The 2008 South Ossetia War: A Guide
There are two basic facts to keep in mind about the smokin' little war in Ossetia:
1. The Georgians started it.
2. They lost.
They were doing something they learned from Bush and Cheney: sticking to best-case scenarios, positive thinking. The Georgian plan was classic shock’n’awe with no hard, grown-up thinking about the long term. Their shiny new army would go in, zap the South Ossetians while they were on a peace hangover (the worst kind), and then…uh, they’d be welcomed as liberators? Sure, just like we were in Iraq. Man, you pay a price for believing in Bush.
The War Nerd
South Ossetia, The War of My Dreams, 11th August 2008
Up until now, this war was framed as a simple tale of Good Helpless Democratic Guy Georgia versus Bad Savage Fascist Guy Russia. In fact, it is far more complex than this, morally and historically.
At the root of this conflict is a clash of two twentieth-century guiding principles in international relations. Georgia, backed by the West, is claiming its right as a sovereign nation to control the territory within its borders, a guiding principle since World War II. The Ossetians are claiming their right to self-determination, a guiding principle since World War I.
These two guiding concepts for international relations–national sovereignty and the right to self-determination–are locked in a zero-sum battle in Georgia. Sometimes, the West takes the side of national sovereignty, as it is in the current war; other times, it sides with self-determination and redrawing of national borders, such as with Kosovo.
In that 1999 war, the United States led a nearly three-month bombing campaign of Serbia in order to rescue a beleaguered minority, the Albanians, and carve out a new nation. Self-determination trumped national sovereignty, over the objections of Russia, China and numerous other countries.
Why, Russians and Ossetians (not to mention separatist Abkhazians in Georgia’s western region) ask, should the same principle not be applied to them?
The answer is clear: because we say so. That sort of logic, in an era of colossal American decline and simultaneous Russian resurgence, no longer works on the field.
Mark Ames, The eXile
South Ossetia: The War We Don’t Know, 15th August 2008
What is troubling is the U.S. media's willingness to similarly toe the party line, but in the absence of any of the coercive measures, such as the state censorship, that the Russian press endures. There have been no William Dunbars on CNN, despite the fact that every report I've seen on the channel yesterday had been framed as 'Russian invasion,' with endless clips of Saakashvili alleging Russian crimes, etc., in a loop of totally pro-Georgian coverage. Georgia is a key U.S. ally, the 3rd largest troop contingent in Iraq, and occupies a strategic, oil rich zone. The self-policing in the U.S. media, which has basically been uncritically promoting government talking points, is very disturbing.
To the uninformed viewer, it was Russia, not Georgia, which used the cover of the Olympic games to invade; in reality, they both did. In addition, there have been several mentions of Georgia as a fledgling democracy, but no mention of Saakashvili’s recent crackdown on the media and civil society. The US media has been guilty of a procrustean tendency to distill a messy conflict between two flawed states into a Manichean struggle between good and evil.
Foreign Policy Association
The CNN Effect: A Tale of Two Wars, 13th August 2008
To sum it all up, the War Nerd concludes:
The bottom line will be simple: the Georgians overplayed their hand and got slapped, and we caught a little of the follow-through, which is what happens when you waste your best troops - and Georgia’s, for that matter - on a dumb war in the wrong place. We detatched Kosovo from a Russian ally; they detached South Ossetia from an American ally. It’s a pawn exchange, if that. If it signals anything bigger, it’s the fact that the US is weaker than it was ten years ago and Russia is much, much stronger than it was in Yeltsin’s time. But anybody with sense knew all that already.