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08.15 RIDE FOR THE OVERRIDE

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Health Care & Environment

08.25 EpiPen Uproar Highlights Company’s Family Ties to Congress [punish price-gougers by canceling patent rights, allow generic production]

08.25 Global warming is melting the Greenland Ice Sheet, fast

08.25 High birth rates and poverty undermine a generation of African children – report

08.25 Nigeria cannot overcome its gathering humanitarian crisis alone

08.25 Delhi schools offer safe space for children to speak up about sexual abuse

08.25 Liberian nurses learn to spot danger signs in babies as healthcare gets shot in arm

08.25 Climate change is thawing deadly diseases. Maybe now we'll address it?

08.24 HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED AFTER PORTUGAL DECRIMINALIZED ALL DRUGS, FROM POT TO COCAINE

08.24 Air pollution threat hidden as research 'presumes people are at home': study

08.24 Politics is killing mothers in Texas

08.24 Zika damage to brain goes well beyond microcephaly, research shows

08.23 Can New York City Waterproof Its Subway?

08.23 Report Shows Whopping $8.8 Trillion Climate Tab Being Left for Next Generation

08.22 Historical documents reveal Arctic sea ice is disappearing at record speed

08.22 Iraqi children pay high health cost of war-induced air pollution, study finds

08.21 The Link Between Health Spending and Life Expectancy: The US is an Outlier [the U.S. is the only 'advanced country' with for-profit healthcare without price controls...]

08.21 'Paradise Lost': How To Help Our Oceans Before It's Too Late

08.21 Dieselgate in Europe: How Officials Ignored Years of Emissions Evidence

08.21 Louisiana floods: state faces soaring recovery costs and disease concerns [related: Louisiana Loses Its Boot]

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Daily: FAIR Blog
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US Politics, Policy & 'Culture'

08.25 Could urban farming provide a much-needed oasis in the Tulsa food desert?

08.25 A sense that white identity is under attack’: making sense of the alt-right

08.24 Ties to Clinton Foundation are a knotty problem for Hillary’s campaign [more bad judgement]

08.24 BREAKING: ARMED WHITE SUPREMACISTS STORM NAACP OFFICE IN HOUSTON

08.23 As She Rakes in the Cash, Clinton Fundraisers Still Shrouded in Secrecy

08.23 The Clintons’ ethics test: Government watchdogs weigh in on the Clinton Foundation’s latest maneuvers

08.23 One Answer to School Attendance: Washing Machines

08.23 Twenty Years Since Welfare 'Reform'

08.23 Clinton’s Transition Team: A Corporate Presidency Foretold [the 'assumed' proviso should be said and promised: "...if it helps the public...]

Justice Matters

08.22 Mapping 'Pre-Crime' in Rio

High Crimes?

08.23 UK in denial over Saudi arms sales being used in Yemen, claims Oxfam [US too...]

Economics, Crony Capitalism

08.24 PHARMA CEO GAVE HERSELF AN $18 MILLION RAISE AFTER HIKING EPIPEN PRICES

08.22 As Resistance Mounts, TPP Becoming 2016 Election's Third Rail

08.21 The death of neoliberalism and the crisis in western politics

08.21 Trump and Clinton's free trade retreat: a pivotal moment for the world's economic future

International

08.25 Italy in shock after Amatrice earthquake: 'This used to be my home'

08.25 US warns Europe over plan to demand billions in unpaid taxes from Apple

08.24 Acceptable Losses

08.24 Turkish troops enter Syria in major operation against Isis

08.23 Congress Must Take Action to Block Weapon Sales to Saudi Arabia

08.22 Israel planning new Squatter settlement near Bethlehem to ‘cut Palestine’s West Bank in two’

08.22 In Response to Indiscriminate Saudi Bombing, MSF Evacuates Northern Yemen

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  Rice's Recipe for Duck Soup
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COMMENTARY:

Rice’s Recipe for Duck Soup

by John Hickman
Whether Georgia or Russia has sovereignty over Abkhazia and South Ossetia really doesn’t matter in the long run.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice deserves credit for knowing how to make good use of a bad historical analogy. Where any other Republican Secretary of State would have chosen the Munich analogy to denounce the current Russian military intervention in Georgia, Rice reminded her audience of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 during a press conference on August 13: “This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can threaten its neighbors, occupy a capital, overthrow a government, and get away with it.,” she said. “Things have changed.”

What merits attention is that Rice did not draw an actual parallel between 1968 and 2008. Instead she simply conjured the image of the Soviet Union/Russia as bully. That was smart, because the two events are so fundamentally dissimilar.

First, there was no territorial dispute involving minority ethnic regions in Czechoslovakia whose people preferred to be part of the Soviet Union. Majorities in both Abkazia and South Ossetia appear to prefer being part of the Russian Federation rather than the Republic of Georgia. Second, Czech President Alexander Dub?ek did not deliberately provoke the Soviet Union into a punishing military response by ordering the Czech army to attack Soviet peacekeepers. Georgian President Mikheil Saak’ashvili deliberately provoked the Russians by ordering his U.S.-trained Georgian army to attack the handful of Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia, killing 10 and wounding 30. He did that despite knowing that the Russian 58th Army was stationed just on the other side of the border.

If Secretary Rice had wanted to offer a proper historical analogy, she could have compared the current conflict with the 1864 Second War of Schleswig by which Schleswig and Holstein, two provinces with ethnic German populations, were detached from the insecure grasp of Denmark and then annexed to Germany. That was the first of several successful limited wars by which the brilliant Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck finally unified Germany and then established it as a Great Power.

It is unwise to encourage the masses to wonder why their political elites are so agitated about the ownership of some distant smear of color on the world map.

Neo-realist international relations scholars interpret the current conflict as another step in Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s strategy for the reemergence of Russia as a Great Power by asserting power in its traditional sphere of influence. Rice is obviously unlikely to deploy this historical analogy. First, only a fraction of her American audience will know the historical reference or have ever heard of Schleswig and Holstein. Even mentioning it risks alerting them that whether Georgia or Russia has sovereignty over Abkhazia and South Ossetia really doesn’t matter in the long run.whether Georgia or Russia has sovereignty over Abkhazia and South Ossetia really doesn’t matter in the long run. It is unwise to encourage the masses to wonder why their political elites are so agitated about the ownership of some distant smear of color on the world map. Worse, Rice would appear too much the smarty pants intellectual for the sort of populist conservative who seeks political wisdom from the likes of Jeff Beck and Toby Keith. And that could be a negative for any plans she might have for a future political career. Second, comparing the two little wars would suggest that Putin was on a par with Bismarck. She can‘t have that. After all, history will deem the president she serves anything but a strategic genius, and she has played a major role in helping him squander so much of America’s power in the world.

There may be no good historical parallel for the disastrous decision-making of Georgian President Saak’ashvili. Instead, a cinematic reference is necessary.

Listening to Saak’ashvili’s rambling performance during a August 15th joint press conference with Rice is like watching the immortal Groucho Marx perform in the 1938 Marx Brothers’ comedy "Duck Soup." Groucho’s character is Rufus T. Firefly, the new President of Freedonia, who snatches war from the jaws of peace by insulting the ambassador of neighboring Sylvania and thus torpedoing a negotiated peace settlement. As the Freedonian army collapses and the Sylvanian army closes in on the presidential palace, Firefly goes on the radio to plead for international assistance:

“Calling all nations! Calling all nations! This is Rufus T. Firefly...(We’re in a mess folks!) Rush to Freedonia. Three men and one woman are trapped in a building. Send help at once.”

Here is Saak’ashvili fulminating at the Russians during an August 15th joint press conference with Rice:

“Bullying and blackmailing is the best things they enjoy and the only thing they understand. It’s unity and strength of international community; nothing else can deter and stop them, because otherwise, they are like—they will stop—keep advancing, they will keep killing, they will keep destroying other countries.”

What deprives the Georgian Firefly’s performance of its comedic punch is that his decisions resulted in the deaths of actual human beings and made refugees of many more. That, and the fact that he seems unstable.

If there is a silver lining to the dark cloud that is this absurd little war in the Caucuses it is that more Americans may begin to question why the Bush administration would endorse making Georgia and neighboring countries members of NATO.

If there is a silver lining to the dark cloud that is this absurd little war in the Caucuses it is that more Americans may begin to question why the Bush administration would endorse making Georgia and neighboring countries members of NATO. What they will be asking is whether it makes sense to obligate the U.S. armed forces to defend their political elites from the consequences of their irresponsible actions. How often will Americans have to watch the leader of a NATO “ally” on the borders of Russia appear on television to deliver an unfunny version of Grouch’s lyrics?: “Tell them the enemy comes from afar, with a hey nonny-nonny and a ha-cha-cha.”


John Hickman is associate professor of comparative politics at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. His published work on electoral politics, media, and international affairs has appeared in Asian Perspective, American Politics Research, Comparative State Politics, Contemporary South Asia, Contemporary Strategy, Current Politics and Economics of Asia, East European Quarterly, Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans, Jouvert, Legislative Studies Quarterly, Political Science, Review of Religious Research, Women & Politics, and Yamanashigakuin Law Review. He may be reached at jhickman@berry.edu.


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This story was published on August 17, 2008.

 



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