Yeah, yeah, I haven’t been blogging of late, but I hope to return at full throttle soon. In the meantime I couldn’t resist mentioning a story in the NY Times about the US-Russia relations “reset button.” We all now know that the Obama Administration is making some effort to repair relations with Russia. The first sign came with Joe Biden’s “press the reset button” statement in February. Then earlier this week we learned that Obama sent a “secret letter” to Medvedev hoping to enlist Russia in dealing with Iran in exchange for scrapping the missile defense system in Eastern Europe. The Russians received the letter coldly, and you can’t blame them.
Well the Reset Button Doctrine appears to be going ahead though the first problem doesn’t appear to be resetting relations as it is finding the correct Russia word for “reset”. Secretary of State Clinton was in Russia yesterday to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with hopes to warm relations. Now forget that there was little actually “reset” in the meeting, but there was a button. Says the NY Times,
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in greeting Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, presented him with a red plastic button emblazoned with the English word “reset” and the Russian word “peregruzka.”
The gift was a play on Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s call in Munich last month for the two countries to “press the reset button” on their relationship.
“We worked hard to get the right Russian word,” Mrs. Clinton said, handing the button to Mr. Lavrov. “Do you think we got it?”
“You got it wrong,” he replied, explaining that the Americans had come up with the Russian word for overcharged.
What morons. Are you telling me that Clinton’s staff had to “work hard” to find the right word for reset and they still messed it up? Maybe Clinton should be pressing the reset button on her staff. It’s nice to see that the new Administration is continuing the incompetency of the old one.
Photo: Associated Press.
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By Sean — 10 years ago
“Regime change” may be an American term, as Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin explained to reporters, but it sounds like Russia is going to force their own version. “Sometimes there are cases,” Churkin explained, “when leaders become obstacles to a people’s way out of a situation. In those situations, some leaders make the brave decision in regards to their political future.” Cynical? Maybe. Opportunistic? Certainly. Don’t count on the Russians to pass up a good opportunity to get rid of their Georgian irritant. As Kommersant notes, “Moscow considers the removal of Saakashvili a matter of principle.”
The Russians are claiming that they want a cease fire with Georgia but there just isn’t anyone to talk to. After all, as Chunkin stressed, “What decent person will talk to him now?” Clearly not the decent Russians, who have essentially cut Georgia into two. Russian forces have taken Gori and other strategic towns and are said to be converging on Tbilisi, which Saakashvilli vows his troops will defend to the death. The real question is whether Saak will go down with his ship.
How quickly the South Ossetian War has become more about Russia and the United States, East and West, George Bush and Vladimir Putin, than about the poor South Ossetians caught in the middle. Today was just another example of the sheer cynical chest beating of it all. You had the American dyarchy standing up condemning Russia’s war machine. “Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century,” Bush said. Cheney declared that Russia’s actions “must not go unanswered.” Presidential Candidates McCain and Obama, always ready to look Presidential, also weighed in. McCain called for NATO intervention and reminded Russia that to be part of the civilized world means to respect its values. Obama condemned Russia’s military push saying that “There is no possible justification for these attacks.” I don’t know. When you think of it, Russia is kind of showing a bit of restraint, as horrific as that might sound. They could have easily turned Georgia into a parking lot.
The dyarchy in Russia was of course not without rebuttal. Putin lashed out at the US for its backing of Georgia and especially for airlifting some 2000 Georgian troops out of Iraq. “The very scale of this cynicism is astonishing,” he said, “the attempt to turn white into black, black into white and to adeptly portray victims of aggression as aggressors and place the responsibility for the consequences of the aggression on the victims.” Dmitri Medvedev even has his own Hitler moment by comparing Western support of Georgia with appeasing Hitler in 1938. He then went on to accuse Georgia of trying to commit genocide in South Ossetia. “The form this aggression took is nothing less than genocide because Georgia committed heaviest crimes — civilians were torched, sawed to pieces and rolled over by tanks,” he said. You see, fascism really is the gift that keeps on giving.
And what about the people caught in the middle? South Ossetians are finally beginning to bury their dead. Hundreds of volunteers are flooding into the war zone from neighboring Chechnya, Dagestan, North Ossetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria. Murat Dryaev was one such volunteer. He met his demise before he was able to put his hand on a rifle. As Tom Parfitt writes in the Guardian:
Murat Dryaev, 29, a construction worker, left for the war on Thursday and was brought home in a coffin two days later. He lived with his parents at the end of a stony track in Novy Batakayur, a village 10 miles from the North Ossetian capital, Vladikavkaz. Yesterday his relatives sat in vigil around his open coffin, adorned with roses and his photograph.
“He went to defend his sister and her children who live in South Ossetia,” said his wife, Ira, weeping over her husband’s pallid face. “But he never reached the place where they hand out weapons.”
Dryaev and his group of volunteers were hit by Georgian artillery fire. It is not known how many others died.
“His three-year-old daughter still thinks he’s coming home,” said his sister, Larisa. The dead man’s mother, Teresa, sat at the head of the coffin. “She’s been speechless, like a living corpse,” said Larisa. “She begged him not to go but she couldn’t stop him.”
The volunteer factor, though currently small, will certainly be a nagging problem once the smoke clears.
I think its about time for Georgia and the world to face it. South Ossetia is now Russia’s and it was Saakashvilli that gave it to them.
Estimates of refuges from South Ossetia are about 30,000 many of which were taken into North Ossetia by Russian buses. Other Russian supplied aid–food, medicine, mobile hospitals, search teams, and water–is said to be pouring into South Ossetia.
As for the Georgians, the number of civilian casualties as a result of Russia’s armor assault and aerial bombing is unknown. Two days ago Georgia reported about 130 dead, 37 of which were civilians. Suffice to say that they most certainly are mounting. The UNHCR is beginning to send humanitarian relief to Georgia where an estimated 100,000 people have been displaced. About 56,000 people are said to have fled Gori alone.
Let’s all hope that the dick swinging will end tomorrow and some kind of cease fire will be brokered.Post Views: 618
By Sean — 9 years ago
I don’t have a lot of time for blogging these days. The finishing touches on the dissertation (one . . . more . . week), job applications, and getting ready to spend the next year in Russia fill up all my time. Inevitably commenting on missiles, Medvedev the modernizer, not to mention Moscow’s Holy Father of Fury, has been relegated to the eternal back burner. Yet, there are some things in the world of Russia that just can’t be left to simmer on the boiler plate. Especially when it involves a pant-less Boris Yeltsin.
Former President Clinton recalled getting a security alert in 1995 that the Secret Service had found Mr. Yeltsin, in his underwear, outside Blair House on Pennsylvania Avenue trying to hail a taxi. He was clearly inebriated, wanting a pizza. And he eluded security the second night, nearly causing an even more serious ruckus when he was initially mistaken for a drunken intruder, according to these accounts. What that says about the security near Blair House or those who protected Mr. Yeltsin is anyone’s guess.
Forget about the Blair House security, though the inability to nab a drunken Yeltsin does raise eyebrows. Is this tale not the perfect metaphor for the Yeltsin era? A mere four years after boldly standing on a tank and mouthing whatever democratic platitudes he could ride into power, Yeltsin is in America, plastered, and looking for pizza in his skivvies. Or worse almost getting 187ed by Blair House security. One can imagine a similar scenario when he signed the Belovezh Accords abolishing the USSR or when robber barons freely pilfered the Russian state. Drunk, pant-less, looking for pizza. If only a cab picked him up. If only . . .
Two questions, though. Did anyone ever explain why Boris was in his underwear? And, more importantly, were they boxers or briefs?
One things for sure. The dude knew how to par-tay.Post Views: 412
By Sean — 10 years ago
Last night’s Obama-McCain Presidential debate was devoid of surprises. Even Russia had a place. Given “Russia’s resurgence” as they like to say in the news, it becoming a brief focus of the debate isn’t even novel. Before getting to that here of some of my general impressions about last night’s performance.
I’ve struggled to come up with one word to describe this performance and the only one I could come up with was: Boring. I watched the CNN telecast, and the network must have known that boredom would be a factor. They tried to spice things up by plopping on screen their analysts scorecards and a meter at the bottom to register Democrat, Republican, and Independent “real-time” reactions (I’m struck how Independent has attained a discursive function similar the Soviet class category “Прочий” or “Other”).
In fact, it seems that “real time” was marketing tactic since the CNN pregame repeatedly reminded viewers that they could participate by giving their reactions in “real time” on the network’s website. That’s democracy in action, internet style. I suggest that a giant gong be hung for the next debate, where selected audience members can gong it when a candidate becomes boring or stupid. The person with the least amount of gongs wins. Where is Chuck Barris when you need him?
I tuned out after an hour. Jim Lehrer did his best to spice things up by urging the candidates to go tête-à-tête. From the bit I saw, Obama just couldn’t look McCain straight in the face. Perhaps this was out of civility or fear. McCain didn’t look at Obama at all. He seemed unable to turn his head. Maybe this was out of pure disrespect or something to do with his injuries. The old guy is pretty stiff.
One thing I noticed, or really my wife did, was how each candidate was dressed. Both McCain and Obama were colored in the American flag. Obama was in a dark blue suit, white shirt and red tie. McCain donned a blue suit, light blue (almost white) shirt, and a red and white striped tie. Red, White, and Blue. Ol’Glory. I can’t help wonder what the psycho-ideological affect this has. Everything is so managed in American democracy that, to invert Freud, sometimes a suit just isn’t a suit.
The democratic realism of it all, the careful effort by each candidate to stay within the bounds of acceptable political speech, while trying to portray his opponent as outside of it, stifled the range of each candidates’ opinions. Most of what each candidate said was predictable, making the debate merely performative. I think this is why Lehrer’s attempts to get them to engage each other fell flat. Each candidate didn’t want to talk to the other because the other was not the object of their words. Their interlocutor was the camera that mediated them and the “American people” or as McCain repeatedly said, “my friends.”
At some point, I think I figured that if I wanted to read restricted political speech, I’ll read a stenograph of a Stalinist Central Committee plenum. Like Stalin and the boys, McCain and Obama’s words were all surface. Whatever deeper meaning they had existed on a mystified genealogy of codes, slogans, gestures, and references. This was best exemplified by the fact that every time Obama said the meme “Bush” the Democrats in the audience pressed their little buttons in approval. Every time McCain said “cut spending” the Republicans responded in unison. The content that followed each of these memes was irrelevant.
Perhaps the whole scriptedness and smooth narratives of each candidate’s words is best revealed in what I did after I switched the plastic people off. I put on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas which has been sitting on my DVR for a few weeks. Now that I think of it, maybe my mind needed some kind of drug laden, non-narrative psychedelia to pull me out of the “real world.” Perhaps the stark “unreality” of the incoherent rambling of Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo (played excellently by Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro) was precisely what I needed to pull me out of the “reality” of the Presidential Debate. The irony of it all is quite striking . . .
Nevertheless, I seems that I tuned out to quickly. Russia did get special attention towards the debate’s end. Lehrer asked:
New lead question. Russia, goes to you, two minutes, Senator Obama. How do you see the relationship with Russia? Do you see them as a competitor? Do you see them as an enemy? Do you see them as a potential partner?
Obama was predictable as the sunrise. His words were peppered with the typical adjectives that tend to swirl around the word “Russia.” Words and phrases like “resurgent and very aggressive,” “unacceptable,” unwarranted,” “you cannot be a 21st-century superpower, or power, and act like a 20th-century dictatorship,” “fledgling democracies,” “[Georgia and Ukraine are] free to join NATO,” and “can’t return to a Cold War posture.”
My favorite was the constant reference to Russia and “the way they’ve been behaving.” Can there be a more explicit statement to how Americans see themselves as the Father and all other nations as children that need correction when they misbehave?
McCain didn’t say anything out of the ordinary either. He made references to how “Russia committed serious aggression against Georgia,” was “a nation fueled by petro-dollars that is basically a KGB apparatchik-run government,” “I looked into Mr. Putin’s eyes, and I saw three letters, a “K,” a “G,” and a “B,” “their aggression in Georgia is not acceptable behavior,” “I don’t believe we’re going to go back to the Cold War,” “Russian threats to regain their status of the old Russian to regain their status of the old Russian empire, and “the norms of international behavior.”
Is there any difference between these two in regard to Russia? Nope. Nothing. Zilch. Even Obama doesn’t think so. He said, “No, actually, I think Senator McCain and I agree for the most part on these issues.” Wonderful.
However trite their statements about Russia were, there were still some comments worth noting.
“[The Russians] have to remove themselves from South Ossetia and Abkhazia.”
Good luck on that one my good Senator. Someone might want to let him know that there is no possibility of that.
Then there was this one:
They have not only 15,000 nuclear warheads, but they’ve got enough to make another 40,000, and some of those loose nukes could fall into the hands of al Qaeda.
I was also struck by McCain’s move to political economy when talking about Russia. He said,
And that wasn’t just about a problem between Georgia and Russia. It had everything to do with energy.There’s a pipeline that runs from the Caspian through Georgia through Turkey. And, of course, we know that the Russians control other sources of energy into Europe, which they have used from time to time.
McCain the Marxist. If only a smidgen of this analysis would be applied to America’s own foreign policy, those in Washington would include, as noble prize winning economist Joseph Stigliz does, that Iraq is part of America’s economic insolvency.
In all, my impression of the debate, and the cadidates in general, is best expressed in the sacrosanct words of Dr. Gonzo, “I hate to say this, but this place is getting to me. I think I’m getting the fear”Post Views: 495