Irresponsible Risk Takers in Command

War prosperity is like the prosperity that an earthquake or a plague brings.

War… is harmful, not only to the conquered but to the conqueror.

To defeat the aggressors is not enough to make peace durable. The main thing is to discard the ideology that generates war.

The root of the evil is not the construction of new, more dreadful weapons. It is the spirit of conquest.

– quotations from Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973)

There are people in charge who think that provocation and aggression can be acceptable government policy. The sudden conflict between the former Soviet province of Georgia and Russia in the Caucasus in Eurasia is a good case in point.

What’s behind this conflict that erupted last Friday at the outset of the Beijing Olympic Games? First and foremost, let us keep in mind that the real and first aggressors in this conflict is the belligerent government of Georgia, led by an impulsive politician named Mikhail Saakashvili, who is openly supported by the governments of the U.S. and of Israel. Early Friday, August 8, Georgian tanks and infantry, assisted by American and Israeli military advisers, launched an early morning massive artillery and rocket barrage on the capital of breakaway South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, thus directly provoking Russia, which had soldiers in that province.

At first blush, most people could easily arrive at the conclusion that Saakashvili is completely out of his mind for having declared war against its neighbor Russia, a country more than 50 times larger, with the goal of reoccupying the Russian-speaking province of South Ossetia, de facto independent since 1992. The only logical explanation would seem to be that the Georgia President believed, or had some form of assurance, that the Bush-Cheney administration would side militarily with him. Did he really believe that the Bush-Cheney administration, already deeply involved in two military conflicts in Iraq and in Afghanistan, would risk a world war to salvage an oil pipeline and a newly acquired colony in that far away part of the world? This would seem to be another insane idea.

It is a little known fact that the U.S. and Israel have been training and arming the Georgian military since 2002. This situation is tantamount to risking a restart of the Cold War with Russia. It has also sown the seeds of a much larger conflict in that part of the world by encouraging Georgia to embark on military maneuvers. Little Georgia (4.5 m. inhabitants) even has 2,000 troops in Iraq, soldiers that the U.S. is now quickly flying back to Georgia. This goes a long way towards explaining how involved the Bush-Cheney administration and its Israeli surrogates have been in sticking it in the eyes of Russia. And now, the Russian bear is reacting. This is brinkmanship at a high level.

In the summer of 1914, a similar miscalculation resulted in igniting World War I.

This was a conflict that started with a single death (the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914) but which resulted, in the end, in 40 million deaths. The catastrophe was the result of a chain reaction of war declarations by various countries involved in the affairs of other countries. This remains an example of how relatively minor regional conflicts can escalate into conflagrations when hotheads are in command.

The Georgia-Russia spat represents a good opportunity for the U.N. Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, to show leadership and not to let things degenerate. Indeed, there is always the possibility that one politician after another will try not to lose face by escalating things. For example, the U.N Secretary-General should obtain from the Security Council the mandate to visit immediately the two capitals directly involved, and he should attempt to broker an immediate face-saving end to the hostilities. He should persuade the Russian leaders not to overreact to the Georgian President’s provocations. As for the latter, he has demonstrated that he is not worthy of occupying his functions.

Time is of the essence in such circumstances, because there are always some interests that stand to profit from a worsening situation.

For one, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who never met a war he didn’t like, has already tried to stoke the fire of conflict by calling for the 26-country NATO to get involved in what is essentially a local ethnic conflict. On the campaign trail, John McCain said: “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.”

Incredibly, the republican candidate is attempting to profit politically from this faraway crisis by advancing the frightening prospect of turning a small regional conflict into a world war. This could have something to do with the fact that Mr. McCain’s main foreign policy adviser is a former lobbyist for the government of Georgia and is a former neocon lobbyist for the U.S. military invasion of Iraq. This would seem to be a direct conflict of interests and reason enough for Mr. McCain to refrain from throwing oil on the fire.

I have said it before, and this incident confirms it; this man would seem to be unfit to be in charge of a heavily armed country.

Rodrigue Tremblay is professor emeritus of economics at the University of Montreal and author of the book The New American Empire. He can be reached at: rodrigue.tremblay@yahoo.com. Read other articles by Rodrigue, or visit Rodrigue's website.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozhidar balkas said on August 12th, 2008 at 8:10am #

    russia is prepared to use wmd to defend their own turf. so, what’s up?
    to evaluate EU/US planners/leaders as stupid will not do. they must have studied all possible outcomes arising from georgian invasion of s.ossetia.
    they must have ruled out to take any action that might trigger a nuclear war.
    so, it’s all over for georgia. only EU/US laments/condemnation remain in order to mislead once agin the sheople. thank u.

  2. Michael Kenny said on August 12th, 2008 at 8:31am #

    A useful analysis. A few additional points. The map is useful because the Ossetians are not entirely the innocent little lambs they are painted as being. Not only do the southern branch have their row with Georgia, but the northerners have an ongoing fight over territory with neighbouring Ingushetia. The Ingush are close cousins to the Chechens, which is probably what brought the latter to Beslan a few years ago.

    Also, the big question is what possessed Saakashvili? What he did was like deliberately stepping in dog dirt and then wondering why your shoes are dirty! Clearly, the US Government was not in the loop and was taken completely by surprise (thank God Bush was in Beijing!). My theory is the Israelis. The whole thing is eerily similar to the Israeli screw-up in Lebanon. But not the Israeli government. The relevant ministers, Livni (ex-Mossad) and Barak (ex-para) are intelligent enough to realise that the whole thing was a harebrained scheme that was bound to blow up in everybody’s face. My scenario: the whole thing was cooked up in Tblisi between Saakashvili and some witless Israeli military jock sent up there as an “advisor”, the latter convincing the former that if he could create “Georgian facts” on the ground, the US would be forced to support him.

    The why of it all is probably that Saakashvili thought that he could “putsch” his way into NATO before the US election. Of course, letting a country engaged in a military conflict into an alliance is like selling life insurance to someone who has just been shot! And in this case, the victim started the fight himself! So I would guess that both NATO and the EU will do nothing more than adopt statements calling for a return to the status quo ante and a negotiated settlement, and will re-affirm the principal of territorial sovereignty in very strong language (thereby torpedoing US policy in Kosovo!).

    If people weren’t being killed, the whole thing would be high farce!

  3. bozhidar balkas said on August 12th, 2008 at 8:42am #

    kenny,
    i’m not writing about a people’s traits/habits/lore/culture, past behavior.
    the subject shld be left entirely to sociologists/historians.
    and i am aware that every nation i know of has elbows deep in blood.
    thank u

  4. Richard Estes said on August 12th, 2008 at 11:04am #

    a fine article that highlights a theme that I have also emphasized on my blog, the aggressiveness intrusion of the US into conflicts that it militarizes to disasterous effect for everyone involved: Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel in Lebanon in 2006, Fatah fighting Hamas with US training, and now this, not to mention rumors of US financed rebel groups operating inside Iran, and the possibility of US attacks on the tribal areas within Pakistan

    as Tariq Ali frequently says, “this is not going to end well”, and we have to ask ourselves, is the US on an irreversible course of global conflict beyond anything experienced since World War II?

  5. Brian Koontz said on August 12th, 2008 at 2:10pm #

    The US state and all other states (and power structures in general) are hierarchies. They are command structures where the commands need not be based on any kind of rationality or any other “just” position.

    The whole point of gaining power in the first place is to *not* have to justify decisions – to become unaccountable. Power means never having to say you’re sorry. Power means never having to explain (truthfully).

    It’s often said that the powerful are irresponsible, or irrational, but this isn’t true. It’s the command structure itself with it’s utter lack of accountability that inevitably leads to self-serving behavior.

    Humans have thus far failed at achieving a world without hierarchy. Almost ever major human problem can be traced to hierarchies – war chief among them.

    Even the left typically complains about the *people* in power – so they say that George W. Bush is a terrible person. What needs to be attacked is not so much the power-mongering monster that happens to be in power at the moment but the hierarchical structures which are created and maintained that inevitably are filled. All hierarchies need to be challenged and most need to be destroyed. Without a home to live in the power-mongers will either adapt to the new social reality or fade away.

  6. pavel yakovlev said on August 12th, 2008 at 5:58pm #

    Rodrigue, a very good article, indeed. Better reasoned and less passionate than mine (could not help it – wrote mine after being disgusted by another CNN news report on this conflict).

  7. Steve said on August 12th, 2008 at 10:13pm #

    Brian K.:

    All civilizations including our own were built on slavery and mass murder – largely by psychopaths who are hard-wired to lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, torture and kill without feeling any remorse. Since they have no limitations on what they can or will do to achieve power, all hierarchies – political, religious, economic and social – inevitably become top-heavy with psychopaths.

  8. Brian Koontz said on August 14th, 2008 at 2:27pm #

    In reply to Steve:

    That’s not true. Psychopathy is a matter of the individual will attacking people in general within a society – positions of power put structural and institutional constraints on behavior such that shape that behavior toward domination. Take George W. Bush’s power away and he no longer acts in psychopathic fashion. A psychopath acts as a psychopath under any conditions (so long as he still hates the society he is attacking).

    Here’s a general example taken from all capitalist societies, the prototypical one from which all hierarchies are derived – fatherhood. There are different levels of socially accepted ways to “feed the family”. One way that is socially accepted is to take a position in a corporation that exploits the third world. Due to the constraints of “fatherhood” (as the father views the constraints) he must take part in exploiting the third world because the alternative (not exploiting the third world and therefore making less money) makes him a bad father.

    But even that might not be enough, and he may need to undertake actions that offend his own country’s ruling elite to make even more money. Again, all due to the institutional constraints (as he views them) of fatherhood.

    In capitalist societies men want to become fathers precisely so that they can become dominative. That is to say, men recognize their own desire for power and the positive impact that fatherhood has on their quest for power (social status, sexual value, etc.) insofar as it places conditional constraints on them that individually, they desire. So men (and women, to the extent that they too “feed the family” and that they desire to couple with men who do) want to become dominative, they want to extort, coerce, and exploit. These might even be called “family values” within a capitalist society.

    I’ll pass over the example of Brad Will for the sake of brevity, but look into it for some insight. Or Eugene Debs.

    I want to cover one more issue in my time in this post – wife beating. The left is a joke on this issue, precisely because the left is imperialist as well (most of the left including Naomi Klein is capitalist) and not committed to socialism.

    The American people, like all other people, strain for socialism. There is constant tension against capitalism, even in the corrupt American society (corruption itself implies a tension, a two-fold identity). Capitalism requires a husband to be dominative and a wife at the very least to be complicit. To the extent that that husband desires to not be dominative, often for socialist reasons, animosity is generated by the situation he finds himself in. That is to say, dislike for capitalism directly leads to bad marriages, and abuse of wives. Yet I’ve never heard the left even mention this primary aspect of wife beating, preferring to treat it as a personal problem (a kind of moral failing of men). The left apparently fails to note that in non-capitalist societies, such as that of indigenous Americans for example, there is very little if any wife beating. Women in America know very well that capitalism and imperialism produce wife beating as an inevitable side effect, which is one reason why the issue receives so little serious examination. American women have decided that imperialism is more important than their own bruises.