If you asked me what publication General McChrystal, the highest ranking US military official in Afghanistan, would chose to meet with for the purpose of discrediting his Commander-in-chief, I probably wouldn’t have said the same magazine that once featured the fabulous Adam Lambert on its cover.
An article in this week’s Rolling Stone magazine depicts McChrystal as a lone wolf on the outs with many important figures in the Obama administration and unable to persuade even some of his own soldiers that his strategy can win the war.
Are we talking about the same lone wolf, who admitted to war crimes in March? I can’t imagine why people are refusing to listen to a man who admitted that the US military has “shot an amazing number of people, but to [his] knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat.”
This weird story reminded me of Sy Hersh’s statement last year that the military was “waging a war against the White House.”
“A lot of people in the Pentagon would like to see him get into trouble,” he said. By leaking information that the commanding officer in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, says the war would be lost without an additional 40,000 American troops, top brass have put Obama in a no-win situation, Hersh contended.
“If he gives them the extra troops they’re asking for, he loses politically,” Hersh said. “And if he doesn’t give them the troops, he also loses politically.”
McChrystal’s, of course, playing innocent now, and he’s apologized to the White House, but it’s hard to believe a man who spends his every waking hour plotting strategy would “accidentally” leak these kinds of whopping gaffs to the press.
Here’s a strange one. Today, Candy Crowly interviewed Senators Lieberman, Murkowski, Feinstein, and Lugar, and somehow managed to survive to tell the tale of it. Feinstein and Lugar specifically talked about Afghanistan, and Candy pointed out how the whole thing has turned into a bottomless quagmire of despair and suffering.
My words, not hers. Feinstein thinks people like me are Negative Nellies. I guess she was included in this conversation as the “liberal” answer to the Republicans’ crazies, but honestly, she sounded like a chickenhawk most of the time. The Taliban is bad. Really, Diane? I had no idea. I thought all that acid they threw in the faces of schoolgirls was part of an exfoliation regimen.
But the gold medal for “What’d He Say?” in punditry excellence goes to Dick Lugar for this exchange. My comments [in brackets]:
CROWLEY: Senator Lugar, she paints a pretty grim picture about a war that’s been going on for nine-plus years. [Again, I thought Feinstein was pretty conservative in her language, but then again, I'm a shrill, hysterical, irrational leftist agent]. If had you to say, on this day I will know that the U.S. has succeed and we can begin bringing troops home, what would that day look like?
LUGAR: Well, your question implies that we’ve defined success, and we’ve never got to that point. That’s a part of our problem, that we’re going to have, as a government, whether it be the president or the Congress, to define success in a way in which the American people find this to be satisfying. Otherwise we’ll continue to argue about the date of withdrawal or how fast, or how — whether we surge more or less, without ever having defined exactly what it is hope from Afghanistan. [What'd he say?]
Wait, what? The only barometer we have for “success,” which, btw, we haven’t even defined, is the satisfaction of the American people? So basically, whatever the American people desire shall by default become the parameters of “success.”
John Brennan, the deputy national security adviser for counter-terrorism and homeland security, has announced a new national security strategy that will focus on the threat posed by homegrown extremists. Except, the target of this strategy doesn’t seem to be all domestic terrorism, but rather domestic terrorism with foreign roots.
There has been a surge in right-wing extremism in the U.S., copiously documented by groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, but which was also predicted by Homeland Security. In fact, the report warned that right-wing extremists, who are “angry at the economy and the election of a black president” might recruit GWOT veterans.
I have been writing about how white domestic terrorism has slipped from the media’s radar, but sadly, it seems like the government is also uninterested by the surge in right wing extremism — possibly because such violence doesn’t fit the helpful war narrative of the “dangerous other” being brown, and from a desert landscape.
In 1947, President Truman signed the National Security Act, which formed the National Military Establishment, a department with the unfortunate acronym “NME,” (pronounced “enemy”). Wise men realized a name change was in order, so they rebranded NME as the “Department of Defense.” In its new role, the DoD would oversee the duties formerly handled by the Department of War and the Department of the Navy.
Department of War and “enemy” are more suitable nomenclatures for our modern wartime Chimera, the Department of Defense.
As Thom Shanker details with the cool, detached demeanor of a serial killer, the “protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are forcing the Obama administration to rethink what for more than two decades has been a central premise of American strategy: that the nation need only prepare to fight two major wars at a time.”
Of course, “only two wars at a time, boys” isn’t written anywhere in our Constitution. That may be because our forefathers were sort of wary about that whole empirical conquest thing. They’d just escaped being ruled over by a tyrannical king and were in no rush to impose their own authoritarian regime upon anyone else, though that didn’t stop them from wiping out the Native Americans and pesky Mexicans.
A senior Defense Department official involved in a strategy review now under way said the Pentagon was absorbing the lesson that the kinds of counterinsurgency campaigns likely to be part of some future wars would require more staying power than in past conflicts, like the first Iraq war in 1991 or the invasions of Grenada and Panama.
I know what you’re thinking: Surely, the only lesson to be taken out of the Iraq and Afghanistan quagmires is to NOT invade countries that pose no threat to the United States. Well, that’s why you’re not in charge of leading young men and women to their deaths. The problem isn’t ideological. It’s strategical.
Among the refinements to the two-wars strategy the Pentagon has incorporated in recent years is one known as “win-hold-win” — an assumption that if two wars broke out simultaneously, the more threatening conflict would get the bulk of American forces while the military would have to defend along a second front until reinforcements could arrive to finish the job.
Another formulation envisioned the United States defending its territory, deterring hostility in four critical areas of the world and then defeating two adversaries in major combat operations, but not at exactly the same time.
For anyone of you weak, pathetic peace-lovers out there, who thought maybe (just maybe) the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan (and sometimes Pakistan) were winding down, stick this Pentagon memo in your pipe and smoke it. This is the long-vision, people. This is perpetual war.
An inconvenient truth is that Americans get worked up at the thought of an extended, massive ground invasion of foreign lands. That’s why the future of war is small, scattered, air-oriented, and covert. Whether it’s Dick Cheney’s implementation of a secret assassination ring, or Pakistan-stationed US drones killing civilians, war no longer has to receive the blessing of Congress, or – pause for laughter – the American people.
War is an inevitability, so a public debate about whether war should be is never an option. It’s not a matter of should we be planning for multiple, simultaneous, small invasions, but a debate over technicalities and strategies for when it happens. And the media usually walks hand-in-hand with the Pentagon, somehow managing to keep a straight face on the matter, when generals and bureaucrats start spouting rhetoric about preserving freedom and democracy via cluster bombs.
The war debate (if it can be called a debate) is completely off-kilter. Even in the “liberal” New York Times, the article isn’t balanced with a pro-war participant and a serious anti-war participant. Yet again, we get a photocopied Pentagon memo crammed within a major newspaper’s margins, without analysis or journalistic insight into the consequences of perpetual war. Including an anti-war voice isn’t partisan. It’s actually doing real journalistic work, which is representing all sides of a story, and not just the loudest opinions resonating from the state.
The closest the Times comes to representing an anti-war voice is in the confusing interjection from Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior follow from the Brookings Institution, a think tank that the Times tells me is center-left, though I wouldn’t have guessed that from O’Hanlon’s comment:
“We have Gates and others saying that other parts of the government are underresourced and that the DoD should not be called on to do everything. That’s a good starting point for this — to ask and at least begin answering where it might be better to have other parts of the government get stronger and do a bigger share, rather than the Department of Defense.”
This sounds like O’Hanlon wants to outsource killing to other departments. Maybe we can arm teachers and parachute them into Pakistan.
Yet again, the debate over our larger war policies goes unexamined by the mainstream media. The media remains compliant in the imperial conquests of our government, and then acts dumbfounded when popular support for their institution wanes, and they find themselves antiquated and bankrupted.
The Shministim are Israeli high school students who have been imprisoned for refusing to serve in an army that occupies the Palestinian Territories. December 18 marks the launch date of a global campaign to release them from jail. Join over 20,000 people including American conscientious objectors,Ronnie Gilbert, Adrienne Rich, Robert Meeropol, Adam Hochschild, Rabbi Lynn Gottleib, Howard Zinn, Rela Mazali, Debra Chasnoff, Ed Asner and Aurora Levins-Morales and show your support by contacting the Israeli Minister of Defense using the form below.
40,000 LETTERS AND COUNTING!
I’ve been researching Georgia’s situation since the current conflict started and wanted to do an informative, critical post about it. Due to the massive amount of information, I am first posting only a timeline explaining where this conflict came from and is currently headed. If I have the time and focus later, I hope to add actual commentary about its development and the West’s response.
It should be noted that all of this is research; none of it is my original contribution. The links at the bottom cover all the material I’ve posted. Many of them repeat the same information, so I am simply citing them collectively rather than identifying which precise piece of info came from where. This is not up to usual standards of citation, but it’s what I can manage for the moment.
Now, how about we start with a map. Note the locations of Tbilisi, Tskhinkvali, Gori, and the ports of Poti and Batumi. They are frequently mentioned in news of the conflict.
Early 1900s, The Russian Revolution: There are two ethnic groups that claim portions of what is now the Republic of Georgia, the Ossetians in eastern Georgia, and Abkhazians on its western Black Sea coast. When the Soviets annexed Georgia after the Russian Revolution, they created autonomous regions in Georgia for each of these groups. To this day, revolutionaries in both regions fight to become independent, possibly to later reunite with Russia.
Late 1980s, break up of the Soviet Union: As the Soviet Union began to break up, separatists in both regions resisted becoming part of Georgia, preferring to throw their lot in with Russia.
NOVEMBER 1989 – South Ossetia declares ‘autonomy’ from Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, resulting in three months of armed conflict.
DECEMBER 1990 – Renewed fighting between Georgia and South Ossetia until 1992.
APRIL 9, 1991 – Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Georgia officially declares its independence.
Early 1990s, fighting in Abkhazia: Abkhazia had a sizable population of ethnic Georgians who were forcibly expelled from the region during the fighting in the early 1990s. Human Rights Watch reported that the Abkhaz separatists committed widespread atrocities against Georgians, including massacres, rapes, torture and ethnic cleansing. The findings were corroborated in a 1994 country report from the U.S. State Department.
JUNE 1992 – Officials from Georgia, Russia, and South Ossetia meet in Sochi for a peace deal, which includes the formation of a peacekeeping force of 500 troops from each of three parties.
JULY 1992 – Abkhazia declares independence from Georgia, resulting in intense fighting through 1994, mass displacement of people, and eventual Georgian military defeat.
1994 – Ceasefire between Abkhazia and Georgia, allowing for the deployment of up to 3,000 Russian peacekeeping troops. UN-led mediation designates Russia a ‘special role’ as ‘facilitator’ of the peace process.
MAY 1998 – Fighting erupts between Abkhazians and Georgians in Gali in Abkhazia, resulting in displacement of 40,000 Georgians from Abkhazia.
NOVEMBER 2003, The “Rose Revolution”: Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze ousted after “winning” a blatantly rigged election. [This was a highly fascinating event. Basically, Mikhail Saakashvili, the opposition leader, led peaceful protests which involved handing roses to soldiers stationed by the sitting president. When Shevardnadze, whose politics were strongly pro-Russian, tried to declare a state of emergency, his army didn't back him up, so he was forced to step down. They held a new election and Saakashvili, whose pro-Western policies are hated by Russia, won easily. He is the current president of Georgia.]
JANUARY 2004 – Mikhail Saakashvili elected president of Georgia. He is still the president of Georgia as it deals with the ongoing conflict.
2004 – The two ethnic regions have been essentially independent since the last round of fighting in 2004. They’ve had Russian financial support and military backing in the form of Russian troops who were part of a regional peacekeeping mission. Russia issued passports to most Abkhazians and Ossetians; therefore, in the current conflict, it can say that it is intervening on behalf of its own citizens.
JANUARY 2005 – Georgian President Saakashvili offers a plan for eventual autonomy of South Ossetia, who rejects it in favour of complete independence. Saakshivili presents the same proposal for Abkhazia, on the condition of right of return of Georgian refugees from 1993 conflict.
JULY 2006 – Georgian parliament insists on the departure of Russian peacekeepers from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and requests international troops in their place. Also, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline officially opens. This new oil pipeline is important in that it is a route for getting oil exported to Western countries while by-passing Russia and Iran.
Here, if you were wondering, is the path of the BTC pipeline:
JUNE 2007 – South Ossetia asserts that Tskhinvali (its caplital city) has been shelled by Georgian mortar and sniper fire. Georgia rejects this claim.
AUGUST 2007 – Georgia claims Russia intruded its airspace twice. Russia denies this.
NOVEMBER 7, 2007 – President Saakashvili uses force to crack down on anti-government protesters. He also expels three Russian diplomats and accuses Moscow of fomenting the unrest. Russia responds by expelling three Georgian diplomats from Russia.
Spring & Summer 2008, Tensions Between Georgia and Russia Rise Over South Ossetia and Abkhazia:
APRIL 3, 2008 – At the Bucharest Summit, NATO members agree that Georgia and Ukraine can one day join the alliance, but they stop short of giving them a roadmap or firm timetable for membership. Russia, who strongly opposes both nations joining NATO, intensifies diplomatic links with Georgia’s breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where Russian peacekeepers are already stationed. Georgia says the order is a violation of international law since no nation, including Russia, has recognized them as independent nations. A Russian fighter jet shoots down a Georgian spy drone over Abkhazia.
APRIL 29 – Russia dispatches extra troops to Abkhazia to counter what it says are Georgian plans for an attack. The next day NATO accuses Moscow of increasing tensions with Georgia.
MAY 6 – Georgia says Russia’s deployment of extra troops in Abkhazia has brought the prospect of war “very close”.
May 15, 2008 – Russian defence chief Yuri Baluyevsky urges NATO to help stop the ‘military build-up’ in Georgia, and names the US, Turkey, the Czech Republic, and Bulgaria the top providers of military resources to Georgia.
May 31 2008 – Russia deploys 300 ‘unarmed’ soldiers to Abkhazia, claiming they are required for railway repair works. Georgia accuses Russia of planning a military intervention. Putin, now prime minister, says he backs a Georgian proposal for Abkhazia’s autonomy but not full independence.
JUNE 2008 – Abkhazia breaks all ties with Georgian government
JUNE 17, 2008 – Four Russian peacekeepers are detained in Abkhazia for allegedly transporting illegal ammunition. The Russian Defence Ministry demands their return.
JULY 10, 2008 – Georgia withdraws its ambassador from Moscow in protest over Russian fighter jets entering South Ossetia’s airspace days earlier. Moscow claims the jets were sent “to cool hot heads in Tbilisi.”
TODAY’S CONFLICT BREAKS OUT
Early August 2008, fighting begins in South Ossetia: During the first week of August, there were a series of sniper-fire incidents and clashes between the South Ossetian militia and Georgian army troops.
AUGUST 4 – Russia accuses Georgia of using excessive force in South Ossetia after the Russian-backed rebels said Georgian artillery had killed at least six people.
AUGUST 7 – Georgian President Saakashvili was charging that the South Ossetians were using heavy weapons that had been brought into the area in violation of the cease-fire. Civilians began to flee Tskhinvali, the town that serves as South Ossetia’s capital. The head of Russian peacekeepers in the region is quoted as saying Georgia and South Ossetian separatists agreed on a truce until they hold Russian-mediated talks. Hours later, Georgian forces launch a surprise attack, sending a large force against the breakaway province and reaching the capital Tskhinvali. Russia’s special envoy in South Ossetia, Yuri Popov, says Georgia’s military operation in South Ossetia shows Tbilisi cannot be trusted and NATO should reconsider its plans to admit Georgia. The head of Georgian forces in South Ossetia says the operation is intended to “restore constitutional order” to the region, while the government says the troops are “neutralizing separatist fighters attacking civilians.” Russia claims Georgia has committed war crimes during the attack, including genocide, but later casualties counts were much lower than the accusations claimed by Moscow.
August 8, 2008, Russia invades Georgia, first in South Ossetia and the next day in Abkhazia: Both South Ossetia and Georgia lay claim to the disputed territory during intense shelling of Tskhinvali by both sides. Russia pours troops into South Ossetia, vowing to defend Russian “compatriots”. Fighting takes place in Tskhinvali. Russian jets attack Georgian military bases. President Saakashvili of Georgia says that Russia and Georgia are now at war. 30 Georgian and 21 Russian troops reported killed. Thousands of South Ossetian civilians flee, others seek shelter in basements. Water and food are reported in short supply.
AUGUST 9 – Russia captures Tskhinvali. Russian fighter jets drop bombs in Georgian city of Gori, which lies 15 miles outside the border with South Ossetia, and sends troops into Abkhazia in support of the separatist troops. Russia claims between 1,400 and 2,000 civilians were killed in Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia; Georgia estimates 130 civilian casualties there. America lends military transporter aircraft to fly many of Georgia’s 2,000-strong troop contingent out of Iraq to join the fighting at home. A delegation of peace envoys from the US, EU and Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) heads for Georgia.
AUGUST 10 – Russian warships are deployed near ports along the Georgian Black Sea coast, including Poti, where Georgian officials say wheat and fuel shipments are being blocked. Russia insists there are no plans to stop oil exports, but says it reserves the right to search any ships. Georgia calls a ceasefire, Russia says the fighting is continuing. Russian fighters bomb outskirts of Tbilisi. The US criticises Russia’s “disproportionate” response. Most of Gori’s 50,000 inhabitants flee in fear of a Russian invasion.
AUGUST 11 – European diplomats meet Georgia’s president in Tbilisi, convincing Mikhail Saakashvili to sign a draft ceasefire agreement. But Russian officials reject the ceasefire before the diplomats even arrive, accusing Georgia of continued bombardments of South Ossetia. The UNHCR estimates between 10,000 and 20,000 people have been displaced within Georgia, including South Ossetia. Russia says a further 30,000 people have fled north into the Russian province of North Ossetia. Russia has stationed more than 9,000 paratroopers in Abkhazia, thus exceeding the limit of 3,000 from the 1994 peace agreement. It continues to move more troops and armour across the border; there are reports that the movement also includes T-72 tanks and Hurricane rocket launchers. Russian troops in Abkhazia demand that Georgian troops disarm. Georgian troops retreat to Gori, then abandon the city for Tbilisi. Saakashvili accuses Russia of trying to overthrow him and seize control of strategic oil pipelines. He sues for peace. Russia accuses him of genocide, he accuses them of ethnic cleansing. UN warns of a growing refugee crisis.
AUGUST 12 – In Abkhazia, Russian-backed rebels announce the beginning of operations against Georgian troops in the Kodori Gorge area. Medvedev issues orders to stop fighting in the five-day conflict. He holds a joint news conference with French President Mr Sarkozy (who is also president of the EU) in Moscow to say Russia has agreed a six-point peace deal. Under the plan, both sides would agree not to use force, and all troops would return to the positions they held before the conflict began. Mr Sarkozy travels to Tbilisi, where he and Mr Saakashvili announce that Georgia also accepts a ceasefire. First humanitarian aid flight lands in Georgia.
AUGUST 13 – In Georgia there are numerous accounts of Russian military activity far beyond the borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov admits Russian forces are still near the towns of Gori and Senaki, saying they have to ensure the safety of civilians by dismantling ammunition and artillery left by the Georgian military.
AUGUST 14 – The first shipments of US humanitarian aid arrive in Georgia, with officials stressing Washington’s commitment to its Georgian ally and promising continuing and regular shipments. A Russian commander in the region confirms that his troops are beginning the process of handing back control of Gori, inviting Georgian police into the town to help restore law and order. But a series of explosions around the town suggest the situation there remains volatile, and the Russians confirm they are not yet in a position to withdraw their troops. President Dmitry Medvedev, meeting the South Ossetian and Abkhazian leaders, says Moscow will respect whatever course of action the two leaders, who head pro-Russian separatist movements, decide upon. Poland and America conclude a deal which will see Poland house a US missile defence system. This angers Russia.
AUGUST 15 – Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili signs an EU-brokered ceasefire with Russia after nearly five hours of talks with the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. In angry comments, Mr Saakashvili says his country will never accept any loss of its territory, and he accuses the West – especially European countries – of inviting Moscow’s military action by failing to offer his country NATO membership earlier this year. [If Georgia was a part of NATO and Russia attacked, the members of NATO would have to come to its military defense. Presumably, Saakashvili believes this would have deterred Russia from their invasion of Georgia.]
AUGUST 16 – Russia signs a peace deal to end the fighting in Georgia but said “extra security measures” were needed before it could begin withdrawing its troops. Ukraine says it is ready for closer co-operation with European countries over its missile defence network, following Moscow’s continuing military advance into Georgia.
AUGUST 17 – Mr Medvedev indicates that additional troops sent to Georgia will withdraw to South Ossetia, rather than to their pre-conflict positions in Russia as agreed in a French-brokered ceasefire signed by both sides.
AUGUST 18 – Georgian officials say there is no evidence that Russian troops are leaving their territory, but a spokesman for the Russian defence ministry says the redeployment has begun and will be completed within days. NATO foreign ministers prepare to hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss the crisis, with the US backing efforts by both Georgia and Ukraine to join the alliance.
AUGUST 19 – Russia exchanges 15 Georgian prisoners for five of its own troops at a Russian checkpoint near Tbilisi (the capital city of Georgia). NATO freezes its partnership with Russia, and declares normal relations with Russia to be impossible.
AUGUST 20 – Russia circulates its own draft UN Security Council resolution aimed at bringing peace to Georgia, allowing for unspecified “additional security measures” before pulling out of Georgia, in violation of the peace agreement Moscow signed a few days ago. Russia issues new, reduced casualty figures for the Georgian conflict, with 133 civilians now listed as dead in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia (far lower than their original estimate of between 1,400 and 2,000 victims).
AUGUST 21 – Russia suspends all military cooperation with NATO. Separatist leaders of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia urge Russia to recognise their independence, as thousands attend pro-independence rallies in both territories.
AUGUST 22 – Russia says it has completed its withdrawal of troops from Georgian territory – but Georgia, France and the US say it continues to violate the terms of the French-brokered ceasefire. Russia’s Deputy Chief of General Staff, Gen Anatoly Nogovitsyn, says that nearly 2,600 troops, with armoured personnel carriers and helicopters, will remain as peacekeepers in a “zone of responsibility” around South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
AUGUST 23 – Russia’s Gen Anatoly Nogovitsyn says combat troops have now left Georgia and only peacekeepers remain. He warns that if the US starts re-arming the Georgian army, Russia would enlarge its peacekeeping force. For the first time in more than two weeks the main road from the capital Tbilisi to Gori is packed with traffic. Minivans ferry passengers back to the towns they left and carry provisions to villages where very little has got through since the conflict began.
AUGUST 24 – A US warship arrives in the Georgian port of Batumi carrying the first delivery of aid supplies by sea. A train full of fuel is blown up by a mine near the Georgian town of Gori.
AUGUST 25 – Russia’s parliament backs a motion urging the president to recognise the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Both houses vote unanimously in favour of the non-binding motion and await the president’s signature or veto. Alexander Stubb, the head of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), says Russia is trying to empty Georgia’s breakaway province of South Ossetia of its ethnic Georgian population.
AUGUST 26 – President Dmitry Medvedev declares that Russia formally recognises the independence of the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The move, in defiance of a specific plea from US President George W Bush, prompts widespread condemnation from around the world.
Note from Allison: Now that you’ve read Anna’s excellent summary of events, check out this article that predicted the Russian-Georgian War.