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The Gori Details

[ 0 ] August 12, 2008 |

The Times has a fairly grim account of the Georgian retreat from Gori:

The Georgian Army was in complete disarray last night after troops and tanks fled the town of Gori in panic and abandoned it to the Russians without firing a shot…

The retreat from Gori, the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, was as humiliating as it was sudden and dramatic. The Times witnessed scores of tanks and armoured personnel carriers, laden with soldiers, speeding through the town away from what Georgian officials claimed was an imminent Russian invasion.

Residents watched in horror as their army abandoned its positions after a day of increasingly aggressive exchanges of fire along the border with South Ossetia, the breakaway region now fully under Russian control.

Jeeps and pick-up trucks filled with Georgian soldiers raced through the streets, their occupants frantically signalling to civilians that they too should flee. The road out of Gori towards Tbilisi was a scene of chaos and fear as cars jockeyed with tanks for a speedy escape.

Soldiers left by any means available. Dozens of troops clung to cars on the back of a transporter lorry, while five other soldiers fled on one quad bike.

Obviously, this does not bode well for the Georgians. It is extremely difficult to put an army that has routed back together. Incidentally, I guess that Ralph Peters is a moron:

That said, the Russians may be surprised at how fiercely the Georgians defend their homeland. At least two, and possibly four, Russian jets have been shot down while attacking Georgian bases close to the capital city, Tbilisi.

As of last night, the Georgians had retaken Tskhinvali, South Ossetia’s capital. I’d bet American veterans helped Georgia with contingency planning for just such a situation (it worked in Bosnia)… This fighting is serious. And, unless Moscow pulls out all the stops, its forces just might take a surprise beating.

Who knew?

…Small Wars Journal has a predictably excellent roundup.

…Nexon makes a good point regarding the Russian bombing campaign:

But if this were a United States operation you can bet that the US navy would be blockading the country and the USAF would be taking out every piece of military hardware or key transportation hub they could find. Indeed, the US would be actively aiming at regime change. The United States did all of these things in the Kosovo campaign.

Right; also Israeli practice in the 2006 Hezbollah war. This hardly justifies Russian behavior, but it does mean that some avenues of critique against Russian escalation are plainly hypocritical.

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Gorbachev Weighs In…

[ 7 ] August 11, 2008 |

For what it’s worth.

What happened on the night of Aug. 7 is beyond comprehension. The Georgian military attacked the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali with multiple rocket launchers designed to devastate large areas. Russia had to respond. To accuse it of aggression against “small, defenseless Georgia” is not just hypocritical but shows a lack of humanity.

Mounting a military assault against innocents was a reckless decision whose tragic consequences, for thousands of people of different nationalities, are now clear. The Georgian leadership could do this only with the perceived support and encouragement of a much more powerful force. Georgian armed forces were trained by hundreds of U.S. instructors, and its sophisticated military equipment was bought in a number of countries. This, coupled with the promise of NATO membership, emboldened Georgian leaders into thinking that they could get away with a “blitzkrieg” in South Ossetia.

In other words, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was expecting unconditional support from the West, and the West had given him reason to think he would have it. Now that the Georgian military assault has been routed, both the Georgian government and its supporters should rethink their position.

Gorbachev has moved in the last couple of years to be conciliatory towards the powers that be, but I nevertheless think that this is a defensible interpretation of the start of the war, and of Georgian motivations. In particular, I think he gets the Georgian interpretation of Western behavior just right. Still, it places a bit too much faith in Russian humanitarian motives, and in any case doesn’t justify the continued Russian offensives.

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A War for Every Continent

[ 0 ] August 11, 2008 |


Meanwhile, if we launch a war with Russia — which would seem to be the point of busting out the analogy — then how are we going to find the time to launch wars with Iran and China? And what about Syria?

Not to mention our depressing tardiness in conquering Burma and Zimbabwe. Also, Hugo Chavez still lives. And surely, Australia and Antarctica have done something requiring a stern display of American moral clarity. If nothing else, the elephant seals hate America and everything we stand for; in the name of decency and national honor, we must demand satisfaction.

Meantime, over at Blog of the Year 2004, someone claiming to receive alien radio transmissions through the fillings in his teeth work for the State Department believes that Russia’s incursion into Georgian territory is analogous to the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran, and that the appropriate American response would be to organize a “bold response” comparable to the Berlin Airlift.

Because really, the best response to such a hostage situation would be to plan an air rescue of some kind.

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Reds exploit world distracted by Olympics and . . .

[ 14 ] August 11, 2008 |

. . . donate Adam Dunn to Arizona for a petrified starfish and two pre-owned copies of The Transformed Man.

Dunn is a free agent in six weeks, so if the Reds would have gotten two first round picks if they had kept him, assuming they would have offered arbitration and he would have walked (which seems like a safe bet).

Obviously you can’t really evaluate the trade without knowing who the two propects to be named later are, but as it stands now it looks like something of a giveaway and I don’t understand why the Dodgers let him clear waivers.

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Gori Falls; Russians Moving on Tblisi

[ 0 ] August 11, 2008 |

Fox News (which has been solid on this thus far):

Russian forces swept across Georgia on Monday, capturing the town of Gori and moving to within 35 miles of the capital city Tbilisi, FOX News confirmed.

Georgia reportedly was rushing more than 1,000 troops to Tbilisi in anticipation of a battle with Russian troops.

Russian armor, meanwhile, moved beyond two breakaway provinces and seized a military base and police stations in the country’s west, officials said.

The Russians are also advancing out of Abkhazia.

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Most Likely, You Are, Or Know Someone, Morally Worse Than A Slaveholder

[ 25 ] August 11, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim Michael Novak: “As a violation of natural right, abortion is even more extreme than slavery.” I certainly hope that John McCain will repeat this as often as possible as an attempt to appeal to the Catholic vote!

The rest of the column involves feeble defenses of idiotic, useless abortion regulations and hilarious attempts by Novak to justify his own cafeteria Catholicism, which has a remarkable tendency to reach policy results favored by George W. Bush.

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Justified Wars

[ 46 ] August 11, 2008 |

Balko has a poll. Inferring from his comments that we’re judging wars in retrospect, I get five (Balko’s three plus the Civil War and the first Gulf War.) A couple of these would be more problematic at the time, especially the Civil War. (Evaluating the Civil War after the fact, conversely, one has to account for not just emancipation but the Fourteenth Amendment, which almost certainly could never have passed under normal circumstances.) Afghanistan also looks worse in retrospect but I’m not prepared to say it was unjustified yet.

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Of what does the Georgia-Russia situation remind Billy Kristol?

[ 23 ] August 11, 2008 |

My guess would be . . . Munich, 1938!

What do I win?

BTW it would be difficult to top this phrase for some sort of Neo-Con Unselfconscious Irony Award: “Fanatics aren’t deterred by the disapproval of men of moderation or refinement.”

The funny thing is that the whole column is structured around the idea that Russia isn’t like the Nazis because there are no Nazis around these days. Except in Wingnuttia, that argument is going to go over like a lead zeppelin, so whaddaya know by the end of 750 words we’re somehow back in England in 1938, looking for Winston Churchill. Again.

I don’t know the first thing about this conflict (or rather everything I know is based on Rob’s excellent blogging on the subject), but there are few rules in life more dependable than that if William Kristol is advocating something it’s almost certainly a good idea to do the opposite.

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More Blather About Georgia

[ 0 ] August 11, 2008 |

For alcoholics, angry loners, and the unemployable who happen to have 50 minutes to kill…. Heilbrunn is a little bit more Realist than myself, but I think that we have pretty similar instincts regarding the crisis. On the other hand, we disagreed about the appropriateness of the John Edwards coverage; that comes in about the last five minutes or so.

In other news, the Georgians appear to be displeased at the lack of a more forceful American response. This, as much as anything, gives an indication as to what Georgia thought it was buying with its Iraq deployment:

As a Russian jet bombed fields around his village, Djimali Avago, a Georgian farmer, asked me: “Why won’t America and Nato help us? If they won’t help us now, why did we help them in Iraq?”

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John McCain: Staunch Opponent of a Woman’s Right To Choose

[ 13 ] August 11, 2008 |

Sarah Blustain powerfully reminds us of what should be obvious: John McCain is a strong opponent of reproductive freedom. He’s certainly no moderate on the issue. Make sure to read the whole thing, but a taste:

McCain’s views may matter especially to Hillary Clinton supporters, many of whom are pro-choice; according to syndicated columnist Froma Harrop, “[T]hey’ll want to know this: Would McCain stock the Supreme Court with foes of Roe v. Wade?” But, she writes, “The answer is unclear but probably ‘no.’ While McCain has positioned himself as ‘pro-life’ during this campaign, his statements over the years show considerable latitude on the issue.”

That, however, is simply not true. There is no “latitude” in McCain’s position on abortion. Interviews with dozens of people who have dealt with him on the issue–pro-choice and pro-life activists, Hill staffers, McCain confidants, pollsters, and staffers–along with a two-and-a-half-decade-long perfectly anti-abortion voting record, make that clear. And his record on related issues, like contraception, is no better. “I think it is outrageous that people give him a pass, as they gave George W. Bush a pass,” reflects Feldt. “John McCain will be that and worse.”


During his political career, McCain has participated in 130 reproductive health-related votes on Capitol Hill; of these, he voted with the anti-abortion camp in 125. McCain has consistently backed rights for the unborn, voting to cover fetuses under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and supporting the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which allowed a “child in utero” to be recognized as a legal victim of a crime. He has voted in favor of the global gag rule, which prevents U.S. funds from going to international family-planning clinics that use their own money to perform abortions, offer information about abortion, or take a pro-choice stand. And he has voted to appoint half a dozen anti-abortion judges to the federal bench, as well as Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. During the Bork hearings, McCain attacked the Court’s creation of a right to privacy in Roe v. Wade: “Whether one is pro-or anti-abortion,” McCain said in an October 1987 hearing, “it is difficult to argue that the Court’s opinion is not constitutionally suspect.”

Blustain also hasn’t gotten the key script on this issue, which is that holding highly unpopular (Republican) views on abortion isn’t a political problem; it’s only holding the majority (Democratic) position that should be a political liability. Blustain seems to think that holding unpopular positions is a political problem, giving McCain and his acolytes every incentive to obfuscate their categorical opposition to abortion rights. What a strange view of politics!

And while I’ve said this before, it’s also worth addressing this particular attempt to portray McCain as a moderate that Blustain cites:

He also told reporters that if his then-15-year-old daughter got pregnant, they would make “a private decision that we would share within our family and not with anyone else”–a response that to some ears sounded a lot like code for the right to privacy and abortion.

Of course, having no objection to your daughter getting a safe abortion in that context doesn’t make you a pro-choicer; it makes you a Republican. John McCain’s daughter will be able to obtain a safe abortion under any legal regime, including if Roe v. Wade was overturned tomorrow and her home state banned abortion. It’s not women with the connections to obtain gray market abortions or the resources to travel who are affected by abortion bans, and the fact that McCain would exempt his daughter from rules he would apply to poor women in Mississippi makes his support for criminalizing aboriton even worse.

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The Cat That Won’t Cop Out

[ 2 ] August 11, 2008 |


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Day 3 Evening Update

[ 0 ] August 11, 2008 |

A brief round-up; I’ll have more tomorrow on Russia-NATO and Russia-US relations specifically. At this point the situation in Georgia doesn’t seem to have changed radically from what it was this afternoon.

Galrahn has an update on the situation in the Black Sea.

Charli Carpenter talks about the casualty count.

Charlie Whitaker makes an extremely important point regarding Russian military and economic power:

For example, shells fired from a Leopard 2 will likely pass clean through the hull of a T-80, but not vice versa. (Korolev’s rocket designs were good, admittedly.) It’s only because military investment was such a high priority in the USSR that we see today’s Russia in possession of a variety of functional materiel.

Now that we can measure it,* we find that Russia’s GDP is approximately equal to that of Portugal (which is not to knock Portugal). Much of Russia’s wealth comes from resource extraction: in other words, Russia is not making stuff. Is it thinking stuff instead? Well, is there a nascent biotech or semiconductor industry in Russia today? (Or is there maybe some other, more esoteric kind of activity that hasn’t yet permeated popular consciousness?) How are Russian universities doing?

Russia is fairly populous, although no one would call it densely populated. However, its population is shrinking; in part, because it is not a healthy country.

So we’re left with territory – Russia borders a lot of places – and with its military, which still has some potency. Put those two together, and maybe it’s not surprising that some Russian tanks will pop across the border from time to time. Or at least, they’ll want to.

Right. Russia has taken advantage of the extraordinary price of oil to somewhat revitalize its military establishment, but the equipment it’s using in front line units is still a generation behind Western (to say nothing of American) capabilities. And the Russian economic and social situations remain, fundamentally, a mess. I think that the Russian economy has a sounder foundation now than in the 1990s, and I think that Russia will be able to enjoy high energy prices for the foreseeable future, but it’s simply not the case that the Soviet Empire has rebuilt itself while we weren’t paying attention. This is a point that we risk losing in the next few days as the McCain campaign continues to structure itself around calling for the return of the Cold war.

I just recorded a Bloggingheads on Russia-Georgia with Jacob Heilbrunn; I’ll link as soon as it goes up.

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