August 18, 2008
The conflict in South Ossetia
The coverage of the conflict between Russia and Georgia over the region known as South Ossetia reveals once again the reflexive adoption by the US media of the perspective of the US government and its pro-war supporters in its reporting of the events.
Having completely abandoned any semblance of allegiance to principles of international law and morality in its invasion of Iraq, the US government is now scrambling to find a basis to condemn Russia's military actions while excusing its own similar actions. In this they are aided by the collective and convenient amnesia of reporters who obligingly don't ask awkward questions about obvious historic parallels.
It is not necessarily the case that journalists are deliberately and knowingly distorting the facts, although some do. What is the case is that they have internalized the tacit understanding that all foreign policy issues have to be understood in such a way that the US government's actions are viewed as good and those of the enemy country are bad. Once you have accepted that framing, it requires you to view the US government as at most guilty of 'mistakes' or 'bad tactics' or even incompetence, but never of bad intentions. Bad intentions are the exclusive domain of whoever the enemy du jour is. To think and say otherwise is to commit career suicide, as far as the mainstream media goes. As Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."
The task of exposing this hypocrisy is left largely to the alternative media and comedians. As Robert Parry points out:
Apparently, context is everything. So, the United States attacking Grenada or Nicaragua or Panama or Iraq or Serbia is justified even if the reasons sometimes don't hold water or don't hold up before the United Nations, The Hague or other institutions of international law.
However, when Russia attacks Georgia in a border dispute over Georgia's determination to throttle secession movements in two semi-autonomous regions, everyone must agree that Georgia's sovereignty is sacrosanct and Russia must be condemned.
U.S. newspapers, such as the New York Times, see nothing risible about publishing a statement from President George W. Bush declaring that "Georgia is a sovereign nation and its territorial integrity must be respected."
No one points out that Bush should have zero standing enunciating such a principle. Iraq also was a sovereign nation, but Bush invaded it under false pretenses, demolished its army, overthrew its government and then conducted a lengthy military occupation resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths.
. . .
On Monday, the Washington Post's neoconservative editorial writers published their own editorial excoriating Russia, along with two op-eds, one by neocon theorist Robert Kagan and another co-authored by Bill Clinton's ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke.
All three – the Post editorial board, Kagan and Holbrooke – were gung-ho for invading Iraq, but now find the idea of Russia attacking the sovereign nation of Georgia inexcusable, even if Georgia's leaders in Tblisi may have provoked the conflict with an offensive against separatists in South Ossetia along the Russian border.
"Whatever mistakes Tblisi has made, they cannot justify Russia's actions," Holbrooke and his co-author Ronald D. Asmus wrote. "Moscow has invaded a neighbor, an illegal act of aggression that violates the U.N. Charter and fundamental principles of cooperation and security in Europe."
As far as most of the world is concerned, the US has lost all credibility when it comes to appealing to international law. They have not forgotten all the lies that have justified past US military invasions. In fact, those policies have encouraged the emergence of a lawless world in which any regional power can feel comfortable asserting its will militarily over its neighbors.
This article that appeared in the Russian newspaper Pravda illustrates the contempt in which Bush is held. It repeatedly tells Bush to 'shut up', language which the US media gleefully approved of when Spain's King Juan Carlos used it against current US enemy Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. The article justifies the Russian actions in South Ossetia using almost the exact words used to justify the US invasion of Iraq:
Do you really think anyone gives any importance whatsoever to your words after 8 years of your criminal and murderous regime and policies? Do you really believe you have any moral ground whatsoever and do you really imagine there is a single human being anywhere on this planet who does not stick up his middle finger every time you appear on a TV screen?
. . .
Do you really believe you have the right to give any opinion or advice after Abu Ghraib? After Guantanamo? After the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens? After the torture by CIA operatives?
. . .
Suppose Russia for instance declares that Georgia has weapons of mass destruction? And that Russia knows where these WMD are, namely in Tblisi and Poti and north, south, east and west of there? And that it must be true because there is "magnificent foreign intelligence" such as satellite photos of milk powder factories and baby cereals producing chemical weapons and which are currently being "driven around the country in vehicles"? Suppose Russia declares for instance that "Saakashvili stiffed the world" and it is "time for regime change"?
This is what we can expect to see in the future – the US government's own words and actions flung back at it by every country that decides to take military action against another or abuses its prisoners or kills civilians.
Next: The South Ossetia/Kosovo parallel
POST SCRIPT: Al Jazeera coverage of South Ossetia
Al Jazeera has a interview with Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvli that lasts for 15 minutes followed by four minutes of good analysis by their correspondent in Tblisi