Contextual Content

Russians checkmate US in Georgia

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome back to the next segment of our interview with Eric Margolis. Eric, some of the counter-narrative to the American narrative, which is bad Russians, good Georgians, there’s a bit of a bad-Georgians, good-Russians narrative going on. What I’m getting at is this is the same Russian government that suppresses Chechnya. They have never been the great defenders of independence for ethnic minorities. So we’re dealing with a very complex situation here, where maybe both sides are wrong. What’s your take?

ERIC MARGOLIS, THE REAL NEWS ANALYST: Well, I agree with that too. I mean, Putin said he was intervening, sending the Russian army to protect the poor South Ossetians from Georgian ethnic cleansing and massacres, and having just Russia just massacred perhaps half the population of Chechnya. But for humbug, the US won the Olympics, because Bush came out, who obviously the US government knew about the impending Georgian invasion of South Ossetia. Georgia was armed, trained, and equipped by the US and Israelis. They had US and Israeli advisors, Mossad people, CIA people. They had to know. This was a huge, stupid military blunder, a little version of the Iraq thing, where they thought everything was going to go right, and everything went wrong. So now Bush is accusing Putin of bullying; Mr. Bush, who invaded, ordered the invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia, is accusing the Russians. Vice President Cheney thundered, "Georgia is an area of American interest." Well, the Americans have been there for about two or three years; the Russians were there for 200 years.

JAY: Now, the Americans had to know that Russia was going to respond. The CIA has to have that kind of intelligence, that they would know the Russians would not sit back for this. So what possible endgame were they expecting out of all this?

MARGOLIS: I think they were so used to passive Russian response under Yeltsin that they really didn’t think, "Ah, it’s the Russians—they’re just barking at the moon. They won’t do anything about it." It was an absolutely stupid and calamitous thing. And you know the Russians checkmated the Americans in Georgia. It was a brilliant move by Putin. My hat is off to him. He scotched the American attempts to expand US influence into the region. And if anybody was being aggressive, it was the United States. Imagine if Russia had moved its troops and advisors into Quebec. Imagine what the American response would be. I think the Russian response was actually rather low-key under the circumstances.

JAY: Now, we’re told that as all of this is happening in Georgia, and at the same time that Putin and George Bush had been watching swimming and other events, much of the American fleet is heading towards Iran. What is going on here?

MARGOLIS: Well, there’s certainly an arms buildup. There’s still talk of attacking Iran before the end of the Bush administration. The Israelis are beating the war drums. They’re threatening to attack first and drag America into the war. But at the same time, now, Russia, in this Caucasus thing, has roiled America’s plans for attacking Iran, if it does plan to, because Russia is less likely to cooperate. Putin has warned that he will not allow the territory of the ex-USSR to be used to launch attacks against Iran.

JAY: I mean, one of the things I think the Americans must be sure of is there’s no way they’re going to get a new sanctions round against Iran through the Security Council. Russia is not going to allow something under these conditions. And I wonder if that’s even part of the objective. Cheney’s position has always been only sanctions can prevent war. So now, if they can paint Russia as the bad guy, in general, over Georgia, "Now Russia’s the bad guy ’cause they’re not going to allow stronger sanctions against Iran," "Oh, we’re left with no choice."

MARGOLIS: Well, Secretary Gates, who seems to be speaking for US foreign policy as the Pentagon, rather than the State Department, said that, you know, it’s going to be a cold shoulder from now on for Russia, and all of our relations are going to be in danger because of this fracas in Georgia. Well, how do they expect? America needs Russian cooperation for the Middle East, for Iran, for events in the Mediterranean, for oil policy, etcetera, etcetera, and by cold-shouldering Russia, the US is actually shooting itself in the foot, if I may mix bad metaphors.

JAY: To what extent are we seeing a grand opera of posturing? And to what extent can this grand opera actually give rise to a real conflict between the United States and Russia? How serious is this?

MARGOLIS: The neocons in Washington are beating the war drums. They’re all calling for almost war against Russia. They’re frothing at the mouth, though none of them are volunteering for duty in the Caucasus, I might add. The Republicans have taken this and are really gone running with it. McCain has been uttering these thunderous threats against Russia, because "This is a three o’clock call in the morning, and I can handle it, and I’m on top of this crisis"—McCain, who can’t even pronounce the name of Abkhazia, one of the places he’s ready to go to war for.

JAY: And one of his senior foreign policy advisors, Randy Scheunemann, who was a paid lobbyist for Georgia up until just a few months ago.

MARGOLIS: And a leading conservative is writing his speeches and making policy. So the Republicans think they can really stick it to the Democrats on this. And Obama’s kept quite a low profile on this and hasn’t distinguished himself. Europe, on the other hand, looks at more less as it’s the fault of the Georgians, they got what they deserved, and the Americans are being aggressive and unnecessarily antagonistic in creating a crisis where none should exist.

JAY: Well, in the next part of our interview, to sum this all up, let’s look at Obama and the people around him and what they’ve been saying about Georgia and Poland and this whole region. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Eric Margolis.

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