August 20, 2008

Report from Tbilisi

(Note: I'm writing a long piece for this Web site called The Truth About Russia in Georgia. I should have it finished by this weekend. In the meantime, here is a short piece I filed for City Journal.)

Russia’s invasion of Georgia has unleashed a refugee crisis all over the country and especially in its capital. Every school here in Tbilisi is jammed with civilians who fled aerial bombardment and shootings by the Russian military—or massacres, looting, and arson by irregular Cossack paramilitary units swarming across the border. Russia has seized and effectively annexed two breakaway Georgian provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. It has also invaded the region of Gori, which unlike them had been under Georgia’s control. Gori is in the center of the country, just an hour’s drive from Tbilisi; 90 percent of its citizens have fled, and the tiny remainder live amid a violent mayhem overseen by Russian occupation forces that, despite Moscow’s claims to the contrary, are not yet withdrawing.

On Monday, I visited one of the schools transformed into refugee housing in the center of Tbilisi and spoke to four women—Lia, Nana, Diana, and Maya—who had fled with their children from a cluster of small villages just outside the city of Gori. “We left the cattle,” Lia said. “We left the house. We left everything and came on foot because to stay there was impossible.” Diana’s account: “They are burning the houses. From most of the houses they are taking everything. They are stealing everything, even such things as toothbrushes and toilets. They are taking the toilets. Imagine. They are taking broken refrigerators.” And Nana: “We are so heartbroken. I don’t know what to say or even think. Our whole lives we were working to save something, and one day we lost everything. Now I have to start everything from the very beginning.”

Seven families were living cheek by jowl inside a single classroom, sleeping on makeshift beds made of desks pushed together. Small children played with donated toys; at times, their infant siblings cried. Everyone looked haggard and beaten down, but food was available and the smell wasn’t bad. They could wash, and the air conditioning worked.

“There was a bomb in the garden and all the apples on the trees fell down,” Lia remembered. “The wall fell down. All the windows were destroyed. And now there is nothing left because of the fire.”

Read the rest in City Journal.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 20, 2008 7:42 PM
Comments

Thank you for your reporting, which shows the lies of Russian propaganda for what they are. Unfortunately, The New York Times is not publishing you, but instead the propaganda; more disturbing is that their readers are falling for it hook, line, and sinker. We need some moderation and negotiation in the Caucasus, but we shouldn't believe Russian lies about "peacekeeping" and "humanitarianism."

Posted by: calbear Author Profile Page at August 21, 2008 9:41 AM

Michael,

In saying that the Russians have annexed South Ossetia are you actually claiming South Ossetia is now part of Russia? Because that's what annexed means.

As far as I can tell from everything in the media the Russians are occupying, but haven't annexed anything.

Posted by: JohnDakota Author Profile Page at August 21, 2008 10:27 AM

JohnDakota,

Just yesterday Russians expressed willingness (in reality - directive to Ossetian leaders to start working on it) to recognize independence of S.O. And taking example from Kosovo they will not care much about the rest of the World.
So, S.O. will become 'independent' very soon, then as sovereign state it will invite friendly neighbor to oversee matters and later (although it will no longer be necessary) will ask Russia to take S.O. under its arm.
It may not be annexation de-jure but it sure is de-facto.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at August 21, 2008 11:00 AM

Leo,

South Ossetia has been acting as an independent state since the early 90s. They've had two referendums voting >90% for independence, one vote being overseen by European observers. Their culture is identifably unique, hell their language is Ossetian. Georgian is spoken only in official government institutions. So using S.O. independence as your compass towards suggestion Russian annexation of it is quite the leap.

Anyway, I'm not trying to fortune tell what will happen a decade from now. I'm trying to get a handle on what's actually the current situation. Russia has not annexed South Ossetia.

Posted by: JohnDakota Author Profile Page at August 21, 2008 11:37 AM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 08/21/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M Author Profile Page at August 21, 2008 12:19 PM

Thanks for the report Michael.

I wonder how many of those worrying over SO and Abkhazia had the same feelings for Chechnya? How much does religion play a role here?

The US stood aside and let Russia pretty much destroy most of Chechnya, to this day Russians are still kidnapping and "disappearing" Chechans on a daily basis.

I think history will show the issue with Russia started in Chechnya and the West stood silently by. If the West had stood firm and refused to allow the Russians free reign in Chechnya they might have thought twice before doing this.

I havent read much about this in the Arabic press. I'd be interested to know how this plays. The US allowed Russia to do what it wanted in Russia where almost all of the victims were Muslim. A good chunk of the people in Abkhazia are Muslim, more of the cultural type, but they are indeed Muslim by name. They actually wanted to be part of Russia, as opposed to Georgia. It would seem that the US was at the opposite end of both issues with the Muslim inhabitants, but interesting in that one population wants to be with Russia, the other wanted independence.

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at August 21, 2008 12:42 PM

I think Grozny was in Georgia's mind when they didn't push against Russia that hard. Can't say I blame them. The Russians, at least under Pootie, are like the Mongol hordes: loot, kill, rape and literally destroy everything in their path. Absolutely no humanity, and only fear keeps them in check.
Take a look at these Grozny pictures after Putin declared Grozny "liberated":
http://www.time.com/time/daily/special/photo/grozny/2.html

http://www.magnumphotos.com/Archive/C.aspx?VP=XSpecific_MAG.DirectSearch_VPage&KWID=2TYRF9EYKUC&SSO=T

Posted by: nameless-fool Author Profile Page at August 21, 2008 2:51 PM

I have many of the same thoughts you did, Marc. The main difference, of course, is that Chechnya wasn't considered an independent state but a part of Russia, so the West felt it could look the other way.

Only guys like you and me would think otherwise: you because you've traveled enough to know that Chechnya is really a separate state under Russian domination, me because I've read so much I know that the nineteenth-century Russian government considered genocide as an option for Chechnya, while the Chechens under Soviet domination held to the credo that true manhood couldn't be achieved until you've killed at least one Russian.

The Chechens are probably the most aggessive and anti-Russian of Russia's minorities, and I was surprised that Yeltsin chose to pick a fight with them. But most interesting is that Putin entered national politics with what may have been a faked Chechen attack against Russian targets. Putin steered Russia from direct confrontation to employing its own Chechen stooges to commit mayhem on its behalf.

Georgians, by contrast, are viewed as gentle-hearted and fairly Russian-friendly; they didn't make good Soviet soldiers, but they made fine officers. Western training was in the process of changing that characteristic, to make a truly effective Georgian military - but Great Russians want to dominate everywhere, as long as they find it profitable, anyway.

Lo and behold a Russian puppet militia (who had that idea?) initiated an attack which provoked a Georgian response labelled "genocide" by the Russians, who promptly invaded with a division already fully mobilized and equipped with detailed plans in its officers' map cases, and Chechen puppet militias in its train.

The whole operation stinks of Putin's fingers, from the preparation of Russian opinion to the deceptions and tools used. But why did he do it?

That's the stupid part. Because Putin still believes that Russia can only operate as an empire, and thus he believes that if an empire doesn't expand it must contract. Rape and rapine are bonuses that benefit everyone from the contract soldier to the Kremlin leadership. And given the successful control of Russian public opinion, Russia is now locked into its bad old habits once more.

International law? That's just for wimps. The strong take what they can and the weak suffer as they must. If you wanted it differently you could have spoken out when the Chechens needed you. Welcome back to the nineteenth century, people.

Posted by: Solomon2 Author Profile Page at August 21, 2008 2:52 PM

I can send or post a letter in russian from someone who lives there and is experiencing these horrors first hand. I do not have the time to translate it. Let me know, thanks.

Posted by: Miriam Author Profile Page at August 21, 2008 7:30 PM

Miriam,

I may try to translate it over the weekend.

Please, post Russian version so my translation can be corrected by others if necessary.

Thank you

Leo

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at August 21, 2008 8:50 PM

I havent read much about this in the Arabic press. I'd be interested to know how this plays.

The Arabs seem to be in lockstep supporting Russia on this one. Their motivation for that seems to be so that they can poke the US in the eye. That's the way it seems to me, anyway. Lots of talk about American hypocrisy and Georgian aggression.

Question, though. Why are you watching the Arab press (re: Muslims) at this late date? It seems to me that Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan are far more important than the Arab world in the short to middle term.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at August 21, 2008 10:09 PM

That's a great concluding and summary graph at the CJ site, though it might be more accurate to suggest Georgia has been dismembered and has been all but disemboweled.

The Soviet Union was obviously a super-state rather than a state, properly and better understood, but the same is true of Russia, as demonstrated on its frontiers. I doubt Russians have ever had a simple, internalized, Westphalian sense of self. Not that the Westphalian principle is truly "simple" for any nation, but it is more historical and culturally internalized for nations in the western sphere.

Posted by: Michael_B Author Profile Page at August 22, 2008 5:00 AM

Update: Order of battle

Georgia was invaded by elements of the Russian 58th Army, specifically the 19th Motor-Rifle Division and probably the 487th Separate Helicopter Regiment (Air Assault brigades).

At 3 tanks/APCs/trucks to a platoon, 3 platoons to a company, and 3 companies to a batallion, 4 batallions to a regiment, and 3 regiments to a division, plus command vehicles starting at company level, that's over 380 armored vehicles, not including artillery.

As of now it appears that two motor-rifle companies (20 APCs and trucks) have withdrawn from Gori. I saw one report (now vanished in cyberspace) that claimed 83 vehicles were withdrawing, on top of 21 yesterday.

So I think it's fair to say that we are seeing about one-third of the Russians - the equivalent of one regiment - departing. Are the remaining two-thirds staying put and digging in?

Posted by: Solomon2 Author Profile Page at August 22, 2008 6:51 AM

Now that NATO has shown Russia it doesn't have the will to fight and aid the weak, we should expect more trouble from Russia elsewhere in their old "near empire" in the months ahead.

Meanwhile, there is something free people who want to halp can do for the Georgians. One of the best connected Georgian aid organizations in the American Friends of Georgia - www.americanfriendsofgeorgia.org

Please go there to learn what you can do.

Posted by: Henry Author Profile Page at August 22, 2008 6:59 AM

PC,

You speak Arabic? Excellant. I havent taken the time to ready any of the dailys recently. Which Arabic papers are coming out in support of the Russians?

I have seen some English language blogs with Arabs writting that have taken a stance against Georgia, but that is based solely on the support the Israelis have given the Georgians over the years.

It is sad, but the Israelis really dropped the ball on this one. When things got tough they dropped the Georgians like a hot potato. Nothing like fair weather friends I guess.

Solomon,

I agree with you. Chechnya might have been nominally Russian, but they never completely controlled the place, that is why the Russians have alternated between genocide and ethnic cleansing as a manner of controlling the area.

They learned they couldnt do it themselves, so they have payed off locals to do the hard work for them. Many of these in the pro Moscow camp now used to be in militias fighting against the Russian.

It reminds me a bit of the situation in the Sunni areas of Iraq were the US has bought off the less radical local Sunnis, using the tribal system, to fight the more radical locals and foreign fighters. As a matter of fact, considering the tribal/family nature of Chechnya, it is a very good example.

The Georgians never had a chance. One of the reasons the Russians got so beat up in Chechnya originally is that they had a mainly drafted army of men who didnt want to fight. This time they had a much better fighting force, and lets face it, the Georgians didnt have the stomach for the type of insurgent fighting the Chechans did.

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at August 22, 2008 12:01 PM

Marc: You speak Arabic? Excellant.

I don't recall saying I speak Arabic.

I havent taken the time to ready any of the dailys recently. Which Arabic papers are coming out in support of the Russians?

You "haven't taken the time" to read any of them, after a week? Somehow, I find that hard to believe, since you obviously have such an interest in the matter.

Aren't you the same Marc who accused me of being a Zionist sometime back in regards to Lebanon? I found that grossly offensive, and as I recall you never did get back to me when I responded. You seem a disreputable sort, to me. Therefore, I assume you have read what the Arab press is saying, don't like it, and have chosen to feign ignorance. That's on you. Don't put it on me.

I have seen some English language blogs with Arabs writting that have taken a stance against Georgia, but that is based solely on the support the Israelis have given the Georgians over the years.

No, actually it's based on the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. And potential war with Iran. Any comment about Israel is just tacked on as an after thought.Which blogs are you reading?

It is sad, but the Israelis really dropped the ball on this one. When things got tough they dropped the Georgians like a hot potato. Nothing like fair weather friends I guess.

Oh, yeah... the Israelis should have sent in 20k troops, right? That would have improved the situation, no doubt.

Marc, you haven't answered my question about why you care so much about what Arab public opinion is, when talking about Muslims on this issue? I still think Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the Muslim countries that matter on this one. I can't see how it makes the least bit of difference what Arabs think of the matter.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at August 22, 2008 1:44 PM

Wow, what a one-sided story!

Why not go to South Ossetia and talk with the Ossetians? Remember, Georgia started this war by shelling South Ossetia to pieces... And now the Georgian's are crying? Give me a break!

Posted by: karbon Author Profile Page at August 22, 2008 3:08 PM

"I have seen some English language blogs with Arabs writting that have taken a stance against Georgia, but that is based solely on the support the Israelis have given the Georgians over the years."

I frequent two (one pro-LF and one pro-FPM 'for balance') Lebanese English speaking blogs and find it to be true.
I relate it to knee jerk reaction to mere mention of Israel and especially associated with losing side. Many relate to Russian victory over Georgia in such a strange way and so close they practically think that it is them defeating Israelis. Kind of funny to read at times.
Other than that I do not think Arabs care much who is right and who is wrong in this conflict. They have plenty of their own stuff to worry about.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at August 22, 2008 3:16 PM

PC,

I ignored your previous comment. Has anyone ever told you that you are more than a bit belligerent and combative?

Anyway, you said "The Arabs seem to be lockstep in supporting the Russians on this one". I thought that you would probably have pulled this from Arabic media. To access a wide selection of Arabic media it would make sense to think that you read/write/speak Arabic.

If you dont read or speak Arabic, how exactly did you come to the conclusion that the Arabs are "lock step" with the Russians on this issue? Usually when someone says something like that they have some sort of contact on different levels with Arabic society and media that might cause them to make such a wide ranging statement.

Inta ma teqraa 3arabi? Etha la, ethan keef te3rif tafkeerahom? I thought so!

Anyway, American actions abroad when it comes to Muslim populations is important to American goals in the world at the moment. The Arab media and public opinion often leads the rest of the Muslim world.

So yeah, it is kind of important to know what the Arab press is saying.

If you stop being so combative maybe I'll further my dialogue with you more, but I am not into this to argue or be belligerent.

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at August 22, 2008 9:30 PM

I ignored your previous comment.

You "ignored" it when I defended myself from your outrageous claim that I was an American who was more "pro-Israeli" than the Israelis are? Cute.

Has anyone ever told you that you are more than a bit belligerent and combative?

Yeah, I tend to get like that when I'm dealing with a condescending and pompous prick. The least you could do when you offend somebody is respond to their indignation. Unless, of course, you intended to offend all along. You are due no courtesy from me, Marc.

Anyway, you said "The Arabs seem to be lockstep in supporting the Russians on this one". I thought that you would probably have pulled this from Arabic media. To access a wide selection of Arabic media it would make sense to think that you read/write/speak Arabic.

You make a lot of assumptions there, Marc. None of them based on what I said, or what you know of me - which obviously isn't very much. Again, that is on you. Don't put it on me. It isn't my job to clear up your invalid assumptions.

If you dont read or speak Arabic, how exactly did you come to the conclusion that the Arabs are "lock step" with the Russians on this issue?

How exactly did you come to the conclusion that one must speak Arabic in order to have an understanding of what is going on in the Arab world? Does one have to speak English to understand what's going on in the United States? Does one have to speak Russian to understand what is going on in Russia? That's a pretty damned elitist attitude, Marc. I'm certain you don't hold yourself to that standard.

Usually when someone says something like that they have some sort of contact on different levels with Arabic society and media that might cause them to make such a wide ranging statement.

And you think because I don't speak Arabic that I'm a stupid redneck who lives in a cave, right? :D

Anyway, American actions abroad when it comes to Muslim populations is important to American goals in the world at the moment.

You sure like to talk, eh? You do realize that sentence contained no useful information, though?

The Arab media and public opinion often leads the rest of the Muslim world.

No, it doesn't. because the rest of the Muslim world doesn't speak Arabic. And as you just pointed out, that means they don't know anything about what's going on with Arab public opinion. Right? :P

So yeah, it is kind of important to know what the Arab press is saying.

Nobody knows what the Arab press is saying except Arabs. And me, since i know some Arabs. Everyone else is SOL on that. Unless they want to ask Marc's expert opinion. Only problem is that Marc has spent a week asking what the Arab press is saying, instead of reading the Arab press. So Marc doesn't know.

If you stop being so combative maybe I'll further my dialogue with you more, but I am not into this to argue or be belligerent.

What are you "into this" for, Marc? To show everyone else how smart you are? Waste somebody else's time. I have better things to do than respond to your silly claims of superiority. You're the one who stepped into the discussion with an irrelevant challenge of my credentials, when I made no claim in the first place. I'd rather go watch the grass grow than try to have a meaningful discussion with somebody who tries to exclude other people from having a valid opinion.

And PS Marc - what Arab newspapers exactly are written in that pidgen Arabic?

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at August 23, 2008 1:06 AM

If not speaking Arabic disqualifies someone from commenting on issues in the Arab world, then MJT has been overstepping his boundaries for quite some time.

If you're in an Arab country and want to understand cultural intricacies -- why people behave the way they do in social situations, what kinds of jokes they find funny, etc. -- you need to learn the local Arabic dialect.

But I can't think of a bigger waste of time than learning classical Arabic so you can understand Arab news reports. Most of the homegrown newspapers are far less reliable than the National Enquirer, and their TV newscasts don't tell us anything we don't know: in general, Arabs hate the U.S. and Israel, have some sympathy for terrorists, and believe strongly in a number of conspiracies.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at August 23, 2008 5:59 AM

Edgar,

How would you know that? Have you spent the time to learn Arabic? From your negativity towards the language I assume no.

Is the reason why you haven't spent the time to learn arabic because you are convinced you have some genetic precondition, or virus clogging your brain cells? This would be analagous to the infamous conspiracy theory of Dean Esmay regarding obesity.

Posted by: JohnDakota Author Profile Page at August 23, 2008 8:06 AM

John Dakota: Is the reason why you haven't spent the time to learn arabic because you are convinced you have some genetic precondition, or virus clogging your brain cells?

I'm predicting Dean Esmay will soon claim that violent extremism is caused by a virus. Or clogged fat cells, of course.

Sure would piss me off if I was a human fusion reactor, creating energy out of thin air and then being unable to release it.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at August 23, 2008 9:31 AM

I think it would be spectacular to be like Dean suggests. It would be the end of our current energy crisis! Adding to that, since the world loves to point out that America is the most overweight country on the planet, Americans would yet again some to the aid of the world as the Fat Fusion Reactors.

Thank god for clogged fat cells!

Posted by: JohnDakota Author Profile Page at August 23, 2008 10:58 AM

after having read krauthammer and many others with a pretty good grasp at all tihs get down i have finally reached my thesis as to why vputin has gone down this road.

firstly though i have to clearly state that all equivalating between the US in Iraq and the Russian beyond that fact that they both have an army is bs. We work on two completely different levels for two completely diferent reasons which is why we are rich and russia is a shithole.

If you have ever served in the armed forces (me? 11h 9ID)you'll know that when one nations forces actually go to war and another gets to just watch the watchers deteriorate immensely. You have to watch the other guys get all the action, the cool new weapons and tactics, the great ideas you had for YEARS (ar 10 sniper rifles? snipers period..)
and the general feeling of not eating each other alive but taking it out someone else. It all adds up to a completely different experience for the troop and a different army afterwards results.

In the last 8 years our US forces have made light year strides compared to the sovs and the chicoms.
strykers not bradleys, uavs not stone throwing f-15 buring through money, you nameit, we're a completely different army than even desert storm.

russia has had to sit thru all of that with their thums up their asses. Now the US is going to get a new president. One that was chained to the floor for 5 years and one that knows full well that the sov army is third world piece of crap only worth using against other sov states or sats.
not only that but jmac knows only too well that the sovs are sitting ducks. he got shot down dropping a dumb bomb for God's sake!!
with political resolve, technological supremacy and a trained unstoppable army at their lower border the sovs were bumming if suddenly the US takes out the mullahs in teheran and then all the kids in the neighborhood ( the georgian pm and def min are morons that got thousands killed paid for by soros, nother story completely..)
are going to want to take a shot at the sovs as proxies. So on top of all the politics putin ends up with a rejuvenated 58th army ready for action, an armed services with whispers shooting through the ranks that it might soon mean something to be a soldier again. and the chicoms and other neighbors find another strac fighting force in the area.
this is an artep with real bullets, its a reforger for sovs and it was handed to them by the georgian idiots.
our nation's founding document is the dec of independence which SO obviously read. Somehow the idiots in the state department fell asleep at the switch and obviously didnt think Putin would go for it, but thats because they think statically not in terms of evolution.
When we flew planes around the gulf of tonkin t forced the chicoms to completely re arrange their air defense systems and changed their country forever.
Beneath all the gore and hype, this is what Putin is doing, he's sharpening his sword and we let the georgian step in as the wetstones.
go to mike savages site and read the brits take on the shape of the sov army and then think about what I have written. makes some sense, no?

Posted by: playertwo Author Profile Page at August 23, 2008 2:09 PM

The only Arab country whose public opinion we should care about is Iraq. Georgia just had 1 combat brigade helping train and equip the ISF (32-8, IP, training in 60 mm, 81 mm, and heavy mortars), and helping interdict smuggling from Iran. Georgia has built up some goodwill in Wasit and its immediate environs.

The other Arab countries do not have a big influence on "muslim opinion. Many Indian, Bangladeshi, Indonesian, Malay and African, Turkish, Afghan muslims view sunni arabs with some suspicion.

The important questions are how muslim opinion in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Chechnya and the Balkans is looking at the Russian incursion.

How this will be perceived in India will be greatly influenced by how Indian muslims perceive it. And Russia cares about the Chinese and Indian responses to their actions. Russia's strange actions on energy have raised eyebrows in both countries.

Regarding Iran, from their perspective; Israel is an ally and arms supplier for both Russia and Georgia. Israel just threw Georgia off the bus in return for Russia making concessions on Iran. I wonder how that will go down in Iran.

Is Turkey worried about a Russian repeat in Azerbaijan?

The Afghans need Russian help at the moment, but still view Russia with suspicion. Where will they come down?

Pakistanis don't like Russians either. They don't like what Russia is doing in Chechnya, or Russia's support for the Afghan government (alongside India), or Russia's good relations with India.

It isn't yet clear how muslim public opinion will ultimately come down. Georgia isn't muslim. If Russia "liberates" part of Azerbaijan, Russia can expect a much stronger and more negative reaction.

What will the Russians do over Nagorno-Karabakh?

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at August 23, 2008 5:22 PM

“Russia can have at its borders only enemies or vassals.”
— George F. Kennan

It seems to be doing quite well at making both out of parts of Georgia.

It's also interesting that it's having to threaten to nuke anti-missile sites in Poland, past vassal and current enemy.

Posted by: Brian H Author Profile Page at August 23, 2008 7:29 PM

"It is sad, but the Israelis really dropped the ball on this one. When things got tough they dropped the Georgians like a hot potato. Nothing like fair weather friends I guess."

Right, and if they had done more for Georgia you'd be blaming the whole affair on the Jooooos.

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at August 23, 2008 11:28 PM

The Chechens are probably the most aggessive and anti-Russian of Russia's minorities, and I was surprised that Yeltsin chose to pick a fight with them. But most interesting is that Putin entered national politics with what may have been a faked Chechen attack against Russian targets. Putin steered Russia from direct confrontation to employing its own Chechen stooges to commit mayhem on its behalf.

If Russia and US go all they way (very unlikely) a plane load of Javelins and Stingers to the Chechens could cause the Russians quite a bit of headaches. Of course they are probably another dozen or so communities ready to explode with some CIA help and a few suitcases of cash.

As many may know already, US, German, Spanish and Polish navy ships are in the Black sea, 'delivering aid.' I doubt it's over, Russia will find out their limits.

Posted by: nameless-fool Author Profile Page at August 24, 2008 1:08 AM

PC,

You admit you don't speak Arabic, then you want to try and describe my Arabic as "pidgen[sic]"? You cannot even use English properly yet want to critique my Arabic, a language you don't speak? Are you serious?

Having lived in the Middle East for years, worked on a day to day basis in Arabic with Arabs, I'd say my Arabic is pretty good. Besides, you wouldn't know Hijazi from Hassaniya, so your opinionon the subject matters little.

When you want to claim to be able to say what is accurately going on in the Arabic world, yes, I'd say command of Arabic would be required. If you want to be able to claim to have a good understanding of what is going on in the USA, yes, English would be a requirement.

Why is it that the only area specific "experts" in Western media NOT required to speak the language of the area they claim to be experts on is those who claim to know something about the Middle East? If someone claimed to be an expert about Russia and didn't speak Russian, they'd be ignored. If someone claimed to be an expert about Germany, but couldn't read a German paper, they'd be laughed out of the room.

For me reading Arabic is harder. An article that would take me 2 minutes in English would take me 10 minutes in Arabic, so I tend not to read Arabic papers. I listen to Arabic news on TV. That is why I asked you if you read Arabic.

Having listened to various news reports, in Arabic, on TV channels like al Jazeera, Dubai TV, LBC and al Arabiya, I had heard NOTHING that would lead anyone to believe that the Arab world was supporting Russia "lock step". You made a claim, I was looking to get to the bottom of what evidence you used for that claim. It would seem English language blogs in the West written by Western citizens of Arabic descent is where you get the ability to say that the Arabic speaking world is lockstep with the Russians.

Not a very good source for making such a claim.

@Edgar,

I have never seen Michael claim to be able to make wide sweeping generalisations of the sort that PC tried to pass off. To say that Arabs are lock step with the Russians on this situation and ONLY be able to point back to English language blogs written by Western citizens of Arabic descent isn't a claim that I think Michael would ever make. If he worked on that level he wouldn't have the readership he has.

If you think that the only news coming out in Arabic is written by Arabic media, then you further show you don't know what is going on. The easiest example would be to point to the BBC Arabic Service which comes out with all sorts of articles and reports, only in Arabic, on the Middle East and Arabic speaking world. The same goes, to a lesser extent, to the CNN Arabic service. There are a whole host of Western media services that put out Arabic only language materials which are invaluable for keeping up with that is going on in the Middle East.

@Gary Rosen,

You forget I am Jewish. Why would I blame the whole thing on the "Joooos"? Let me guess, one can only claim be Jewish if the follow Gary Rosen's political line?

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at August 25, 2008 8:19 AM

Marc - you're Jewish, living in the Middle East. Israel is the most economically viable state in the region, with the most well educated population and the best future prospects. I assume you're fluent in the most important language in the area, Hebrew...?

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at August 25, 2008 8:50 AM

Michael, I wrote a comment a few days ago that indicated, on posting, that it was being held pending moderator's approval.

DougF, it was regarding our wager a month ago and this news:
Iraqi Prime Minister Prime Nuri al-Maliki said on Monday that an agreement had been reached in negotiations on a security pact with the United States to end any foreign military presence in Iraq by the end of 2011.

"There is an agreement actually reached, reached between the two parties on a fixed date which is the end of 2011 to end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil," Maliki said in a speech to tribal leaders in the Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at August 25, 2008 9:55 AM

Right, and if they had done more for Georgia you'd be blaming the whole affair on the Jooooos.

I generally assume that anyone spouting that idiotic line and that particular spelling of "Jews" has an IQ in the double digits. In Gary's case, prior postings of his make me think double digits is a generous assumption.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at August 25, 2008 10:43 AM

DPU: I generally assume that anyone spouting that idiotic line and that particular spelling of "Jews" has an IQ in the double digits.

It depends on how many `o's they use.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at August 25, 2008 12:27 PM

It depends on how many `o's they use.

That is an astute observation. On a few minutes research, I note that Gary's use of 5 'o's puts him in the same territory as pravda and right-wing nuthouse. Google provides us with the information that there are some 8,500 hits for that number of letters.

Interestingly, when you get up to ten 'o's, there are still some thousand or so hits. Entering what I would consider the hysteric use of fifteen 'o's, there are still a respectable 540 hits<.

Twenty consecutive uses of the vowel might be considered extreme, but sites like "bare naked islam" and LGF come through for us, contributing to an impressive 128 hits.

Attempting to seek an end of this phenomena and bypass the loonier sites like LGF and Atlas Shrugs that span an enormous number of these terms, I note that fifty 'o's takes us down to a measly five hits.

Its use seems to peter out after seventy 'o's, but there's no telling if some truly off-the-rails wingnut has vented out a hundred or so.

Fascinating. I imagine that similar research could be done with the number of 'o's in "It's all about the ooooooooooil."

Posted by: double-plus-ungood Author Profile Page at August 25, 2008 1:14 PM

Anand: Is Turkey worried about a Russian repeat in Azerbaija?

PandaCapp: It certainly does not seem so. Even considering their non-cooperation on the Iraq invasion, I expected Turkey to make a strong expression of outrage regarding Georgia. I thought it likely that Turkey would publicly call for a strengthening of relations between Turkey and the other Black Sea States of Eastern Europe. I had hoped that Turkey would make a show of supporting NATO vessels in the Black Sea. At the very least, I just knew that Turkey would, in some way, show a concern for its interest in Caspian Sea oil and gas.

None of that has happened. Instead, Turkey hesitated in allowing Naval hospital ships into the Black Sea. A second-grader could have made a rational case for them not being warships prohibited by the Montreux treaty.

Turkey's answer to the Russian invasion was to call for negotiations between all Caucasus nations, including Russia, to discuss differences and find peaceful solutions. pff.

More disturbingly, Ahmadinejad was in Turkey when Georgia was invaded. Turkey's Prime Minister, Erdogan, completely ignored the invasion but made a show of bending over backwards to kiss Almadinejad's ass.

All of this shortly after the Turkish Constitutional Court was one vote away from completely disbanding Erdogan's political party for being too Islamist (instead, settling to cut their funding by half and giving them a warning).

No, it seems that Azerbaijan is not so important to Turkey. Erdogan is too busy playing Russia, Europe, and Iran against each other. He does not care if Caspian oil comes from Russia or Azerbaijan. Either way, it will come. That pipeline was built, in part, by Azerbaijan. Nothing says they get to contol it or keep it.

Anand: What will the Russians do over Nagorno-Karabakh?

PandaCapp: I suspect, nothing. If the U.S. response to Georgia IS NOT strong enough, Azerbaijan will learn a lesson and conform to Moscow price and output demands. If the U.S. response to Georgia IS strong enough, Azerbaijan will learn a lesson and continue along its merry way. Either way, Russia will either be satisfied with Azerbaijan, and leave Nagorno-Karabakh alone, or Russia will reconsider this new (revised) strategy of theirs, and leave Nagorno-Karabakh alone.

Here's my questions:

Will Kazakhstan reconsider the planned China pipeline, now?

Do you think that pipeline had anything to do with the timing of the invasion?

Posted by: PandaCapp Author Profile Page at August 25, 2008 2:37 PM

TURKEY BOWS TO THE DARK SIDE

Before, Turkey picked allies based on shared values -- democracy, Western identity, secular politics and the principle of open society -- that appeared to reflect the Turkish soul. Iran has not become a pro-Western, secular democracy since 1996, nor have Tehran's mullahs accepted gender equality or the idea of a free society. Yet Ankara has had a change of heart toward Tehran. Years from now, Ahmadinejad's visit to Istanbul will be remembered as the tipping point at which the West lost Turkey, and Turkey lost its soul.

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-cagaptay19-2008aug19,0,1494855.story

Posted by: PandaCapp Author Profile Page at August 25, 2008 2:44 PM

Marc: To say that Arabs are lock step with the Russians on this situation and ONLY be able to point back to English language blogs written by Western citizens of Arabic descent isn't a claim that I think Michael would ever make.

Yeah, I agree with you. But knowing Arabic is not an absolute necessity to determine something like that. If you have access to good translations of the major news it's probably sufficient, I think.

If you think that the only news coming out in Arabic is written by Arabic media, then you further show you don't know what is going on.

Well, I never said that. I suppose I should make an obnoxious comment now like "you should work on your reading comprehension." Then follow up by accusing you of antisemitism.

So, here it goes:

Marc, maybe you should work on your reading comprehension. And stop blaming the Joooooooooooooooos for everything.

Ok, that's over with. So anyway, I misunderstood what you were saying. I thought at first that you meant it in an elitist "I have this arcane form of knowledge you don't" sort of way. But I was wrong.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at August 25, 2008 5:34 PM

DPU: Michael, I wrote a comment a few days ago that indicated, on posting, that it was being held pending moderator's approval.

That is a glitch, and it's sometimes triggered if you have too many urls in a comment. I can't actually approve that comment. It went into the bit-bucket. Sorry about that. If I were more tech-savvy, I would fix this.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at August 26, 2008 12:08 AM

Michael,

"That is a glitch, and it's sometimes triggered if you have too many urls in a comment."

You can try to fool it by removing 'http' part from each URL. I am not sure it will work but chances are it might. Alternatively you could try to put space between 'http' and rest of the link.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at August 26, 2008 4:58 AM

@Mary,

When did I ever say I was living in the Middle East? I have LIVED in the Middle East. I am in the USA, have been for years. As to Hebrew, as a very small minority language in the Middle East I would argue when you call it the most important language in the area, but yes I do speak and read Hebrew. I guess that is one of the benefits of having my wife's entire extended family living in northern Israel. Besides, Arabic and Hebrew as Semitic languages, are quit complimentary. Much of the two languages are the same. I guess you could compare Arabic and Hebrew to Dutch and German.

@Edgar,

You say that knowing Arabic is not "an absolute necessity" to be able to make a generalised statement like "Arabs are lockstep with the Russians" by saying that access to good translations of the major news is good enough. Really? Is there a place where one can go for good access of the major daily Arabic media outlets that do not pick and choose the subjects that they translate? If there is something like that, I sure haven't seen it. There are some outlets, MEMRI being one, that give rather dodgy translations of a very selective portion of the Arabic press, given major time usually to the most kooky and extreme elements of Arabic society. I guess you could try to use online translators, but those are rubbish.

Some of the major Arabic media outlets do have online versions in English. I hope that isn't what you are talking about. A quick glance at the Arabic and the English versions will tell someone who reads both languages that the English and Arabic versions are vastly different and often cover different stories and even the same stories differently depending on the language the story is written in.

The only way to gain regular and unfiltered access to the Arabic media is to speak Arabic. There is no other way around it.

You pointed at the biased nature of the Arabic press, I wouldn't argue with you there, but you left it at that. The assumption being that no one else besides the Arabic media is putting news out in Arabic. Like I mentioned the BBC, CNN and other Western news outlets put out completely original content in Arabic only. The ONLY way to access that original Arabic content would be to speak Arabic, it isn't copied in English. Again, if you do not speak or read Arabic you will be completely left out when it comes to most of the Arabic press, whether the content originates in the Arabic world or the West.

This has nothing to do with being "elitists" or "arcane knowledge" (as if knowledge of a language spoken by more than 300 million people is arcane). This has to do with the ability to be able to accurately talk about what is going on in the Arabic world and what is covered in the Arabic press. If you cannot speak Arabic you are going to be left behind. Even the US government realises this and it is why they are working so hard to recruit native Arabic speaks. maybe the US government is being "elitist" and "arcane" or are they just recognising the obvious?

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at August 26, 2008 6:27 AM

"There are some outlets, MEMRI being one, that give rather dodgy translations of a very selective portion of the Arabic press"

"Some of the major Arabic media outlets do have online versions in English. I hope that isn't what you are talking about. A quick glance at the Arabic and the English versions will tell someone who reads both languages that the English and Arabic versions are vastly different and often cover different stories and even the same stories differently depending on the language the story is written in."

As I understand both complement each other and present enough information to form correct opinion. I love the fact that both are biased on opposite sides. Combination offers unbiased coverage in the end.

"The only way to gain regular and unfiltered access to the Arabic media is to speak Arabic. There is no other way around it."

Given the fact that Arabic media is heavily biased, do I need it?

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at August 26, 2008 7:07 AM

This has nothing to do with being "elitists" or "arcane knowledge"

Well, at the outset it sounded like you were portraying yourself as part of a small, exclusive club of Western Arabic-speakers who really knew what was going on in the Mideast.

But like I said, you explained more and I realized I was mistaken. I guess you're so used to people insulting you that you can't believe someone is agreeing with you and admitting he jumped to the wrong conclusion.

But I don't really understand your point. My argument was that knowledge of Arabic is very useful if you want to understand what the Arabic press are saying. However, I don't think it's essential for getting a feel for the mood on a big issue like Georgia. If you read translated excerpts from all the major papers, that would be enough IMO.

Of course, "enough" is a relative term.

Anyway, I have no way of knowing how "left out" I am because I have a very low level of Arabic. I personally want to learn more, but not to understand Arabic-language news. I don't think it's worth just to hear the inflammatory crap they churn out on a daily basis.

BBC Arabic is useless to me. BBC English covers the mideast, too.

Am I missing out? Maybe. But then again, I don't intend to become an "expert" on how the "Arab street" feels.

Posted by: Edgar Author Profile Page at August 26, 2008 8:34 AM

@Leo,

You understand it wrong then. How can you understand what the Arabic press is saying by reading it's English language versions which often put out different news stories with different content? You understand what they want their English readers to understand and have no idea what they are putting out to their readers in Arabic, which is often VASTLY different.

You seemed to have missed entire portions of this thread. There is a fair amount of exclusive Arabic content out there NOT put out by the Arabic media. It is put out by Western sources like the BBC and CNN. This news is NOT available in English. So yes, if you cannot read it, you will miss out on what is going on. This is not exclusively about Arab media sources, rather Western media sources that WRITE in Arabic.

@Edgar,

I didn't seek to portray myself as anything. I was simply pointing out the fact that one cannot make a broad statement about opinions of the Arabic speaking countries and not know a word of Arabic.

If you are wanting to gauge the response and feelings of the Arabic speaking countries about an issue like Georgia, or any other issue, you would have to speak Arabic, or be able to get real time accurately translated Arabic media that isn't available without speaking Arabic yourself or being part of an organisation that does have Arabic translators. Certainly, as PC did here, you cannot rely on Westerners of Arabic descent writing on English language blogs to formulate an opinion on the issue.

You mention translated excerpts from major papers as enough to form an opinion on what the Arabic speaking world thinks about Georgia. Again, I'd have to ask you where you are getting translated excepts from major Arabic media on Georgia? Yahoo and Google translations certainly don't count. I asked before, is there a source out there that translates the major Arabic press on a wide array of issues, not those selectively pulled by groups with ulterior motives like MEMRI?

It is nice that you want to learn more Arabic. But again you miss the point when you talk about "inflammatory crap" that they put out. Most of it is not inflammatory, most of it is run of the mill news items. Certainly some of it is inflammatory, but that in itself helps you get the clue on what is going to a small extent when mixed in with the larger picture. So much so, that groups like MEMRI seek to do nothing else but translate the "inflammatory crap" giving people, like yourself, the illusion that is the only thing the Arabic media has to offer.

Besides, as I pointed out before, if you speak Arabic you'd get the Arabic language content put out by the BBC, CNN and various other European news outlets. It just isn't the Arabic media you are missing out on, but what the West is covering in the area as well.

You write "BBC Arabic is useless to me. BBC English covers the mideast, too".

Again, you aren't understanding how things work. The BBC English coverage of the Middle East is different in scope and content from the BBC Arabic coverage. If you do not get the BBC Arabic you will be missing out on a lot that is NOT available in English. Hence you are not getting the entire picture, only a small limited portion of it. Just go to the BBC Middle East page in English and click on BBC Arabic in the left hand corner of the screen. It is clear their Arabic coverage, in scope and content, is vastly different from the English page. If you think that the BBC Arabic is nothing more than an Arabic translation of the English page you are way off. It it mostly original Arabic language content.

You are missing out, but as long as you don't try (like some do) to be able to make sweeping statements on how the Arab street (hate the term and idea) thinks, then no harm no foul. If, like PC, you want to be able to say that the "Arabs are lockstep with Russia" on an issue it would behoove you to be able to point to more than English language blogs and news.

Posted by: Marc Author Profile Page at August 27, 2008 6:29 AM

"If, like PC, you want to be able to say that the "Arabs are lockstep with Russia" on an issue it would behoove you to be able to point to more than English language blogs and news."

Marc, it might behoove you to offer contrary data rather than stick to essentially fallacious issues of methodology. Why don't you post on Arab dissent with Russia. Surely they are burning some Russian flags or effigies, pictures speak loudly enough that all us 'Murkins, I mean non-Arabic-native speakers, can play too...

Posted by: Nichevo Author Profile Page at August 27, 2008 7:30 PM
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