Thursday, October 01, 2009

Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili blamed for starting Russian war.

At the time I felt as if I was living in a parallel universe. I was reading Bush and McCain talking as if Russia had attacked Georgia, whilst all the facts that I could gather led me to the opposite conclusion.

Well now an EU-commissioned report has come out, laying the blame for the war squarely at the feet of the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

But the conclusions will discomfit the western-backed Georgian leader, Saakashvili, who was found to have started the war with the attack on Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, on the night of 7 August last year, through a "penchant for acting in the heat of the moment".

The war started "with a massive Georgian artillery attack", the report said, citing an order from Saakashvili that the offensive was aimed at halting Russian military units moving into South Ossetia.

Flatly dismissing Saakashvili's version, the report said: "There was no ongoing armed attack by Russia before the start of the Georgian operation ... Georgian claims of a large-scale presence of Russian armed forces in South Ossetia prior to the Georgian offensive could not be substantiated ... It could also not be verified that Russia was on the verge of such a major attack."

I was stunned at the time at the way which Bush and McCain dismissed the truth and worked from the premise that Russia is our enemy and, therefore, Russia must be in the wrong.

If I remember correctly, McCain got around the small matter of who started the conflict by stating - and I am paraphrasing - "It doesn't matter how this started, but Russia have overreacted."

Of course, this conflict flared during the election between McCain and Obama and the Republicans saw this as a way to make Obama look weak on national defence, so the truth was literally thrown out of the window.

And I was astonished to witness Labour sending David Miliband to Georgia during this period, in what I could only conclude was an attempt to out-Tory the Tories, and declare that Georgia should become a member of Nato. That was an act of utter idiocy as I argued at the time:
The west has found itself in a bind over Georgia, not wanting to be seen to bow to Russia, and yet unwilling to go to war. Miliband and others are arguing that Georgia should be allowed to join Nato, which is an explicit promise that, should this situation occur again, we would be willing to go to war over it.

My question is very simple. If there is some great principle at stake here, why aren't we willing to go to war now? Why do we believe that membership of Nato would stop any future Russian response to Georgian aggression? And why should Russia buy this silly illogical premise?
The truth was, as the EU report has found, that Russia had not been the aggressor. Mikheil Saakashvili, seizing the moment when Putin was sitting with Bush at the Chinese Olympics, decided to strike.

What followed from that moment onwards was a succession of lies, told by politicians and repeated by many newspapers, that made Georgia out to be the victim of aggression by a stronger neighbour.

That was simply not true.

The investigators criticised and condemned Russian conduct and policy in the months and years leading up to the war and its behaviour since. But on the issues of who started what when, the report was unequivocal. The Georgian offensive against Tskhinvali was not justified under international law.

"It is not possible to accept that the shelling of Tskhinvali with Grad multiple rocket launchers and heavy artillery would satisfy the requirements of having been necessary and proportionate."

We knew McCain was a dreadful liar during the campaign against Obama, but what this report tells us is that he was not alone.

Lots of politicians across the political spectrum chose to portray this conflict in a way which suited their political beliefs rather than according to what actually happened. At last, this EU report confirms what many of us said at the time: Georgia started the war.


Glenn Greenwald has a very good take on just how widespread Republican lying was during this invasion with almost all of them publicly stating the very opposite of what was true:

Sarah Palin, ABC News interview, September 10, 2008:

PALIN: For Russia to have exerted such pressure in terms of invading a smaller democratic country, unprovoked, is unacceptable and we have to keep...

GIBSON: You believe unprovoked.

PALIN: I do believe unprovoked and we have got to keep our eyes on Russia, under the leadership there.

Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post, October 24, 2008:

The second test was Georgia, to which Obama responded instinctively with evenhanded moral equivalence, urging restraint on both sides. McCain did not have to consult his advisers to instantly identify the aggressor.

John McCain, presidential debate, October 7, 2008:

[Putin] has exhibited most aggressive behavior, obviously, in Georgia. . . .We have to make the Russians understand that there are penalties for these this kind of behavior, this kind of naked aggression into Georgia, a tiny country and a tiny democracy.

Washington Post Editorial Page, August 28, 2008:

Those in the West who persist in blaming Georgia or the Bush administration for the present crisis ought to carefully consider those words -- and remember the history in Europe of regimes that have made similar claims. This is the rhetoric of an isolated, authoritarian government drunk with the euphoria of a perceived victory and nursing the delusion of a restored empire. It is convinced that the West is too weak and divided to respond with more than words. If nothing is done to restrain it, it will never release Georgia -- and it will not stop there.

George Will, The Washington Post, August 17, 2008:

Now McCain's rejuvenated hopes rest on his ability to recast this election, focusing it on who should lead America in a world suddenly darkened by Russia's war of European conquest. . . . He should ask Obama to join him in a town meeting on lessons from Russia's aggression. Both candidates favor NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, perhaps Vladimir Putin's next victim. But does Russia's behavior cause Obama to rethink reliance on "soft power" -- dialogue, disapproval, diplomacy, economic carrots and sticks -- which Putin considers almost an oxymoron? . . . Until Russian tanks rolled into Georgia, it seemed that not even the Democratic Party could lose this election. But it might if McCain can make it turn on the question of who is ornery enough to give Putin a convincing, deterring telephone call at 3 a.m.

Washington Post Editorial Page, August 14, 2008:

YOU MIGHT think, at a moment such as this, that the moral calculus would be pretty well understood. . . . Yet, in Washington, the foreign policy sophisticates cluck and murmur that, after all, the Georgians should have known better than to chart an independent course . . . Part of the blame-the-victim argument is tactical -- the notion that the elected president of Georgia foolishly allowed the Russians to goad him into a military operation to recover a small separatist region of Georgia. Mr. Saakashvili says, in an article we publish on the opposite page today, that the facts are otherwise, that he ordered his troops into action only after a Russian armored column was on the move. . . . Moreover, the evidence is persuasive and growing that Russia planned and instigated this war.

Cathy Young, Reason, October 24, 2008:

Last Friday, columnist and blogger Glenn Greenwald, one of the Bush presidency's harshest critics, blasted both major party presidential candidates for perpetuating the "blatant falsehood" that Russia launched an "unprovoked attack" on Georgia last August. . . . There is something puzzling about the sympathy for Russia evident in many quarters of the American left-from Greenwald to Noam Chomsky to Alexander Cockburn and Katrina vanden Heuvel in The Nation (not to mention numerous commenters at sites like and The Huffington Post). . . . Why the sympathy, then? A knee-jerk reaction that equates hostility to Russia with red-baiting? Or could it be that to some on the left, the cause of sticking a finger in America's eye is progressive enough?

Every single one of those people were talking nonsense. Nor was the truth particularly hard to find. Indeed, all they had to do was Google it. But they chose to see this as an act of Russian aggression because (a) that is what they are hard wired always to do, and (b) because they hoped by turning this into an issue that they might be able to expose Obama as somehow "unready" to lead the US in a dangerous world. They also do this because they know they will get away with it.

The reason they get away with this is because the American press report in an almost constant "he said, she said" style without ever informing their readership that one side is talking complete and utter bollocks.

It's why they talk of death panels and killing your granny, because they are operating in a fact free environment. Until that changes, they have no reason to. You can now literally lie about who started a war and have that printed verbatim without anyone pointing out the fact that what you are saying is 100% untrue.

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