This recurrence of sterile hopes amused [the journalist] and he was flattered to be the representative of a country ruled according to infallible predictions; for nation after nation had indeed become part of its empire, according to schedule. I am not sure that there wasn’t in his smile something of the compassionate superiority that a housewife feels for a mouse caught in her trap.br> There is a Russian word for this sort of attitude: naglost’ . A blend of condescension, arrogance, and brazenness, naglost’ has always been associated with political power in Russia, and lately has been a defining characteristic of its revanchist foreign policy with respect to the democratic states of the post-Soviet “near abroad.” The gas shut-offs in Ukraine, the bronze soldier mayhem in Estonia, and the combative rhetoric from the Kremlin concerning NATO Central European missile defense initiatives were relatively irenic, however, when compared with the unfolding crisis in the Georgian region of South Ossetia. As the young democracy of Georgia grapples with its gigantic adversary, with the world looking on ineffectually, we can see Robert Kagan’s notion of an “end of dreams” and a “return of history” in action in the volatile region of the Caucasus.
When Georgia definitively slipped the Russian leash after the Rose Revolution of 2003, bringing the pro-Western Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement party to power, an escalation of tension with Moscow was inevitable. Georgia, since gaining independence in 1991, had been torn asunder by ethnic conflicts and the proliferation of de facto states within its borders. Yet the government of Eduard Shevardnadze (Saakashvili’s predecessor) had managed to bring about rapprochement with the breakaway province of Javakhetia, while Saakashvili had brought the region of Ajara to heel, one of the first victories in his quest for territorial integrity. Two open sores remain: the Black Sea separatist state of Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, with both receiving vital support from the Kremlin. It is in the latter province that an increasingly less localized war has broken out between separatists, now fighting alongside their Russian backers, and the sovereign state of Georgia. Meanwhile, as of August 9 the Abkhaz authorities are opportunistically attacking Georgian forces in disputed regions in northwest Georgia.
THE ORIGINS OF THIS CONFLICT are relatively simple to understand. “All multi-ethnic landscapes,” the historian Neal Ascherson has written, “are fragile. Any serious tremor may disrupt them, setting off landslips, earthquakes and eruptions of blood.” Georgia’s move towards independence between 1989 and 1991 produced hard-line policies that attempted to forestall the establishment of autonomous regions that would undermine the integrity of the nascent state, but these moves only encouraged ethnic strife. A vicious 1991-1992 war gave South Ossetia, with its predominantly Ossetian population (linked culturally to North Ossetia across the border with the Russian Federation, and politically by gratuitous Russian grants of citizenship beyond its own borders) de facto statehood, but also led to the region devolving into little more than a racketeer state, run until 2003 by the infamous Tedeyev brothers and to this day a rabbit warren of illicit smuggling.
The Saakashvili administration has consistently sought to return the region to the Georgian fold. After all, Georgia has never accepted complete South Ossetian autonomy, and most Georgians refer to the region as “Shida Kartli” or “the Tskhinvali region” instead of “South Ossetia” (and the most nationalistic Georgians even go so far as to call it “Samacahblo” after a historical Georgian aristocratic family that resided in the area). In recent months and years, Georgia has had some success in this project, fostering a South Ossetian administration, headed by Dmitry Sanakoyev (nearly assassinated on July 3) and controlling some one-third of the province, all the while exploiting the unstable nature of the region to allow Georgian products to reach Russian consumers despite repeated blockades.
These modest gains led to an inevitable reaction. Roadside bombs targeted Georgian police patrols, and bombardment of Georgian villages began in earnest (as opposed to the often merely symbolic shelling of previous years). An August 7 unilateral ceasefire on the part of Georgia only brought about intensified shelling, and Georgia’s subsequent intervention, followed by Russia’s counter-intervention, ensued. This rapid escalation comes as little surprise, however, since Russia had been rattling its sabers for some time, as evidenced by regular summits with Ossetian and Abkhaz leadership, constant Russian intrusions on Georgian airspace, a propaganda campaign that made absurd claims about Georgian toleration of entirely chimerical terrorist chemical weapons facilities in the tiny Pankisi Gorge (near the border with Chechnya), and the seemingly anachronistic mobilization of Cossack groups willing to fight on behalf of their Ossetian comrades.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?