Weekend reading recommendations

Here are some articles you may have missing and might find interesting and useful.  Excerpts follow after the jump.

  1. The west is strategically wrong on Georgia“, By Kishore Mahbubani, op-ed in the Financial Times, August 2008
  2. Echo Chamber: How blogging failed the war in Georgia“, Joshua Foust, Columbia Journalism Review, 19 August 2008
  3. MI5 report challenges views on terrorism in Britain“, Guardian, 21 August 2008
  4. Getting Russia v. Georgia Right: What we don’t know can hurt us“, Joshua Foust, Columbia Journalism Review, 22 August 2008 
  5. And None Dare Call It Treason“, Patrick J. Buchanan, Creator’s Syndicate, 22 August 2008
  6. Human quicksand for the U.S. Army, a crash course in cultural studies“, By Steve Featherstone, Harper’s, September 2008 — Subscription only.  No excerpt.

Excerpts

1.  “The west is strategically wrong on Georgia“, By Kishore Mahbubani, op-ed in the Financial Times, August 2008 — The author is a 30 year veteran of Singapore’s foreign service, including appointments as ambassador to the US and UN.  He is now dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, and has just published ‘The New Asian Hemisphere: the Irresis­tible Shift of Global Power to the East’.  Excerpt:

Sometimes small events can portend great changes. The Georgian fiasco may be one such event. It heralds the end of the post cold-war era. But it does not mark the return of any new cold war. It marks an even bigger return: the return of history.

The post cold-war era began on a note of western triumphalism, symbolised by Francis Fukuyama’s book, The End of History. The title was audacious but it captured the western zeitgeist. History had ended with the triumph of western civilisation. The rest of the world had no choice but to capitulate to the advance of the west.

In Georgia, Russia has loudly declared that it will no longer capitulate to the west. After two decades of humiliation Russia has decided to snap back. Before long, other forces will do the same. As a result of its overwhelming power, the west has intruded into the geopolitical spaces of other dormant countries. They are no longer dormant, especially in Asia.

Indeed, most of the world is bemused by western moralising on Georgia. America would not tolerate Russia intruding into its geopolitical sphere in Latin America. Hence Latin Americans see American double standards clearly. So do all the Muslim commentaries that note that the US invaded Iraq illegally, too. Neither India nor China is moved to protest against Russia. It shows how isolated is the western view on Georgia: that the world should support the underdog, Georgia, against Russia. In reality, most support Russia against the bullying west. The gap between the western narrative and the rest of the world could not be greater.

It is therefore critical for the west to learn the right lessons from Georgia. It needs to think strategically about the limited options it has. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, western thinkers assumed the west would never need to make geopolitical compromises. It could dictate terms. Now it must recognise reality.

… The biggest paradox facing the west is that it is at last possible to create a safer world order. The number of countries wanting to become “responsible stakeholders” has never been higher. Most, including China and India, want to work with the US and the west. But the absence of a long-term coherent western strategy towards the world and the inability to make geopolitical compromises are the biggest obstacles to a stable world order. Western leaders say the world is becoming a more dangerous place, yet few admit that their flawed thinking is bringing this about. Georgia illustrates the results of a lack of strategic thinking.

2.  “Echo Chamber: How blogging failed the war in Georgia“, Joshua Foust, Columbia Journalism Review, 19 August 2008 — Excerpt:

 Elite bloggers often portray their analytical and news-gathering skills as equal or (more often) superior to those of professional journalists. Plenty of stories support this point of view: the “Rathergate” scandal that caught Dan Rather pushing an unconfirmed story about President Bush, the multiple cases highlighting fraudulent photography from conflict zones in the Middle East, and so on. But in the case of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Georgia, the blogging world mostly failed to live up to its promises.

3.  “MI5 report challenges views on terrorism in Britain“, Guardian, 21 August 2008 — Excerpt:

MI5 has concluded that there is no easy way to identify those who become involved in terrorism in Britain, according to a classified internal research document on radicalisation seen by the Guardian.  The sophisticated analysis, based on hundreds of case studies by the security service, says there is no single pathway to violent extremism.  It concludes that it is not possible to draw up a typical profile of the “British terrorist” as most are “demographically unremarkable” and simply reflect the communities in which they live.

  • The “restricted” MI5 report takes apart many of the common stereotypes about those involved in British terrorism.
  • They are mostly British nationals, not illegal immigrants and, far from being Islamist fundamentalists, most are religious novices.
  • Nor, the analysis says, are they “mad and bad”.
  • Those over 30 are just as likely to have a wife and children as to be loners with no ties, the research shows.

The security service also plays down the importance of radical extremist clerics, saying their influence in radicalising British terrorists has moved into the background in recent years.

The research, carried out by MI5’s behavioural science unit, is based on in-depth case studies on “several hundred individuals known to be involved in, or closely associated with, violent extremist activity” ranging from fundraising to planning suicide bombings in Britain.

4.  “Getting Russia v. Georgia Right: What we don’t know can hurt us“, Joshua Foust, Columbia Journalism Review, 22 August 2008 — Excerpt:

The first few days of any conflict exist in the darkest version of what soldiers call “the fog of war.” Nothing is certain; competing and conflicting reports about incursions, attacks, counterattacks, and atrocities filter through various news channels, only some of which ever get confirmed later. In a fast-moving war, publishing rumors and relying only on official sources-with little or no social or historical context for the fighting-can distort the public’s, and the policymakers’, understanding of the situation. The war between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia is a perfect example of this, as sloppy reporting in the war’s early days led to some questionable decisions later on.

Put simply, most early reporting in U.S. media on the conflict lacked any context, either recent or historical. Since at least 2006, Georgia had been dealing with provocative cease-fire violations in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and in the two weeks or so leading up to the August 8 incursion, Georgia claimed to have suffered “daily shelling” of its villages from South Ossetian outposts near the provincial capital of Tskhinvali. Days before the war began, on August 3, The New York Times reported from Moscow that South Ossetia was claiming at least a half-dozen dead fighters after a brief skirmish with Georgia. Similarly violent incidents along the borders of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia have occurred repeatedly over the past several years. So, unlike the many newspapers that were describing it as “blitzing” or “lightning” (with all the uncomfortable Nazi images those terms conjure), many analysts saw the war coming years ago. It really wasn’t a surprise.

… Inaccurate journalism has real consequences. While offering support to Georgia, President Bush and his spokespeople had to hedge their statements about what was going on in the country-not because they were being diplomatic, but because they had no idea what was going on, thanks to “confusing reports from the ground,” and “one-sided and possibly exaggerated accounts of actions from both sides.” While part of the explanation for this is that American intelligence agencies have been primarily focused on Iraq, Iran, and North Korea over the last six years rather than the Caucasus, another important part is that officials have come to rely on initial reports from the media.

Hence, policymakers make poor or tentative decisions based on a faulty understanding of what was happening. While President Bush has every right to take Georgia’s side in the conflict, it was wrong of him to portray Russia’s advance into the country as smooth and unstoppable and unspeakably brutal, when the Pentagon did not know for certain if that was indeed the case. Yet he probably did not know better. Subsequent reporting has revealed just how halting and imprecise Russia’s military advance was, which could have tempered Western leaders’ rush to condemn the situation before they understood it.

5.  “And None Dare Call It Treason“, Patrick J. Buchanan, Creator’s Syndicate, 22 August 2008 — Excerpt:

Who is Randy Scheunemann?  He is the principal foreign policy adviser to John McCain and potential successor to Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski as national security adviser to the president of the United States.

But Randy Scheunemann has another identity, another role.  He is a dual loyalist, a foreign agent whose assignment is to get America committed to spilling the blood of her sons for client regimes who have made this moral mercenary a rich man.  From January 2007 to March 2008, the McCain campaign paid Scheunemann $70,000 – pocket change compared to the $290,000 his Orion Strategies banked in those same 15 months from the Georgian regime of Mikheil Saakashvili.

What were Mikheil’s marching orders to Tbilisi’s man in Washington? Get Georgia a NATO war guarantee. Get America committed to fight Russia, if necessary, on behalf of Georgia.  Scheunemann came close to succeeding.

6.  “Human quicksand for the U.S. Army, a crash course in cultural studies“, By Steve Featherstone, Harper’s, September 2008 — Subscription only.  No excerpt.

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

One thought on “Weekend reading recommendations

  1. America would not tolerate Russia intruding into its geopolitical sphere in Latin America.

    Not a hypothetical:

    Talk of Russia-Cuba ties seen as warning to U.S.

    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba and Russia have stirred memories of their Cold War alliance with recent talk of restoring “traditional” ties in what experts said was a warning to their old adversary, the United States.

    Russia, once the island’s top economic benefactor and military ally, has hinted at re-establishing a military presence in Cuba in a tit-for-tat for U.S. activities in Eastern Europe, including plans for a missile defense system, they said.

    “Russia is clearly irritated at what it perceives as U.S. meddling in its neighborhood,” said Cuba expert Phil Peters at the Lexington Institute in Virginia. “It seems to be sending a message that if you play on our periphery, we’ll play in yours.”
    ….

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