Georgia/Russia: how our political discourse works

A new investigative report from the EU reaches conclusions squarely at odds with the dominant claims last year.

By Glenn Greenwald
Published October 1, 2009 4:02PM (UTC)
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Just a timely reminder of the deceitful methods that permeate our political discourse, especially when it comes to demonizing America's Enemy du jour:

British Telegraph, today:

EU blames Georgia for starting war with Russia

An EU investigation into the roots of last August's conflict has reserved its harshest criticism for Georgia's military assault on the breakaway region of South Ossetia and its capital Tskhinvali.

"Open hostilities began with a large-scale Georgian military operation against the town of Tskhinvali and the surrounding areas, launched in the night of 7 to 8 August 2008, the report concluded.

"There is the question of whether the use of force by Georgia in South Ossetia was justifiable under international law. It was not."

Heidi Tagliavini, the Swiss diplomat who led the EU "mission", rejected Georgian claims that it was defending itself from an imminent Russian attack or violence from Moscow sponsored South Ossetian militias.

"None of the explanations given by the Georgian authorities in order to provide some form of legal justification for the attack lend it a valid explanation," she said.

Her report stated: "There was no ongoing armed attack by Russia before the start of the Georgian operation. Georgian claims of a large-scale presence of Russian armed forces in South Ossetia prior to the Georgian offensive could not be substantiated by the mission. It could also not be verified that Russia was on the verge of such a major attack."

Russia's military response to Georgia, the EU investigators found, was initially defensive, and legal, but quickly broke international law when it escalated into air bombing attacks and an invasion pushing into Georgia well beyond South Ossetia.

Sarah Palin, ABC News interview, September 10, 2008:

PALIN:  For Russia to have exerted such pressure in terms of invading a smaller democratic country, unprovoked, is unacceptable and we have to keep...

GIBSON: You believe unprovoked.

PALIN: I do believe unprovoked and we have got to keep our eyes on Russia, under the leadership there.

Charles Krauthammer, The Washington Post, October 24, 2008:


The second test was Georgia, to which Obama responded instinctively with evenhanded moral equivalence, urging restraint on both sides. McCain did not have to consult his advisers to instantly identify the aggressor.

John McCain, presidential debate, October 7, 2008:

[Putin] has exhibited most aggressive behavior, obviously, in Georgia. . . .We have to make the Russians understand that there are penalties for these this kind of behavior, this kind of naked aggression into Georgia, a tiny country and a tiny democracy.

Washington Post Editorial Page, August 28, 2008:

Those in the West who persist in blaming Georgia or the Bush administration for the present crisis ought to carefully consider those words -- and remember the history in Europe of regimes that have made similar claims. This is the rhetoric of an isolated, authoritarian government drunk with the euphoria of a perceived victory and nursing the delusion of a restored empire. It is convinced that the West is too weak and divided to respond with more than words. If nothing is done to restrain it, it will never release Georgia -- and it will not stop there.

George Will, The Washington Post, August 17, 2008:

Now McCain's rejuvenated hopes rest on his ability to recast this election, focusing it on who should lead America in a world suddenly darkened by Russia's war of European conquest. . . . He should ask Obama to join him in a town meeting on lessons from Russia's aggression. Both candidates favor NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, perhaps Vladimir Putin's next victim. But does Russia's behavior cause Obama to rethink reliance on "soft power" -- dialogue, disapproval, diplomacy, economic carrots and sticks -- which Putin considers almost an oxymoron? . . . Until Russian tanks rolled into Georgia, it seemed that not even the Democratic Party could lose this election. But it might if McCain can make it turn on the question of who is ornery enough to give Putin a convincing, deterring telephone call at 3 a.m.

Washington Post Editorial Page, August 14, 2008:

YOU MIGHT think, at a moment such as this, that the moral calculus would be pretty well understood. . . . Yet, in Washington, the foreign policy sophisticates cluck and murmur that, after all, the Georgians should have known better than to chart an independent course . . . Part of the blame-the-victim argument is tactical -- the notion that the elected president of Georgia foolishly allowed the Russians to goad him into a military operation to recover a small separatist region of Georgia. Mr. Saakashvili says, in an article we publish on the opposite page today, that the facts are otherwise, that he ordered his troops into action only after a Russian armored column was on the move. . . . Moreover, the evidence is persuasive and growing that Russia planned and instigated this war.

Cathy Young, Reason, October 24, 2008:

Last Friday, columnist and blogger Glenn Greenwald, one of the Bush presidency's harshest critics, blasted both major party presidential candidates for perpetuating the "blatant falsehood" that Russia launched an "unprovoked attack" on Georgia last August. . . . There is something puzzling about the sympathy for Russia evident in many quarters of the American left-from Greenwald to Noam Chomsky to Alexander Cockburn and Katrina vanden Heuvel in The Nation (not to mention numerous commenters at sites like and The Huffington Post). . . . Why the sympathy, then? A knee-jerk reaction that equates hostility to Russia with red-baiting? Or could it be that to some on the left, the cause of sticking a finger in America's eye is progressive enough?

John McCain, August 12, 2008:


Today, we are all Georgians.

Glenn Greenwald

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