Ignore the Day-to-Day, and also Bloggers

by Joshua Foust on 8/9/2008 · 71 comments

As the fighting in South Ossetia heats up, it’s interesting to see the rush by all the bloggers to do the biggest, grandest roundups. By looking at this, you see those who think they’re clever by either stating the obvious (Russia wants to split Georgia, Abkhazia is getting involved), the conventional wisdom (Russia wants to disrupt the Georgia energy corridor), or the plain old wrong (Russia wants to annex Georgia). The examples are countless, and while not necessarily wrong, none are really saying anything those who are knowledgable of the situation haven’t been saying for months or years. You also notice that the same four or five stories from the New York Times, CNN, or the BBC all get linked and excerpted, as people play arm-chair correspondents and try to track every bombing, explosion, artillery strike, and troop movement.

Basically, ignore all of that. We will not have a useful picture of the minutae of the fighting for at least several days (really? Russia will own Georgian airspace just like that?), until some good correspondents get on the scene and we’re not left hearing only what the various foreign ministries say. If you can read Russian or Georgian, there are many blogs posting pictures and personal accounts that can provide much better data (Yerevan-based reporter Onnik Krikorian is a notable exception and his collections of local blogger-journalism are absolutely necessary reading). Far more interesting than the minutae of the tactical aspects of this fight, at least to me, is the political aspect. Blake Hounshell did an admirable job of rounding up some of these, including the very salient point that Russia has refused a cease-fire.

But even that is just conventional wisdom. Who cares? It’s called conventional wisdom because everyone already knows it. Finding something new or interesting about this conflict is tough, and the blogosphere is being more hurtful than helpful in offering anything of value. There is very little attention being paid, for example, to Russia’s diplomatic moves, which seem curiously centered in Brussels, and not Tskhinvali, Tblisi, or Moscow. Why Brussels? This escalation happened right before Georgia was scheduled for its ascension into NATO, and Russian would love nothing more than to scuttle Georgia’s chances. Pretending that the South Ossetian shadow government makes any of its own decision is about as useful as pretending the shadow government in Abkhazia does. They got violent because Moscow told them to, and it has been that way for a good fifteen years now (the Abkhaz government is a bit more autonomous, but they remain fatally reliant on Russian support).

This is one example. There are some others, such as Novaya Gazeta columnist Yulia Latynina’s excellent analysis of how this will play within Russia’s siloviki, that get lost in the noise (this is Anna Politkovsaya’s paper, by the way). What a tragedy—the real advantage the blogosphere is supposed to be its superior information collection and analysis skills; instead, all we have so far is a big echo chamber of the same three ideas about the so-called “frozen conflicts” that have been circling the drain for the last decade. It is increasingly clear the community of blogs cares not a whit for expertise or experience, when you see war blogs like the Small Wars Journal linking to a blog reminding us that this is “still a holdover from the breakup of the Soviet Union,” to the Instapundit linking to renown Georgia expert Tigerhawk. Seriously? The same blogs, all the time, for all topics? That’s remarkably MSM-style behavior.

Honestly, blogosphere: you can do a helluva lot better. At least, so I thought.

Update: For shits and giggles, dig our dear friend Ralph Peters in such moral agony he can barely move his fingers to type of the brave and embattled democratic-pacifist Georgian patriots being ground beneath the merciless tanks of an Imperial Russia desperate for her former glorious Empire. If prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were tortured like Ralph Peters tortures his writing, there would have already been trials for war crimes.

Update 2: Steve LeVine, who used to live in Tblisi and covered the 1993 conflict in Abkhazia, injects some much-needed sobriety into the discussion of the conflict.


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This post was written by...

– author of 1849 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 71 comments }

Joshua Foust August 11, 2008 at 9:41 am

AFOE has been good at pointing out the common sense issues behind the conflict. I haven’t linked them because I read their posts and think, “oh yeah, that makes sense.”

De Waal comes off as unhinged. You cannot place sole blame for this conflict at Georgia’s feet.

Richard August 11, 2008 at 10:15 am

I don’t think he does lay sole blame on Georgia. De Waal is a journalist who has been very critical of Russia’s actions in Chechnya, Azerbaijan (see his excellent books on these) and elsewhere including Georgia. He does raise a question which seems to be missing in all the Great Game analysis – who cares about the regular civilians of South Ossetia?

Chuck Pelto August 11, 2008 at 1:05 pm

TO: All
RE: The Latest

“The latest developments indicate that Russian troops have invaded Georgia proper from the separatist province of Abkhazia while most Georgian forces are locked up in fighting around South Ossetia.” — Fox News

I wonder if Joshua is paying attention here…..

Regards,

Chuck(le)

Joshua Foust August 11, 2008 at 1:36 pm

Chuck, they can invade all they want, but they won’t stay. They’re just trying to force Saakashvili out of power. And the longer they’re there, the longer Russia’s financial markets tumble. Occupation is not a sustainable option.

Chuck Pelto August 11, 2008 at 2:13 pm

TO: Joshua Foust
RE: Are You….

“Chuck, they can invade all they want, but they won’t stay.” — Joshua Foust

….wrong? Or is StrategyPage wrong?

“Thousands of ethnic Abkhazians and Ossetians fled to the new statelets. Since both of these areas were on the Russian border, Russia saw an opportunity to quiet things down (they did not want an ethnic based guerilla war going on along their border). So Russia offered its services as mediator and peacekeeper in the early 1990s, and peace was restored. The UN agreed all this, and a reluctant Georgia went along. But after that, the Russians refused to leave….” — StrategyPage @

http://www.strategypage.com/qnd/russia/articles/20080810.aspx

Who’s ‘right’ here?

Regards,

Chuck(le)
P.S. Care to place a small ‘wager’ on your assertion?

Nathan August 11, 2008 at 2:24 pm

Chuck, the situation now is different than in the early ’90s. I don’t know whether to say you’re misreading things or StrategyPage is because I can’t be bothered to read their site. There’s rarely any insight there.

The difference is that Russia had a valid legal pretext for staying in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Laugh at the “legal” part if you want, but Russia does have a pretty good track record of leaning back on legal and moral justifications for its actions, even if the explanations are a stretch. It doesn’t have much interest in annexing potentially difficult-to-administer territories. Georgia qualifies as one such territory. South Ossetia, probably not. (In fact, I don’t think it could stay afloat as an independent state.) It’s much easier for Russia to have a submissive government running things in Tbilisi.

Joshua Foust August 11, 2008 at 2:25 pm

Chuck, Strategy page is reliably wrong. They have a record of making weird, unsupportable assertions about conflicts in play, and their refusal to source a single thing means no one can ever check their work or their reasoning.

Even STRATFOR is a far better source of information.

Chuck Pelto August 11, 2008 at 2:27 pm

TO: Nathan
RE: Different?

“Chuck, the situation now is different than in the early ’90s.” — Nathan

Have the Russians left? If not, why not?

TO: Joshua Foust
RE: StrategyPage Is Wrong

“….Strategy page is reliably wrong. They have a record of making weird, unsupportable assertions about conflicts in play, and their refusal to source a single thing means no one can ever check their work or their reasoning.” — Joshua Foust

Prove it, please.

Regards,

Chuck(le)

Jim August 11, 2008 at 2:43 pm

I think your dismissive attitude about Russia having designs on annexing Georgia is incorrect. And I say this being a fan of most of your analysis.

Look, I think it’s fair to say that Moscow isn’t looking to be blatant about it, but lets be honest, Moscow doesn’t do things like protect ethnic minorities from oppression. It’s not their thing. They don’t now, and they never have. Russian involvement in protecting Orthodox minorities in the Ottoman empire is a great example. They didn’t do it for altruistic reasons.

So while they look at Georgia’s latest actions as a way to screw with Georgia at the least, it’s hard to make the case that Moscow doesn’t consider the possibility of annexing Georgia.

Chuck Pelto August 11, 2008 at 4:55 pm

TO: Registan
RE: Spammer?

Why am I now considered a ‘spammer’ by this site? When I tried to say….

TO: Nathan
RE: Different?

“Chuck, the situation now is different than in the early ’90s.” — Nathan

Have the Russians left? If not, why not?

TO: Joshua Foust
RE: StrategyPage Is Wrong

“….Strategy page is reliably wrong. They have a record of making weird, unsupportable assertions about conflicts in play, and their refusal to source a single thing means no one can ever check their work or their reasoning.” — Joshua Foust

Prove it, please.

Regards,

Chuck(le)

Nathan August 11, 2008 at 5:15 pm

Chuck, the anti-spam system decided you are a spammer. Don’t take it personal.

If you don’t get the differences I already stated above and don’t understand why staying in Abkhazia and South Ossetia carries negligible costs while staying in Georgia would carry astronomical costs, I’m not going to waste my time explaining it to you. You’ve got your conclusion, and I’m not going to budge it.

James August 11, 2008 at 7:08 pm

It’s not difficult to imagine that in the long run this could be the beginning of another long Russian march south into Central Asia and the Caucasus. It will likely be decades, possibly longer, before we find out.

For now, I think that Russia will be satisfied with with SO, Abkhazia and a friendly government in Tbilisi, but I’m no position to make predictions.

My question is, what affect, if any does this have on Kazakhstan, with its large community of Russians?

Uzbek August 11, 2008 at 8:13 pm

“My question is, what affect, if any does this have on Kazakhstan, with its large community of Russians? ” by James

This was the reason that Nazarbayev moved his capital to Astana (northern Kazakhstan) and became a president for lifetime to keep his country together. %40+ of Kazakhstan is Russian.

Chuck Pelto August 11, 2008 at 8:31 pm

TO: Nathan
RE: Spammer? Moi?

“Chuck, the anti-spam system decided you are a spammer. Don’t take it personal.” — Nathan

Actually, I’ve seen this ploy used before in other venues; don’t care to hear what the fellow has to say? Declare him a ‘spammer’ and let him be silenced.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[If you can't convince them, silence them.]

Nathan August 12, 2008 at 10:33 am

Chuck, I’ll repeat what I just emailed you. You’re not important enough for me to target your comments. Spam Karma 2 thinks your comments are spam and I can’t seem to convince it otherwise. And really, I don’t particularly care to try all that hard.

Chuck Pelto August 13, 2008 at 10:55 am

TO: All
RE: The Russians in Georgia

The dust hasn’t settled yet. The information is still sketchy, at best, but as I stated earlier, this resembles German aggression against Czechoslovakia vis-a-vis Sudetenland.

My question is, how far away from the Russian front-line-trace is that pipeline?

Is it in range of Russian rocket or other long-range artillery?

Regards,

Chuck(le)
[All warfare is part of a massive game of chess.]

Chuck Pelto August 14, 2008 at 4:57 am

TO: All
RE: Forget About….

….my question regarding front line trace and the oil pipeline.

Don’t need to shell the pipeline when you occupy the terminal at the port.

See….

….THIS.

Regards,

Chuck(le)
P.S. I notice that neither Joshua, nor anyone else, has taken up my offer of a small wager on whether the Russians stay or go home.

Chuck Pelto August 14, 2008 at 12:17 pm

TO: All
RE: More Evidence….

….that my appreciation of the situation is more accurate than some other peoples’….

….HERE!

Enjoy,

Chuck(le)

Chuck Pelto August 18, 2008 at 11:49 am

TO: All
RE: Soooo….

….the Russians say they’re withdrawing forces from the theater of operation.

How many are they going to withdraw?
How many are they going to keep there?

Regards,

Chuck(le)

Chuck Pelto August 30, 2008 at 1:41 pm

TO: All
RE: More Evidence….

…here….

…that my analysis of the situation is superior to these Russian shills.

Regards,

Chuck(le)

SamOnes October 1, 2008 at 1:28 pm

Did you hear? Russian agressor attacks USA…
More info here: hotusanewx.blogspot.com

SHOKED!!

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