NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: August 13

Russia’s strike shows the power of the pipeline

It was surely not lost on Russia’s bully in chief, Vladimir Putin, that the oil giant BP decided to shut down the pipeline that runs through parts of Georgia controlled by Russian troops. Indeed, that was one of the aims of the cross-border incursion.

Putin understands better than anyone that oil and gas are the source of Russia’s resurgence as a military and economic power and his own control over the Russian government and key sectors of its economy. It is oil and gas that provide the money to maintain Russia’s powerful military, along with a vast internal security apparatus and network of government-controlled enterprises that allow the president-turned-premier to maintain his iron grip on the levers of political and economic power.

Editor’s Comment — For those who see American power as wholly dependent on its military strength, the Georgia War will have come as a breath of fresh air. Russia demonstrated the incontestable power of military hardware and an old-fashioned army and the perfect justification for revving up an ideologically-lite New Cold War.

The real lesson here should however be about energy. The world’s second-largest oil producer is enfeebled by its flagrantly excessive oil consumption. Were it not for that, America would now be reaping the rewards of being an oil-rich nation while Russia’s power would correspondingly be diluted. What will it take for America to realize that it’s long past time for it to stop pigging itself?

Georgia: Mikheil Saakashvili, the man who lost it all

When he burst on to television screens across the world last week, speaking perfect English, Mikheil Saakashvili looked every inch the charismatic New York-trained lawyer that he is.

Known to friends as “Misha” the cosmopolitan 40-year-old is unquestionably brilliant, speaks half a dozen languages and has a Dutch wife he met in Paris.

But Mr Saakashvili has handed Russia a victory it could scarcely have dreamed of – his decision to invade South Ossetia has left his army humiliated and he could soon be fighting for his political life with no prospect of any meaningful help from his Western allies.

Editor’s Comment — An emerging conspiracy theory is that Georgia would not have triggered a war with Russia without having Americans — such as the McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann — egging them on. There might be a grain of truth to this idea, but I suspect that the sad truth is disastrous political judgments can too often be attributed to the psychological flaws of the individuals who make them. By most accounts, Mikheil Saakashvili is a man in whose hands power has always rested like a bomb waiting to explode.

Georgia President Saakashvili accepts Russia’s truce proposal

Bowing to the reality of vastly superior military might, the Georgian president said Tuesday that he would accept a Russian cease-fire agreement to end a five-day conflict, despite terms that some described as humiliating to his small, proud nation.

President Mikheil Saakashvili, while at times seeming defiant, appears to have all but given up his bid to reclaim two disputed regions on the Russian border. Russia, which said it had suspended a campaign that routed Georgia’s U.S.-trained military, continued bombing sites deep in the country hours later.

At a rally attended by thousands of people in Tbilisi, Saakashvili pledged that one day Georgia would beat Russia.

While aide advised McCain, his firm lobbied for Georgia

Sen. John McCain’s top foreign policy adviser prepped his boss for an April 17 phone call with the president of Georgia and then helped the presumptive Republican presidential nominee prepare a strong statement of support for the fledgling republic.

The day of the call, a lobbying firm partly owned by the adviser, Randy Scheunemann, signed a $200,000 contract to continue providing strategic advice to the Georgian government in Washington.

The McCain campaign said Georgia’s lobbying contract with Orion Strategies had no bearing on the candidate’s decision to speak with President Mikheil Saakashvili and did not influence his statement. “The Embassy of Georgia requested the call,” said campaign spokesman Brian Rogers.

But ethics experts have raised concerns about former lobbyists for foreign governments providing advice to presidential candidates about those same countries. “The question is, who is the client? Is the adviser loyal to income from a foreign client, or is he loyal to the candidate he is working for now?” said James Thurber, a lobbying expert at American University. “It’s dangerous if you’re getting advice from people who are very close to countries on one side or another of a conflict.”

War puts focus on McCain’s hard line on Russia

The intensifying warfare in the former Soviet republic of Georgia has put a new focus on the increasingly hard line that Senator John McCain has taken against Russia in recent years, with stances that have often gone well beyond those of the Bush administration and its focus on engagement.

Mr. McCain has called for expelling what he has called a “revanchist Russia” from meetings of the Group of 8, the organization of leading industrialized nations. He urged President Bush — in vain — to boycott the group’s meeting in St. Petersburg in 2006. And he has often mocked the president’s assertion that he got a sense of the soul of Vladimir V. Putin, who was then Russia’s president and is now its prime minister, by looking into his eyes. “I looked into his eyes,” Mr. McCain said, “and saw three letters: a K, a G and a B.”

His hard line has been derided as provocative, and possibly dangerous, by some so-called realist foreign policy experts, who warn that isolating Russia would do little to encourage it to change. But others, including neoconservatives who deem promoting democracy a paramount goal, see Mr. McCain’s position as principled, and prescient. Now, with Russia moving forcefully into Georgia as Mr. McCain seeks the presidency, his views are being scrutinized as never before through the prism of Russia’s invasion.

After mixed U.S. messages, a war erupted in Georgia

One month ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a high-profile visit that was planned to accomplish two very different goals.

During a private dinner on July 9, Ms. Rice’s aides say, she warned President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia not to get into a military conflict with Russia that Georgia could not win. “She told him, in no uncertain terms, that he had to put a non-use of force pledge on the table,” according to a senior administration official who accompanied Ms. Rice to the Georgian capital.

But publicly, Ms. Rice struck a different tone, one of defiant support for Georgia in the face of Russian pressure. “I’m going to visit a friend and I don’t expect much comment about the United States going to visit a friend,” she told reporters just before arriving in Tbilisi, even as Russian jets were conducting intimidating maneuvers over South Ossetia.

U.S. puts brakes on Israeli plan for attack on Iran nuclear facilities

The American administration has rejected an Israeli request for military equipment and support that would improve Israel’s ability to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

A report published last week by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) states that military strikes are unlikely to destroy Iran’s centrifuge program for enriching uranium.

The Americans viewed the request, which was transmitted (and rejected) at the highest level, as a sign that Israel is in the advanced stages of preparations to attack Iran. They therefore warned Israel against attacking, saying such a strike would undermine American interests. They also demanded that Israel give them prior notice if it nevertheless decided to strike Iran.

As compensation for the requests it rejected, Washington offered to improve Israel’s defenses against surface-to-surface missiles.

How the United States did not reinvent war… but thought it did

“War is the great auditor of institutions,” the historian Corelli Barnett once observed. Since 9/11, the United States has undergone such an audit and been found wanting. That adverse judgment applies in full to America’s armed forces.

Valor does not offer the measure of an army’s greatness, nor does fortitude, nor durability, nor technological sophistication. A great army is one that accomplishes its assigned mission. Since George W. Bush inaugurated his global war on terror, the armed forces of the United States have failed to meet that standard.

In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Bush conceived of a bold, offensive strategy, vowing to “take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans, and confront the worst threats before they emerge.” The military offered the principal means for undertaking this offensive, and U.S. forces soon found themselves engaged on several fronts.

Two of those fronts — Afghanistan and Iraq — commanded priority attention. In each case, the assigned task was to deliver a knockout blow, leading to a quick, decisive, economical, politically meaningful victory. In each case, despite impressive displays of valor, fortitude, durability, and technological sophistication, America’s military came up short. The problem lay not with the level of exertion but with the results achieved.

U.S. analyst depicts Al Qaeda as secure in Pakistan and more potent than last year

Al Qaeda’s success in forging close ties to Pakistani militant groups has given it an increasingly secure haven in the mountainous tribal areas of Pakistan, the American government’s senior terrorism analyst said Tuesday.

Al Qaeda is more capable of attacking inside the United States than it was last year, and its cadre of senior leaders has recruited and trained “dozens” of militants capable of blending into Western society to carry out attacks, the analyst said.

The remarks Tuesday by the intelligence analyst, Ted Gistaro, were the most comprehensive assessment of the Qaeda threat by an American official since the National Intelligence Estimate issued last summer, which concluded that Al Qaeda had largely rebuilt its haven in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

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