal. On the other hand, we're wondering about the effect this has on the campaign (ie focusing America on war and foreign affairs, in a Cold-War-esque scenario).

So, why not consider whether Bush didn't red light this *because* of the possible beneficial effects on the American presidential race? It's not something that we're likely to get evidence about (at least, for a while), but it's the more sensible motive I can think of for him to do something like this. (caveat: *if* the admin had much impact, or hadn't already weighed in against this move by Georiga. Again, things we're not likely to know anytime soon).

No one in the administration gave Georgia a green light, nomatter who says so (unless someone in the US might care to contradict).

But it's word on the street, just as it was that the US had approved the crackdowns last November. (I was there then, and part of me regrets not being there in person now -- but you could hardly find a person willing to believe that Saakhasvili had ordered riot police out and declared martial law without American support at the time.)

There's simply no way. Saakhasvili is a clever bastard, but he's overplaying his hand here, just as he did shutting down Imedi (though just how high the order of "violence if necessary" permeated is an open question). But not on this. He acted, the street says the US acted. Same situation in that regard.

I have real problems with this "tacit support" idea. "Is said to have given tacit support," with no citation, means simply "is rumored not to have actually told them not to." That's pretty thin.

I grant that we likely knew something ahead of time, but unless we actually told them we would help, so what? Georgia is a sovereign state and not an ally. Giving us a small amount of help in Iraq in exchange for training does not make them a protectorate. We don't owe them.

jbd,
No one in the administration gave Georgia a green light, nomatter who says so (unless someone in the US might care to contradict).

Got a source for that? Sounds like no, given the caveat. If you're thinking along the lines of 'the US would never do that', think of the Shi'a uprising after the First Gulf War.

Trilobite, certainly approval is different from support, but it still rates more than a "So what?"

First off, I'll admit to paranoia and delusion on more than one occasion, but maybe Dubya has engaged an a trade: (bombing) Georgia for (bombing) Iran, a bizarre tit-for-tat, with two superpowers incapable of helping their "allies" while the world looks on in helpless anxiety.

Got a source for that? Sounds like no, given the caveat. If you're thinking along the lines of 'the US would never do that', think of the Shi'a uprising after the First Gulf War.

No, no source, or at least not on this incident. There was explicit denial from the ambassador after the sudden crackdown on protesters last year. I'll dig it up if you you'd like.

The reference was much more to the tacit opinion of Georgians in general versus the opinion in Tbilisi and Khakheti.

As for a parallel to the Shi'a uprising... well. It's an interesting one, and it's one I've hardly forgotten. But I fail to see the interest the foreign policy establishment would have in having Georgia -- or, explicitly, the Saakashvili government -- provoke Russia. While there could easily be another case of no one actually having the ball and trying to toss it different directions -- as in Iraq -- I find it far more likely that Georgia is generally not discussed at all among most circles. While this creates some degree of opportunity for policy to be made at a fairly local level, I just don't see the motivation for even a tacit OK to poke the bear. Or are there really that many old-school Sovietologists actually making policy these days?

Scott de B.: A quick, bloodless assertion of authority in South Ossetia, a bumbling Russia unable to respond quickly, blustering U.S. talk warning Putin off any belated response, that is probably the scenario the Georgians were expecting, and that (perhaps) we encouraged them to believe.

If so, what are Saakashvili (and possibly Bush-Cheney-Rice-Gates) smoking?

The "bloodless assertion of authority" was utterly unlikely given the history of the early 1990s in which the Georgians completely destroyed Tskhinvali. This time, in Charles King's words:

"what seems to be clear, especially from reporting that been done on the ground, is that the cost in human lives and property of the initial Georgian assault on South Ossetia was extremely high. And that's another bit of the story, I think, that is not getting much play in the US media."

This can't be unknown to U.S. military and intelligence.

A bumbling Russia unable to respond quickly?

When just weeks ago the Russian army was doing exercises at the border while the U.S. military staged joint exercises in Georgia with the Ukrainians and Ajerbaijanis?

The U.S. government had to understand, from both intelligence and the diplomatic exchanges around those exercises, that Russia was completely prepared to respond quickly and forcefully.

And it creeps the hell out of me that this happened when Bush is at the Olympics and Cheney is the one communicating with the Georgians.

Cheney is nothing if not old school.

There is one major thing I don't understand about this situation. The US has recon satellites some of who have probably been stationed over this area given the recent war games on both sides as well as the escalating tensions.

They should have shown that the Russians were still right over the border from their recent war games and were well positioned to respond to the Georgian incursion quickly. Did we warn Georgia it was walking into a trap? Or was Patreaus so caught up in Iraq and Afganistan that he and his staff just overlooked this area of the world?

This whole situation looks like Keystone Kops.

Did we warn Georgia it was walking into a trap?

More importantly, where the frak was Admiral Ackbar?

"...whoever is responsible should be banned from foreign policy..."

I'm sorry, what makes you think that we HAVE a foreign policy?

I'm sorry, what makes you think that we HAVE a foreign policy?

Our foreign policy seems abundantly clear to me:

1) Use military force and alliances brokered with the threat and/or promise of military force to dominate the critical regions of the globe with respect to oil production and transport.

That way, so long as oil continues to be sold as a widely traded commodity on an open market, we can derive no financial benefit whatsoever. And when under the pressure of post-Peak Oil resource competition the global market collapses and autarky ensues, we will have a front row seat to watch as the very expensive and difficult to protect oil production and transport infrastructure is easily destroyed by terrorists, insurgents, and conventional adversaries, at a tiny fraction of what it costs us to attempt to protect it (futilely, as it turns out).

2) Anything that makes Democrats look bad.

we will have a front row seat to watch as the very expensive and difficult to protect oil production and transport infrastructure is easily destroyed

Lest anyone think I am joking, let me tell you a cautionary fable:

Once upon a time there was an island kingdom located in the NE Pacific, which had a problem. Their problem was that their modernizing industrial economy was critically dependent on raw materials in amounts far in excess of what their islands could produce.

They had to import those things from far away places, which led to another problem. It made them vulnerable to trade embargoes and other forms of economic pressure from other countries which did not approve of some of the things they wanted to do (like conquer and colonize parts of China that the natives were not making efficient use of).

So they decided to do the logical thing - they used their military to take physical possession of those far away places where those needed raw materials could be obtained. This required a war, but you can't cook an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

Unfortunately they overlooked a couple of things. Those raw materials had to be transported all the way from far away places back to the home islands by ship. Over many miles of ocean. And when they started the war to seize these things they completely neglected a minor branch of naval science called Anti-Submarine Warfare.

Their adversary noticed this oversight. Their entire merchant marine fleet went to the bottom of the Pacific within a few short years. No more raw materials. No more advanced industrial economy. The war went not necessarily to the advantage of the island kingdom.

The moral of the story: do not try to take by force things that do not belong to you. Especially things that you need to transport long distances from places far away when you lack the capacity to adequately protect your ill gotten gains while they are in transit.

correction: NW Pacific

"First off, I'll admit to paranoia and delusion on more than one occasion, but maybe Dubya has engaged an a trade: (bombing) Georgia for (bombing) Iran, a bizarre tit-for-tat, with two superpowers incapable of helping their 'allies' while the world looks on in helpless anxiety."

This doesn't seem to make much sense, because it seems to presuppose that: a) there's something the U.S. could have done to prevent Russia from bombing, and what that might be, I have no idea: threaten all out nuclear war? Or what?

And b) it seems to presuppose that there's something Russia could do to prevent the U.S. from bombing Iran if it wanted to, and what that might be, I have no idea: threaten all out nuclear war? Or what?

So that seems to make more or less no sense at all, unless there's some other aspect I'm not seeing (always possible).

"The US has recon satellites some of who have probably been stationed over this area given the recent war games on both sides as well as the escalating tensions."

I think that's a huge leap to assume: U.S. satellites have only a limited ability to shift orbit, and it's a huge huge huge deal to do it, and having done it, it's a huge huge huge deal to then move them back to where they were, or to some other orbit. It's incredibly expensive, and there are only a limited number of times it can be done. The idea that satellites can just be shifted about at will is wrong. People tend to really over-estimate what satellite surveillance, impressive as it is, can accomplish. There's no live video, either. (Although rumor has it that the KH-12 [which may or may include Misty] may have every-five-second capability.)

It's certainly possible that the U.S. government has coverage of that area, but given the need in Iran and Afghanistan, and elsewhere, I'd hardly count on it, and I'd guess that the odds were, in fact, strongly against it. There are just an awful lot of hot spots around the world, and just not all that many satellites.

But, to be sure, it's certainly possible.

More likely, actually, would be surveillance airplane flights. Note, by the way, that the Russians have been shooting down Georgian drones before the war started.

"The moral of the story: do not try to take by force things that do not belong to you."

Also, don't piss off a country vastly larger than yours, a far larger population, with vast industrial capabilities, and definitely don't do it with a surprise accident, no matter how accidental.

Technically an empire, not a kingdom, by the way, he nitpicked. :-)

"with a surprise accident" should be "with a surprise attack."

Technically an empire, not a kingdom, by the way, he nitpicked. :-)

Ahh, but this was a fable. Are you implying that something like this actually happened?

[ thanks for the correction, BTW :-) ]

"Got a source for that? Sounds like no, given the caveat."

Just a note, you're asking for a source to support the perfectly rational idea that we didn't green light the Georgian action in favor of the completely unsourced and unfounded speculation that we did green light the Georgian action...

DEBKAfile:

DEBKAfile’s military sources note that the arrival of the three new American flotillas will raise to five the number of US strike forces in Middle East waters – an unprecedented build-up since the crisis erupted over Iran’s nuclear program.

This vast naval and air strength consists of more than 40 carriers, warships and submarines, some of the last nuclear-armed, opposite the Islamic Republic, a concentration last seen just before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

If you're going to attack Iran against Russia's wishes, it sure would be nice to have their military tied up so it couldn't intervene, wouldn't it? I wonder how long the US would have predicted it to take for Russia to deal with an attack on South Ossetia? Not that they would toss a minor ally to the bears in order to keep a potential enemy distracted, of course.

It's certainly possible that the U.S. government has coverage of that area, but given the need in Iran and Afghanistan, and elsewhere, I'd hardly count on it, and I'd guess that the odds were, in fact, strongly against it. There are just an awful lot of hot spots around the world, and just not all that many satellites.

That's part of it. Here's what McClatchy is reporting:

U.S. "national technical means," the official name for spy satellites and other technology, are "pretty well consumed by Iraq, Afghanistan and now Pakistan," the official said, and there was only limited monitoring of Russian military movements toward the Georgian border.

Additionally, the United States had lost access to vital information when Russia dropped out of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty in December to protest U.S. plans to build missile defense sites in Europe.

Under the treaty, Russia had been required to exchange reports on troop, armor and aircraft deployments with the United States and other members on a monthly basis. But once Russia dropped out, that information was no longer available.

from Kevin Drum

"To summarize: (1) We strongly counseled our good friend Saakashvili not to do anything stupid, and he did it anyway. Which we sort of expected. This is a potential NATO ally? (2) We as much as invited the Russians into Georgia by telling them we wouldn't mind them slapping down Saakashvili too much as long as they confined themselves to South Ossetia."

It's looking more like glaspi every day


About those recon satellites:

[...] One problem in under-estimating the Russian response, another U.S. official said, was "a dearth of intelligence assets in the region."

U.S. "national technical means," the official name for spy satellites and other technology, are "pretty well consumed by Iraq, Afghanistan and now Pakistan," the official said, and there was only limited monitoring of Russian military movements toward the Georgian border.

Additionally, the United States had lost access to vital information when Russia dropped out of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty in December to protest U.S. plans to build missile defense sites in Europe.

Under the treaty, Russia had been required to exchange reports on troop, armor and aircraft deployments with the United States and other members on a monthly basis. But once Russia dropped out, that information was no longer available.

"I wouldn't say we were blind," the official said. "I would say that we mostly were focused elsewhere, unlike during the Cold War, when we'd see a single Soviet armor battalion move. So, yes, the size and scope of the Russian move has come as something of a surprise."

Hmm, guess I should have read the rest of the comments. Sorry.

There are a lot of double standards going on here - Russia brutally suppresses Chechnya but supports South Ossetia in its wish to secede from Georgia. The US lectures Russia about intervening to "protect" its passport holders in S.Ossetia but launched an illegal war against Iraq and recognised Kosovo's wish to leave Serbia! As ever the ordinary people suffer the most.
Interesting questions - 1. Did Russia goad Georgia to attack in order to give them a bloody nose? - certainly yes! 2. Did the US know/encourage/help Georgia to attack South Ossetia knowing Russia wished to and would respond forcibly? Russia couldn't politically stay in Georgia for long, hence the outcome would be increased support in the long run from US/EU for Georgia's closer integration with the West and eventual NATO membership. Also with Saakashvili's close links with the neo-cons/Israel the whole thing was a cunning plan to boost support for McCain, the cold-warrior candidate for the presidency. Possible?

It doesn't look like the President of Georgia drew the right lessons: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/26/world/europe/26georgia.html?_r=1&oref=slogin>NYT story.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad