The Great Chess Game

Does this look like a man with a problem? Or, is he just badly in need of a tailor?

Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili has to be either a man of immense courage and vision to take on the might of the Russian military and expect to win, or a downright bloody fool.

My money’s on the latter.

While the western media slags off Putin and Medvedev (well, just Putin really, as the other fellow is irrelevant) accusing them of invading another sovereign nation, it totally ignores the fact that this guy with the seven o’clock shadow first of all sent his army into South Ossetia, an independent province since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and began shelling its capital city, Tskhinvali. The Russians, who have maintained a peacekeeping force in the area, along with Georgian and South Ossetian troops, are pledged to defend South Ossetian citizens, most of whom hold Russian passports.

Admittedly, the Russians have been supplying the South Ossetians with arms with which to harass the Georgians, and have stepped up the nudging of them to do even more of it of late, but one has to admire Putin’s strategy.

The core of this problem is George W Bush’s insistence on sticking loads of American warheads on Russia’s doorstep. Putin tried to be nice about it. He asked Bush not to do it.

The West had taken it’s usual predatory stance when the USSR collapsed, and spent a lot of time and money bribing the old satellite states to dissolve their allegiance to the wounded superpower and throw in their lot with NATO. Bush wasn’t going to cast that to the winds. He saw an opportunity to advance NATO right up to Putin’s front door.

Saakashvili was one of those who ran straight to the outstretched arms of the West, in the shape of the EU. He practically slavered at the idea of US bases in Georgia, Or, maybe the dribbling had more to do with the vast quantities of American dollars being poured into his grubby little mittens, in exchange.

There’s no doubt Russia, via the South Ossetian rebels, has been needling Saakashvili into taking the action he did. It’s exactly what Putin wanted. Georgia’s US-trained army was never a match for the Russian military.

Quite why the Georgian leader took the decision to invade at this time is unclear. One must assume he expected the West and NATO to come to his aid; not so wild a supposition, perhaps, given that only last April NATO agreed to Georgia’s eventual acceptance as a full member. Even so, if Saakashvili believed Europe and the US would strike at Russia on his behalf, then he’s truly a case for the psyche ward.

It’s unlikely that NATO invitation will still be on the table. One of the provisions must surely have been the integration of South Ossetia into Georgia, and another breakaway province, Abkhazia, in the north-west of the country. By its military action, Russia has made it quite clear that integration will never be allowed to occur. It is, anyway, against the wishes of a majority of its people. A referendum (observed by the EU and declared fair) in November 2006 clearly showed a massive 98%-99% of the populace wished to remain independent.

Prior to the referendum, however, a European Union representative had stated, “results of the South Ossetian independence referendum will have no meaning for the European Union” – a statement that clearly defines the dedication of European politicians to democracy.

Vladimir Putin is playing a dangerous game of chess with South Ossetia. His opponent is not Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who’s no more than a mere pawn in the game, but the Western powers of the United States and Europe. By his strategy, Putin has now defined the line over which NATO must not cross. The West would do well to heed, and withdraw. Neither side will risk an open confrontation and Putin has called a decisive “Check” on George W Bush and NATO’s plans for expansion into what was once the ‘Soviet bloc’.

Saakashvili is almost certainly finished politically. South Ossetia will remain independent. Eventually, the conflict will calm down like an expired squib. Russia will retain its influence, the West retire to lick its wounded pride, and the great Soviet chess master will no doubt quietly gloat over his latest triumph.

What a pity so many had to die in the process.

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Another Indication Bin Laden Is Winning

Yet more evidence has come to light of the success of terrorism. Fear is the objective. The deaths and suffering of a few can instill horror, revulsion, and dread in the minds of many. How governments and corporate bodies react has huge impact on the response felt by the rest of us.

Corporate publishing block, Random House, has withdrawn its agreement to publish, “The Jewel of Medina”, a novel based on the life of Aisha, a wife of the prophet Muhammad, by journalist Sherry Jones, citing ‘fears it could spark violence’.

The book was due for release on August 12th. According to Random House the decision was taken in May 2008 because of advice the work “might be offensive” and “”could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.”

Refusing to honor a contract with the author for political reasons, which is the real factor at issue, places Random House in the position of dictating what constitutes ‘free press’. They obviously considered the book worthy of publication, having signed a contract with the author, so to pull the plug is nothing short of scandalous. If works were refused publication purely on grounds they might offend minority groups, library bookshelves around the country would be half empty.

It appears Random House based its decision largely on the opinion of one American academic, Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas in Austin, who, after receiving a galley of the book for her possible endorsement, contacted Muslim friends and warned them the book might cause offense. She then gave Random House her opinion that the book was “ugly”, “stupid”, and “soft core pornography”.

Further reading on events surrounding the publishing house’s decision can be found at the links below, and delving into personal, possibly self-centered motives on the part of Ms Spellberg is not the focus of this article. What is of more concern is the reason(s) given by Random House based entirely on their fear of extremist repercussions.

When fear is publicly shown to grip a corporate body and prevent it from functioning in a free and open manner, it does more for the objectives of terrorism than the publishing of one contentious novel.

[1] “You Still Can’t Write About Muhammad” WSJ, Aug 6th 2008

[2] “I Didn’t Kill ‘The Jewel of Medina'” WSJ, Aug 9th 2008

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