Saturday, August 9, 2008

Georgia, Kosovo, and the US's Shifting Stance on Independence

Consistent with my regular pleas for historical literacy and context, it is impossible to witness the renewed fighting in South Ossetia without also considering the recent unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo, and comparing the differing reactions from US officials. Ossetia has voted several times for independence to no avail, while Kosovo voted once and the US rushed to push for instant recognition by the UN.

First, the similarities of the two situations are fairly clear. Both involved an enclave comprised of an ethnic group starkly different from the surrounding areas, Albanians in Kosovo and Russians in Ossetia. Both have long held de facto independence, with their own government structures, and both were recognized by portions of the world community while denounced by others. On paper, the US would have to respond to the situations in a similar manner, if logical consistency or rationality is to have any bearing on our foreign policy. Luckily for US officials, no one holds them to that standard. Again, the reasoning behind the differing responses requires very little investigation.

Kosovo, in declaring its independence, was allying itself with the West, allowing for the US base Camp Bondsteel (perhaps more lawless than Guantanamo) to remain in place, and would benefit US control of the Balkan/Caspian Sea oil pipeline through the region. (Of little surprise, both Bondsteel and the pipeline are Halliburton enterprises.)

South Ossetia, on the other hand, should it break away would instantly become a Russian satellite, and thus its independence must be fought, despite the fact that the situation there resembles Kosovo in every other respect. While the varying reactions to similar situations may appear to be lacking consistency, it is remarkably consistent as far as US foreign policy goes. Independence and democracy is to be rewarded when it benefits US strategic goals. Should those actions, though, be perceived as going against US goals, they are to be fought and stifled. Far from being inconsistent, it is a policy that has remained wholly unchanged for more than a century, and resulted in the US propping up tyrannical regimes, often after placing those regimes in power. (Pinochet in Chile and the Shah in Iran come instantly to mind.)

Understandably, it is hard to get a clear picture of how the recent fighting began, as both sides have entered full propaganda mode, but it is most likely some combination of Ossetia baiting a conflict and worldwide distraction over the Olympics. But the fog of war isn't about to muddy the waters for John McCain, who's moral clarity is still as sharp as ever:

Today news reports indicate that Russian military forces crossed an internationally-recognized border into the sovereign territory of Georgia. Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory. What is most critical now is to avoid further confrontation between Russian and Georgian military forces. The consequences for Euro-Atlantic stability and security are grave.

The government of Georgia has called for a cease-fire and for a resumption of direct talks on South Ossetia with international mediators. The U.S. should immediately convene an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council to call on Russia to reverse course. The US should immediately work with the EU and the OSCE to put diplomatic pressure on Russia to reverse this perilous course it has chosen. We should immediately call a meeting of the North Atlantic Council to assess Georgia’s security and review measures NATO can take to contribute to stabilizing this very dangerous situation. Finally, the international community needs to establish a truly independent and neutral peacekeeping force in South Ossetia.

The statement was posted Friday around 11 o'clock, well before anyone had established even a working view of the origins of the fighting, making John McCain on the campaign trail half a world away more privy to the workings than reporters on the ground in Georgia. (If the man has omniscience like that, maybe he should be president.) More likely, though, his roles are already in place, Russia is the villain and Georgia the poor, defenseless, "freedom-loving" country that needs our support. Who rolled into Ossetia first doesn't matter, the facts are to be determined by pre-ordained roles as good or bad.

McCain's portrayal of Georgia as "freedom-loving," however, comes with the requisite chinks in the logic. A Congressional Research Service report on Georgia details democratization challenges:

In early November 2007, the Georgian government forcibly suppressed demonstrations, closed some media, and declared emergency rule. Some Alliance members raised concerns about Georgia’s apparently faltering democratization and the suitability of inviting it to participate in a MAP at the upcoming NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008.6 Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer criticized the imposition of emergency rule and the closure of media outlets by the government in Georgia as "not in line with Euro-Atlantic values." Domestic and international criticism may have helped convince President Saakashvili to admit that his government appeared non-responsive to the concerns of many citizens, and to resign and seek re-election by pledging reforms.

Here, "freedom-loving" implies its usual translation as "US-aligned." Democracy and freedom have nothing to do with the definition. Secretary Rice called for Russia to respect the "territorial integrity" of Georgia, apparently without a hint of irony, as one wonders when the US will begin to respect the "territorial integrity" of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Serbia, Iran and the numerous other instances of its failure to do so.

The variance in the responses to the two nearly-identical situations of Kosovo and South Ossetia are indeed very telling, and show a remarkable consistency on the part of the US. Responses are not defined by a set, objective standard that takes empirical observations into account. Rather, the response is consistently tied to one, and only one, standard: Which party is more closely allied with US strategic goals.

In Kosovo, the Albanians allow for US use of a lawless prison and increase US control over the Balkan oil pipeline, therefore their independence must be immediately recognized. In Georgia, South Ossetia would ally itself with Russia, and thus their own declarations of independence must be summarily dismissed as illegitimate and Georgian force must be instantly supported. Clearly, the US would not declare that Serbia had the right to reclaim its "territorial integrity" by invading Kosovo, but such trivialities don't matter.

In America's foreign relations, all that matters is the potential benefit to US strategic and economic goals. All else, even in situations that are for all intents and purposes mirror images, must take a back seat to that reality, logical consistency be damned.

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