American Elephants

Obama’s Teleprompter Problem. by The Elephant's Child

Has there ever before been a candidate for the Presidency of the United States who ran on a platform of not liking his country much? At least when he’s speaking without a teleprompter. He can’t seem to stop putting his foot into it. On Wednesday in Lynchburg, VA, Democrat Barack Obama scolded Russia again for invading another country’s sovereign territory while stating that “the United States should set a better example on that front”.

The Illinois senator’s initial opposition to the Iraq war is his only claim to fame, and to which he refers whenever possible. (I think he was pathetically and disastrously wrong, but he is entitled to his opinion). He went on to say “We’ve got to send a clear message to Russia and unify our allies. They can’t charge into other countries. Of course it helps if we are leading by example on that point”.

Victor Davis Hanson found that a little much too:

Let me get this straight; getting a Senate and House majority to authorize a bipartisan joint war-resolution, going to the U.N., assembling a coalition, having a national and world debate on the wisdom of such an operation from December 2001 to March 2003, and then attacking a genocidal dictator, and staying on to foster a constitutional democracy are apparently the same “charge” “example” as an autocrcy suddenly invading its democratic neighbor during the Olympics, and staying on to annex some of its territory?

Aside from the silliness of these statements, the problem for Obama, again, is that incrementally they really do start to add up — America’s “tragic history,” the mini-sermon on decline to the 7-year-old, waffling exegesis to Rick Warren about our own evil, the confessions to the cheering Berliners about our transgressions — and these doubts are enhanced rather than ameliorated by Michelle Obama’s various rantings, and the creepy things former associates like Ayers, Wright, and Pfleger have said about America and its culture.

Obama has made it pretty clear that history is not his strong point, nor foreign policy. I still can’t get over his claim that he is especially knowledgeable about foreign policy because he lived abroad from age 6 to age 10.

I am offended by his constant put-downs of the country, and by his insistence that the country is in terrible shape. I suppose that if you are a messiah, and you can convince everyone that things are almost beyond redemption, and that you and you alone can redeem the world; well then, I guess you get a bunch of people sitting around chanting Oh-bah-mah. Seems a little sick-making to me.

For Every Action, There is a Reaction. by The Elephant's Child
August 22, 2008, 8:19 pm
Filed under: Foreign Policy, History, News, Politics | Tags: , ,

The Russians seem not to be moving out of Georgia in spite of Western demands. They clearly are not happy with missiles in Poland and with the defiance of their former satellites. Now it seems that investors are yanking their money out of Russian markets. Until Russia invaded Georgia, there had been only massive inflows of capital, probably because of the rising price of oil which represents 20% of Russia’s gross domestic product.

The outbreak of militarism, red tape, corruption, and war talk has caused some to make a hasty exit and take their money with them. On Friday, Russia’s central bank announced that its foreign currency reserves — a central part of its economic stability had dropped $16.4 billion in the last week to $581.1 billion. This was the biggest decline since Russia’s 1998 currency crisis which led to triple digit inflation and a collapse of the ruble.

Oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, was eligible for release from prison, but Russian authorities have decided to keep him in prison, without comment. His biggest crime seems to be that he was not politically aligned with Putin.

Russia’s oil boom has done little to improve conditions in Russia. Health care is poor, alcoholism is widespread, and life expectancy is short. Russia’s population is declining by approximately 500,000 a year, and is expected to accelerate.

It’s a strange world, isn’t it?

The crisis in Georgia through the eyes of Michael Totten… by The Elephant's Child
August 21, 2008, 1:41 am
Filed under: Foreign Policy, News, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

Michael Totten, independent journalist extraordinaire, reports from Tbilisi in Georgia, and describes the situation there. He describes a refugee crisis all over the country and especially in the capital. Schools have been transformed into refugee housing. Michael visited one of the schools and spoke to four women — Lia, Nana, Diana, and Maya — who had fled with their children from small villages near Gori.

“We left the cattle,” Lia said. “We left the house. We left everything and came on foot because to stay there was impossible”. Diana’s account: “They are burning the houses. From most of the houses they are taking everything. They are stealing everything, even such things as toothbrushes and toilets. They are taking the toilets. Imagine. They are taking broken refrigerators.” And Nana: “We are so heartbroken. I don’t know what to say or even think. Our whole lives we were working to save something , and one day we lost everything. Now I have to start everything from the very beginning.”

As always in his reporting, Michael gives a sense of immediacy to today’s events. Read the whole thing.

War and peace, ceasefires and peacekeepers…. by The Elephant's Child

Oh, well of course, it’s all Bush’s fault. The response has been too anemic. The response has been too strong. A little invasion in Ossetia, and it’s the blame-business as usual. The Russians had no choice but to move in because President Mikheil Saakashvili was committing genocide in South Ossetia; and if you believe that, you probably believe that Russian peacekeepers are keeping the peace.

Melik Kaylan, a New York based writer who has often reported from Georgia, wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

Last year, President Mikheil Saakashvili invited me along on a helicopter flight to see Tskhinvali, South Ossetia’s capital, from the air. We viewed it at some distance to avoid Russian antiaircraft missiles manned by Russian personnel.

He pointed out a lone hilltop sprinkled with houses some 10 miles inside Georgian territory — scarcely even a town. Much of the population, namely the Georgians, had long ago been purged by  Russian-backed militias, leaving behind a rump population of Ossetian farmers and Russian security forces posing as Ossetians. “We have offered them everything, ” he said, “language rights, land rights, guaranteed power in parliament, anything they want, and they would take it, if the Kremlin would let them.” (emphasis mine)

Moscow’s thin pretense of protecting an ethnic group provided just enough cover for Georgia’s timorous friends in the West to ignore increasing Russian provocations over the past few years. Moscow, it now seems, intends to “protect” large numbers of Georgians too — by occupying and killing them if that’s what it takes — and prevent them from building their own history and pursuing their democratic destiny, as it has for almost two centuries.

Georgia is just a little country far, far away, but it was once in the “sphere” of the Soviet Union. So were Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia and others. The core assumptions of the post-Cold War years have proved to be wrong. Francis Fukuyama famously claimed “At the end of history, there are not serious ideological competitors left to liberal democracy.” Nor has human nature, in its best and worst emanations, been repealed.

There have been a lot of words written on the Russian invasion of Georgia. These were, to me, some of the most striking. There will be many more words, lots of propaganda, and many attempts to attach blame. Try hard to retain your common sense. We may need it. This is a wake-up call.

They said they would, but no they won’t…. by The Elephant's Child

The War in Georgia

Russia agreed to pull out of South Ossetia, a cease-fire in the Georgian War, but, of course, they are doing no such thing. They are digging in a little deeper. In Poti, a port on the Black Sea, the Russians have sunk all Georgian naval and patrol vessels, and have been systematically destroying port facilities. They are far outside the borders of South Ossetia. The cease-fire deal calls for both Russian and Georgian forces to pull back to positions they held before fighting erupted on August 8.

The media seems to have accepted Russian propaganda, as usual.

The War in the House of Representatives

First she says she will and then she won’t. She will consider opening “portions”, but probably include little remedies that fit all her lies. Opening the Strategic Reserve, creating green jobs, curbs on non-existent speculation, all the loony leftist ideas. We need to increase the pressure on the Speaker of the House. She has created the worst record of any speaker in my lifetime, and with an approval rating of 9%, it can’t get much lower.

Do you suppose that Speaker Pelosi’s big investment in Boone Pickens’ big wind energy play “Clean Energy Fuels Corporation has anything to do with her insistence on subsidies for wind energy?

Oh, for goodness sake, we’re blaming the wrong people… by The Elephant's Child

Russian State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov contends that the war in Georgia is a “wag the dog” scenario cooked up by the McCain campaign, reports James S. Robbins in the Corner at National Review Online. “What is happening in the South Caucasus is part of the U.S. Republican Party’s election campaign.” he said. How it will lead to McCain taking Pennsylvania remains to be explained.

Oh, ha ha ha! Thanks, James Robbins, for injecting a wonderful bit of humor into a messy situation.

Surprise, surprise, Vladimir lied….. by The Elephant's Child

You thought all that talk about a cease fire could be believed, didn’t you? Some of us have longer experience with the Russians than others. The idea that Russia, while the world was watching the Olympics, just suddenly needed to respond to a “provocation” by Georgia’s elected president, with a fully organized two division military force, tanks, warplanes, warships, and two divisions of soldiers. As Canadian David Warren said:

The notion that Russia — whose land area makes her by far the planet’s largest single state — could be threatened by a neighbour 1/245th her size, should not be confused with paranoia.

In spite of changing titles, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, strongman of Russia, remains in charge. As a former KGB officer, he has long been schooled in Communist power politics. Russia has been meddling in South Ossetia and Abkhazia for years. Russia’s thin pretense of protecting an ethnic group from “ethnic cleansing” provided cover for Georgia’s timid friends in the West to ignore Russia’s adventures. Melik Kaylan explains, in the Wall Street Journal, some of Russia’s strategic plans.

Having overestimated the power of the Soviet Union in its last years, we have consistently underestimated the ambitions of Russia since. Already, a great deal has been said about the implications of Russia’s invasion for Ukraine, the Baltic States and Europe generally. But few have noticed the direct strategic threat of Moscow’s action to U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Kremlin is not about to reignite the Cold War for the love of a few thousand Ossetians or even for its animosity toward five million Georgians. This is calculated strategic maneuvering. And make no mistake, it’s about countering U.S. power at its furthest stretch with Moscow’s power very close to home…
Between Russia and Iran, in the lower Caucasus, sits a small wedge of independent soil — namely, the soil of Azerbaijan and Georgia combined. Through those two countries runs the immensely important Bakuk-Tiblisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which delivers precious oil circuitously from Azerbaijan to Turkey and out to the world. …It says to the world that if any former Moscow colonies wish to sell their wares to the West diectly, they have a right to do so, and the West will support that right.

John McCain understood the situation immediately as a case of Russian aggression, and spoke out forcefully. McCain knows Georgia well, quickly grasped the strategic situation, and spoke to President Saakashvili who he has know for many years.

Susan Rice, most prominent of Obama’s 300 foreign policy advisers, quickly accused McCain of “shooting from the hip”, and said that a more “measured response” would be more appropriate. Susan Rice has emphasized that Barack Obama clearly has more foreign policy expertise because he actually lived abroad from age 6 to age 10. A measured response seems to be talking and consulting the expertise of the U.N.

Leaders of the other former Soviet controlled states have quickly called for Russia to back off and offered their support to Georgia. President Bush has sent humanitarian supplies and medical aid. His statement is here. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on the way to Georgia. The situation is fluid.

Just how far do Russia’s ambitions go? by The Elephant's Child

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed Tuesday that both Russian and Georgian troops will withdraw to their positions before the present conflict, in order to halt the fighting in South Ossetia.

“I have decided to end the operation to compel the Georgian authorities to peace. The aim has been achieved” Medvedev was quoted by Tass news agency as saying. Medvedev has also been reported to have ordered Russian forces to “eliminate the aggressor” in case Georgians resume military activity.

Uh huh. A military operation such as the Russians just demonstrated is a carefully planned and organized action. Vladimir Putin is pushing to reassert Russia’s authority in a former Soviet state. Putin is using the separatist issue in South Ossetia as an excuse, and if he is allowed to get away with it, all the former Soviet states are threatened. You don’t just round up two divisions, hundreds of tanks and bombers, and a squadron of of warships overnight. It takes a lot of planning and organizing.

Russian bombers have indiscriminately hit residential and industrial areas, and killed hundreds of civilians. Russian forces took the central city of Gori, just 40 miles from Tibilisi, the Georgian capital. Russian troops also invaded from Abkhazia and took the city of Zugdidi to the west.

Russian claims of Georgian ethnic cleansing seem to be well-rehearsed propaganda. This is the first Russian military offensive outside of Russia’s borders. But there has been a consistent pattern of threats and provocations against other Russian neighbors, such as shutting off oil or natural gas delivery to Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and even Lithuania, a NATO member. They launched a cyber-assault on Estonia, and have opposed two antimissile sites in Eastern NATO nations.

There is a message here for Europe from the Kremlin. It says very clearly: We can shut off the supply of Siberian gas any time we want, and we can turn off every spigot in the region any time we choose.

Europe, protected throughout the Cold War by an American military umbrella, has long wallowed in a dream of a world without conflict. But as the well-known adage from Flavius Vegetius Renatum, circa 375 AD, goes “Si vis pacem, para bellum” goes: If you want peace, prepare for war. It remains very good advice.

Just a little war far, far away, or… by The Elephant's Child

The crisis in far off Georgia is worrying. Georgia, a former Soviet state, if you look at a map, sits just outside the bear’s den, right on Russia’s border. South Ossetia, a breakaway province of Georgia, wanted to become independent. Georgia reasserted her authority. Russia, massing on the border in the role of “peacekeeper” crossed the border with an additional 10.000 soldiers, and many tanks into South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russian aircraft bombed a military airfield near Tbilisi. Russia also sent ships to the coast of the Black Sea with reinforcements.

Reports say that Russia attacked not only targets in South Ossetia, but also targeted the major Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) gas and oil pipeline. The pipeline, in which British Petroleum is the lead partner, is important strategically, for it is the only outlet for countries in the region to get their oil to the international market without relying on Russia.

Russia has been what can be charitably described as a bully with their oil and gas, which supplies over a quarter of Europe’s needs. A gas pipeline called the South Caucasus pipeline is being built next to the oil pipeline. It is important to all the states in the region, including Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. Russia has steadfastly opposed its construction.

Another part of the story has been Georgia’s desire to join NATO, and seek protection from the West. NATO’s refusal to date suggests weakness to the Russians, who keep track of that sort of thing.

Russia has not made much of a secret at her anger over the dissolution of the Soviet Union and loss of Superpower status. With oil funds flowing into a now state-controlled oil industry, the West must take notice. It is reported that Russia has just nationalized half of its wheat crop.

The European Union made bland protests, apparently shocked, shocked, that Russia didn’t realize that we had entered a new era when we solved problems by talking. The United Nations did what they do best, they had a meeting.

John McCain said that “Tensions and hostilities between Georgians and Ossetians are in no way justification for Russian troops crossing an internationally recognized border.” He also called on “Russia to immediately and unconditionally withdraw its forces from the territory of Georgia.”

Barack Obama called for “talks among all sides and said the United States, the UN. Security Council and other parties should try to help bring about a peaceful resolution.” Obama looked forward to an international peacekeeping force under an appropriate UN mandate.” Appropriately wimpy.

Georgia has pulled out of South Ossetia. Russia is in control. Georgia has ordered a cease fire and called for talks. A little war. Lots of dead.

Do you suppose that these events will arouse a slumbering Europe into a realization of the true nature of the world, or will they go on dreaming of a world without conflict? Of armies that are unneeded and unfunded?

Will Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid understand that drilling for our own oil is also a national security issue? That the Strategic Reserve is a – strategic – reserve. Or will they go on making up stories about greedy oil companies, evil speculators, and threatened species (that are multiplying nicely) and, oh yes, the need to save the planet, rising seas, disastrous storms and droughts and all those other mythical results from a one degree warming that stopped ten years ago.

Well, no, probably not.

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