Stupid leaders interpret words to satisfy their political desires. They miss vital nuances in dangerous international relations. On August 7, Mikheil Saakashvili ordered Georgia’s armed forces to invade South Ossetia, a secessionist province bordering Russia. In so doing, he joined other heads of state who won dunce caps with disastrous decisions based on failure to understand the obvious.
Georgia’s President apparently counted on US backing, albeit his "good friend" George W. Bush had not explicitly promised to send US forces if needed. The Georgian Army assaulted a piece of its own country, causing tens of thousands of South Ossetians to flee into Russia. Did "Saaka" ask Bush the explicit question or merely extrapolate –as in "good friend must translate into US military support?"
In June 1976, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger flew to Santiago to address the OAS on human rights. Before his speech, he met with Chilean dictator August Pinochet to try to help boost his tarnished image. In the conversation, according to a State Department Memcom, K assured P that Washington "approved of his methods" – probably referring to free market economics and his dispatching reds, pinkos and rose-shaded elements from the Chilean political scene. But that "cleansing" activity led to worldwide condemnation for human rights abuses and provoked the Kennedy Amendment barring Washington from selling military equipment to Chile. K wanted Chile to buy new fighter jets. By praising P’s "methods," K may well have led the less than suave Chilean general to think that "approval" included permission to assassinate Orlando Letelier, former Chilean Ambassador (under Allende) to the United States – in Washington DC on September 21, 1976. After all, P may have reasoned, K knows we assassinate our enemies abroad. Indeed, K had helped Chile set up a multination hit squad called Operation Condor.
In 1978, the Justice Department indicted Chile’s secret police chief and other Chilean officials for the assassination. P’s name remained on an unsigned indictment in the Assistant US Attorney’s office in Washington DC for conspiracy to assassinate Letelier- until he died in 2006.
In 1982, Argentina’s military junta thought that praise from Washington for "ridding their country of subversives" would surely merit support for a war they planned against England to regain control of the Falklands/Malvinas islands. Indeed, US diplomats and military attachés in Buenos Aires offered pats on the back to the thugs in power who had offered help in the US’ illegal war against Nicaragua.
When they reclaimed the Malvinas and England declared war, Washington sneered at the Argentine request for support, as if it ever could have considered deserting its closest and longest standing ally for a bunch of military brutes – and temporary ones at that.
In 1990, before Iraq invaded Kuwait, US Ambassador April Glaspie told Saddam Hussein that the US had no "opinion" on Arab-Arab disputes. Presumably, she thought Saddam planned to take the small corner of Kuwait that had been in dispute and that legally belonged to Iraq. Saddam, not a man known to detect the nuance in a statement, understood her words as President Bush’s (I) permission to take all of Kuwait. Oh well!
Saakashvili has now earned his status in the ranks of modern blunderers. This former New York lawyer turned head of state thought he enjoyed full US support. After all, he had remained loyal when the rest of Bush’s coerced coalition began pulling out of Iraq. He kept 2,000 Georgian troops there and won in return Bush’s support for NATO membership – plus hugs, back slaps and even White House dinners and lunches. Given these outward assurances and lots of US military aid, and despite occasional warnings about provoking the semi-sleeping Russian Bear, he dispatched his troops against secessionist "rebels," killing Ossetian civilians. As thousands of Ossetians fled north into Russian, Russian troops poured south forcing Georgian forces to beat a hasty and less than dignified retreat
Russia removed the Georgian military from both South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It added punishment and humiliation to Saakashvili’s predicament by occupying Georgian territory and bombing some areas. Presumably, the Russian leaders had little concern that the West that had armed and encouraged Georgia would do anything to stop the military push. As Bush frothed at the mouth in anger, all he could do was dispatch one military airplane, filled with humanitarian supplies.
The embarrassed Bushies now leak to the stenographic US press that its pleas to Saakashvili to act prudently regarding the pro-Russian enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia fell on deaf ears. Such a version of events collides with Bush’s authorization to send US military advisers to integrate into Georgia’s military apparatus. Could Washington have such a chummy relationship and yet exert no control over events that could have led to nuclear war?
"It is inconceivable that the Americans were unaware of Georgia’s mobilization and intentions," wrote Stratford military analyst George Friedman. "It is also inconceivable that the Americans were unaware that the Russians had deployed substantial forces on the South Ossetian frontier. US 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." (August 13, Stratfor.com)
If true, Bush emerges as strategically more idiotic than Saakashvili. Bush said nothing when Georgian troops invaded South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Someone in his entourage must have known the Big Bear would not tolerate such a provocation. Indeed, Russia showed Georgia and the world who controlled its sphere. But, whined Bush, the Russian response was "disproportionate" and "brutal." This from the shock and awe man who bombed and invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and threatens war with Iran!
A decade ago, Clinton bombed Serbia for almost three solid months and then sent troops in to "persuade" its government to allow Kosovo to secede. Compare Serbia’s claim to its territory with Georgia’s "historic" – as if – hold on Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Russia has signed a peace accord and swore to begin troop withdrawal. But Konstantin Kosachev, Chair of Russia’s Parliamentary foreign affairs committee, said Russian forces "sooner or later" will leave Georgia, depending on conditions. "If I would ask you," Kosachev continued, "how fast the American forces can leave Iraq, the answer would be, as soon as we have guarantees for peace and security there. The same answer would be toward this situation."
In 1991, the United States rejoiced over the break up of the former Soviet bloc. But the much heralded principles of self-determination and sovereignty apply only when the US says they do. When some residents of two provinces, not with an ethnically Georgian majority, seek independence, the United States waxes indignant. Saakashvili and Bush’s neo cons hold different standards. What the good guys do is automatically good.
Now what? President Medvedev has stopped the "well-intentioned" West from reducing Russian power. In Eastern Europe, NATO had already absorbed six former Soviet bloc states and three former Soviet Republics. Washington even induced the Russians to close their only nuclear pact monitoring base in Lourdes, Cuba to show "sincerity."
Less than five years later, Washington has begun a new anti-missile strategy, by moving sites from Western Europe to Poland and the Czech Republic – supposedly to defend against non existent Iranian ICBMs and nuclear weapons.
On the economic front, Western capital and diplomacy steered a Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline from Azerbaijan to Turkey via Georgia. No Russian participation – or profit. Western capital and political know how poured into Ukraine and Georgia to usher in "democratic revolutions" – anti-Russian; they tried and failed in Belarus.
The questions not posed by the US media came from Fidel Castro. "What are Georgian soldiers doing in Iraq if not supporting a war which has cost that people hundreds of thousands of lives and millions of victims? What ideals are they defending there?" asked Cuba’s former President.
"Saakashvili, on his own," wrote Castro, "would never have jumped to the adventure of sending the Georgian army into South Ossetia, where he would be clashing with Russian troops."
Egg now drips from several faces. But Georgia’s foolish president doesn’t have a stable of toady neo cons and a distracting media to help lick it off. The question is: has the Russian military move taught the West a lesson or will Bush and his successor push until an even more dangerous "incident" occurs?
Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. His films are available on dvd http://roundworldproductions.com