I’ve been watching and reading about events in Georgia and Ossetia with some interest.
I didn’t post over the weekend because there really didn’t seem much left to say. Earnings season is tapering off with no real shocks, just a bunch of financial write-downs and a sense of general foreboding in all but the export sectors. Macro seems to have found a level for the time being, with the pressure on oil and the USD coming off until the next big insolvency news or people work out that enough economic weakness to lower the oil price is not necessarily a good thing. Always lots of geeky tech news, but little to affect markets generally. Everybody seems to be happy just watching the Olympics.
Then, almost perfectly timed for the opening ceremony a simplistic attempt at a land-grab by a minor but geographically pivotal demagogue in the Caucasus. No big deal really; didn’t work, hard to see how it ever could have. By the way, it’s this sort of thing that has me wanting to be long the upper tail on the oil price probability distribution.
Here’s a map, if you want to follow along.
At heart this is about a US proxy overstepping, and Russia re-asserting its interests in its near abroad – sort of a Caucasian Monroe doctrine – but over the past few days this has morphed into a much wider lesson in the power of PR spin and the US campaign which does invite some comment as an example of how the US public is consistently fed bad information about the world outside. This morning I was stunned to read DeLong, an erstwhile member of the reality-based-community, grabbing the spin hook, line and sinker.
The first place I go for breaking geo-political news (that consistently turns out to be accurate) is Bernhard at MoonOfAlabama, who does his usual yeoman’s job of objectively (yes, there is such a thing) tracking in real time both the conflict itself and the meta-conflict about why it occurred and who will be blamed.
- Saakashvili Wants War – He Will Get It
- The South Ossetian War
- Endgame Plans for South Ossetia
- Wrap Up – For Now
- Sack Saak
Despite yesterday’s announced ceasefire, the government of Georgia today launched an all out military attack on the breakaway South Ossetia region in northern Georgia… There are multiple reasons for this conflict. South Ossetia declared itself independent in the early 1990s. Ossetians are a distinct ethnic group with some 60,000 living in South Ossetia and some 500,000 living in North Ossetia which is a part of Russia. Most people in South Ossetia have a Russian passport and there are UN mandated Russian peacekeepers there… In the bigger picture Georgia is supported by ‘the west’ as part of an energy transport corridor from the Caspian to the Black Sea.
I honestly don’t think I can improve on “B”s reporting, so if you are interested there it is. If the ‘only the facts’ style can’t hold your interest, Gary Brecher at The War Nerd will has a more irreverant take:
There are three basic facts to keep in mind about the smokin’ little war in Ossetia:
- 1. The Georgians started it.
- 2. They lost.
- 3. What a beautiful little war!
Most likely the Georgians just thought the Russians wouldn’t react. 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 Georgians did. They thought he’d help.
While I cannot sympathise with his voyeuristic delight in the conflict itself, his analysis, as usual, is very good and owes nothing to administration “access”. The links between the aggressor and McCain’s campaign are also revealing in retrospect.
McCain’s top foreign policy advisor, neocon Randy Scheunemann, has a long financial relationship with Saakashvili to lobby his interests in the United States…
Scheunemann… also worked for recently-disgraced Bush fundraiser Stephen Payne, lobbying for his Caspian Alliance oil business. The Caspian oil pipeline runs through Georgia, the main reason that country has tugged the heartstrings of neocons and oil plutocrats for at least a decade or more.
What has been really amusing to me is the spin. Initially, multiple reputable news sources on the scene report that Georgia launched an unprovoked attack on the civilians of Ossetia and Russia responded as they were in fact bound to do by their UN-mandated peacekeeping obligations. Russia also immediately called a UN Security Council session where they tabled a resolution – which was blocked by the US and UK because it called for both sides “to renounce the use of force”. It reminds me of Lebanon – “Lord, give me peace; but not yet.”
Next, there is a (pre-arranged) press conference with the Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze and clients of J.P. Morgan laying out talking points for the US media, and we are all told that Russia engineered the (Georgian?) attack as a pretext for occupying Georgia and overthrowing the government. From Ames:
The reason Lado did this is because he knew the enormous PR value that Georgia would gain by going to the money people and analysts, particularly since Georgia is clearly the aggressor this time… Lado is a former banker himself, so he knew that by framing the conflict for the most influential bankers and analysts in New York, that these power bankers would then write up reports and go on CNBC and argue Lado Gurgenidze’s talking points. It was brilliant, and now you’re starting to see the American media shift its coverage from calling it Georgia invading Ossetian territory, to the new spin, that it’s Russian imperial aggression against tiny little Georgia.”
I’d like to believe that the US public would be proof against this kind of manipulation, but I know otherwise. I actually laughed out loud this morning as the NZ national radio broadcast headlines that contradicted the previous day’s, and then went on to interview reporters on the scene who proceeded to contradict the new headlines. Whoops.
So we have a trumped up conflict with Russia, which Russia is bound to win, at the probable cost of their gaining de-facto control of an important pipeline through Georgia which ultimately supplies Europe. Why would anyone do this? Is there anything special about this fall in the USA? Oh, yeah. The elections.
This will be yet another litmus test for the candidates. Will they parrot the official spin or believe their lying eyes? Unless the US public calls bullshit, or the MSM decides their readers would rather be uncomfortably informed than patriotically mislead, both candidates will have to adopt an increasingly strident, completely non-sensical, foreign policy position in order to prove their ‘commie-fighting’ credentials.
We’re all neo-cons now.
(If you don’t like this post don’t blame Yves, blame Paul Davis at Technology Investment Dot Info.)