Norman Saul is a professor emeritus of history and of Russian and East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Kansas, where he taught for forty years. He is the author of several books on US-Russian relations including Distant Friends: the United States and Russia, 1763-1867; Concord and Conflict: The United States and Russia, 1867-1914; War and Revolution: The United States and Russia, 1914-1921 among others. He’s the editor of the Journal of Russian American Studies and the book series Americans in Revolutionary Russia published by Slavica Press.
The B-52’s, “Private Idaho,” Wild Planet, 1980.
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The Democratic and Republican conventions are over. Thank god. All the political pomp, demigod worship, endless biographical tales, self-congratulation, repetitions of God Bless America, convention protesters and chants of U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A have reduced to a low simmer. Now the pundits and campaign gurus are weighing in. To my surprise McCain beat Obama in the preliminary TV ratings:
Across all broadcast networks Thursday, Sen. McCain’s speech ended the night with a 4.8 rating/7 share, compared to Sen. Obama’s 4.3/7 average, according to overnight numbers from metered households in 55 U.S. markets measured by Nielsen. These ratings are preliminary, however, and are subject to change.
I have lots of thoughts on the both party’s performances which I won’t belabor here. Suffice to say I think Obama gave a good speech until he began to promise the world. At that point I promptly turned him off. McCain’s speech was just boring. As everyone knows, they man doesn’t fare well behind a podium.
I do have to say that McCain’s response to the attempts to disrupt his speech was brilliant. “My friends, my dear friends,” McCain said moving off script, “please, please don’t be diverted by the ground noise and the static.” This gave his speech a jolt in the arm. Unfortunately, it faded rather quickly as he became mired in teleprompter morass. I gave him the axe after 20 minutes and tuned into the new 90210 (which I loved).
While McCain doesn’t stay on message when he speaks off the cuff, part of me thinks it would have been quite entertaining to see him wonder around the stage, microphone in hand, talking “small town meeting” style. Alas, there just isn’t much room for spontaneity in managed democracy.
Speaking of managed democracy, what role did Russia play in the words of the candidates. Very little actually. Obama only mentioned Russia once with his promise to “curb” its agression. Here’s is what Obama said:
I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.
McCain mention of Russia was a little more substantial. He put oil and empire at the center of Russia’s “invasion.” Though he said that he would work to establish good relations. Here’s what the Maverick had to say:
“We have dealt a serious blow to al-Qaeda in recent years. But they are not defeated, and they’ll strike us again if they can. Iran remains the chief state sponsor of terrorism and on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons. Russia’s leaders, rich with oil wealth and corrupt with power, have rejected democratic ideals and the obligations of a responsible power. They invaded a small, democratic neighbor to gain more control over the world’s oil supply, intimidate other neighbors, and further their ambitions of reassembling the Russian empire. And the brave people of Georgia need our solidarity and prayers. As President I will work to establish good relations with Russia so we need not fear a return of the Cold War. But we can’t turn a blind eye to aggression and international lawlessness that threatens the peace and stability of the world and the security of the American people.”
Both are rather bland statements that are more to say that they know Russia exists rather than how to deal with it. What really strikes me about both these excerpts is how similar they are. If you slice out the rhetoric and hyperbole, Obama and McCain are basically saying the same thing.
It’s hard to say who will be better to Russia. Both candidates have their firm face on, looking all manly and foreign policy-like. Plus so much of that they say is for domestic consumption. As banal it may sound, Russia, as well as us all, will just have to wait to see what either will do once they’re in office. For campaign time it’s much safer to speak loudly and carry a small stick.
Georgia’s latest attempt to convince the world that the Russians started the war is a sad sign of desperation. In a continued effort to dupe the world, and particularly the United States, the Georgian government has provided American and European intelligence agencies with audio intercepts of Russian military maneuvers before the outbreak of war. The Georgians even sent the NY Times a special treat to enlist the paper in its propaganda war. The paper received a neatly prepared package of intercepted audio complete with English translations. The NY Times said thank you and did its own translations. What is this audio evidence of Russia’s “incursion”? Why it’s cellphone conversations, made on a Georgian network no less, between Ossetian border guards. Reports the Times:
Russia has not disputed the veracity of the phone calls, which were apparently made by Ossetian border guards on a private Georgian cellphone network. “Listen, has the armor arrived or what?” a supervisor at the South Ossetian border guard headquarters asked a guard at the tunnel with the surname Gassiev, according to a call that Georgia and the cellphone provider said was intercepted at 3:52 a.m. on Aug. 7.
“The armor and people,” the guard replied. Asked if they had gone through, he said, “Yes, 20 minutes ago; when I called you, they had already arrived.”
Shota Utiashvili, the director of the intelligence analysis team at Georgia’s Interior Ministry, said the calls pointed to a Russian incursion. “This whole conflict has been overshadowed by the debate over who started this war,” he said. “These intercepted recordings show that Russia moved first and that we were defending ourselves.”
The recordings, however, do not explicitly describe the quantity of armor or indicate that Russian forces were engaged in fighting at that time.
A few things come to mind. First, these conversations say nothing by way of details. Second, I wonder if the Ossetians are simply screwing with the Georgians. Surely, they aren’t foolish enough to say sensitive information on a private Georgian cellphone network? Everyone knows that the Ossetians and Georgians had been trading small arms fire for over a month. Tensions were especially high in the days before Georgia assulted Tskhinvali. Could communications about Russian armor simply be a ruse to scare the Georgians? Who knows.
Lastly, if the Georgians did intercept these communications, and they were delivered to Saakashvili, as Vano Merabishvili, Georgia’s minister of interior told the Times, why did the Georgians attack Tskhinvali with a barage of rockets and not the Russian military? Why did they already have 12,000 troops and seventy five tanks and armored carriers, a third of Georgia’s militany force, amassed at the South Ossetian border? Also, if Russian armor was present, then why was it Ossetian militias and bands Kalashnikov wielding and molotov cocktail throwing teenagers that initially beat down Georgia’s forces? No need to give answers. The questions are rhetorical anyway.
The Times, however, made the safe assessment and concluded that the new evidence was inconclusive and merely “paints a more complicated picture of the critical last hours before war broke out.” Well, like, duh. Stating the war’s beginning as complex is rather obvious.
The Russian Foreign Ministry, however, called Saak’s bluff. “I would be grateful if they provide such satellite data to us and the entire international community, provide specific data,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Nesterenko told reporters. “Allegations that they have eavesdropped on someone and heard something are simply not serious.”
I say that the “evidence” is more than giving a complicated picture of events. It sounds like a desperate grasping at straws by Saakashvili. His political life is increasingly under threat at home and abroad. More and more Georgian politicians are speaking out against him. Even some Georgian political exiles are planning their return, declaring that Saak’s “days are numbered.”
Even Georgia’s patrons in the US and EU are wondering whether they’ve been hoodwinked. Der Spiegel reports, in an aptly titled article “Did Saakashvili Lie?” that “Washington is beginning to suspect that Saakashvili, a friend and ally, could in fact be a gambler — someone who triggered the bloody five-day war and then told the West bold-faced lies.” Well, as that sage, Kenny Rogers sang, Saak better learn how to “know when to hold, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, and know when to run.”
Clearly, Saak isn’t a country music fan because his bold face lies continue to mount. One such lie is right there in Der Spiegel‘s article:
“We wanted to stop the Russian troops before they could reach Georgian villages,” Saakashvili told SPIEGEL recently, explaining the marching orders that were given to his army. “When our tanks moved toward Tskhinvali, the Russians bombed the city. They were the ones — not us — who reduced Tskhinvali to rubble.”
Officers at NATO headquarters in Brussels is certainly not buying this crap. To them, Saakashvili’s plan was a well calculated assult “to advance to the Roki Tunnel in a 15-hour blitzkrieg and close the eye of the needle between the northern and southern Caucasus regions, effectively cutting off South Ossetia from Russia.” Only problem is the plan went up in smoke.
There is one certain truth about Saak. He has two big brass ones and he’s not afraid to pull them out and clang them on the table. He’d have to to continually peddle the Big Lie to the point he looks like an utter fool. His whining may be getting old, but his comedy is not. Maybe he should stick around just so we hear what he will say next. The world could use a few extra laughs.
Ninety years ago this week, 194 delegates from youth groups from all over revolutionary Russia met to consolidate themselves into an all-Russian youth organization. Of the 194 delegates, 176 had voting rights, (the rest had the right to speak but not vote). The voting delegates claimed to represent 120 different youth groups with a total membership of 21,000. The core groups were two pro-Bolshevik groups, the Socialist League of Worker youth based in Petrograd and the Third International from Moscow. Of the delegates, half (88) were Bolshevik Party members, 38 were communist sympathizers, and 45 were non-party youth. Also present were three Social Democratic Internationalists, one Left Socialists Revolutionary, and one Anarchist. The week long conference, which ran from 29 October to 4 November finalized the creation of the Russian Communist Youth League, or Komsomol.
To commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Komsomol, SRB will follow the history, reminiscence, and celebrations occurring throughout Russia over the next week.
Да здравствует Комсомол!