Backtalk, September 2, 2008


I am going to miss Charley Reese. One of the first things I have always done for the many years I have been reading was to check to see if he had an article in that issue. Several years ago I called the editor of the local paper and canceled my subscription because it discontinued his column. I have never renewed the subscription. Charley always told it like it was, and he made it plain and simple so simpletons like me could understand it.

~ Steve Wells


I’ve read you since I first saw your column in The Gastonia Gazette, circa 1984. Thanks for being an inspiration to me for liberty and peace.

~ Mark Seiler, Bessemer City, N.C.


I will miss your common sense and clear sentences. Thanks for the great job that you did.

~ Paul Craig Roberts

Here’s wishing Charley Reese all the luck in the world as he tidies things up. His evocation of the newspaper world that he broke into many years ago reminds us of how he embodies the very best of that journalistic tradition, which is so thin on the ground today. Mencken would be proud of him, just as we readers are.

~ Tom Yohannan

I‘ve read Charley Reese’s column for more than 15 years, and I’ve posted more than a few in my classroom. Thank you, Mr. Reese, for your drive to ferret out the rascals and bring their misdeeds into the light of day. We political junkies will miss you.

~ David Smith

Missile Defense May Cause Downward Spiral in US-Russian Relations

I applaud Ivan Eland’s attempt to determine causality in the Georgian conflict, but I find his data too selective and his conclusions too limited.

I concur that U.S.-Russian relations have become strained, but I do not draw a one-way causal line to U.S. diplomacy. The creation of what may be referred to as a semi-authoritarian state in Russia (the questionable appointment of Dmitri Medvedev is only one piece of evidence to this among a host of others that I am sure Dr. Eland is aware of) at the hands of Prime Minister Putin might have something to do with the current situation as well. I make an assumption that he has purposely left out the Russian side of the degraded diplomatic situation due to lack of time or to create a one-sided opinion piece for a specific group of readers (one must know the audience, after all).

While I agree Russia has taken action that can be loosely linked to U.S. diplomacy in former Warsaw Pact states, it seems that Dr. Eland assumes that Russia has diplomatic claims on these countries, and any actions within these states are to be considered a hostile action against Russian sovereignty or psyche. Poland and Czechoslovakia are both sovereign countries with recognized governments. Will Russia invade them next? If so, will we continue to blame U.S. foreign policy? There are deeper issues at play here than presented in Dr. Eland’s piece.

A note on the idea that U.S. diplomacy or lack thereof has a piece of the “causal pie”: The physical requirements for an attack of the magnitude seen in Georgia requires buildup of combat units and, more significantly, logistics capability. Following the logical lines of thought here, it would be necessary to plan this movement of forces and logistics well in advance (read months, at the least). While relations between the U.S. and Russia might be a precursor to this preparation, it is a long line of correlation to draw. A shorter line might be a desire in the Russian government to reestablish their control (at least diplomatically) over their former client states, and perhaps it is easier for some to blame the foreign relations of the U.S. over the past seven years.

In response to the idea of Russia and their nuclear deterrence capability, there has been much discussion since the late ’70s over rational deterrence theory showing the fallacy of the idea itself. I am unsure if Dr. Eland meant this by his reference to the “missile defense radar … that could threaten the Russian nuclear deterrent.” He states himself that missile defenses can be countered in a number of ways, thus the threat to Russia’s nuclear deterrence capability is nonexistent, and thus the argument by the Russians against the missile defense system may be a proxy for some other grievance, diplomatic or otherwise.

In his summary, Dr. Eland ignores the $25 billion (plus) in aid that was fed into Russia from 1990-2000 by the United States and our Western allies. …

Dr. Eland is a respected and oft-cited expert in his field and I find his writings informative and well-thought out, but I believe he has left out key pieces of information either on purpose to make a political point himself, or has done so out of haste – or both. Causality is difficult to determine, and his conclusions leave me longing for a more in-depth discussion of the entire situation.

~ Maj. Robert D. Halvorson, U.S. Army, School of Advanced Military Studies

Ivan Eland replies:

Maj. Halvorson,

Thanks for the detailed comments.

An op-ed is not the place to do methodologically sound social science research to conclusively determine causality. My only point is that the Western media, analysts, and politicians either don’t mention the provocation of the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia in the first place or use other terms besides “invasion” (which is liberally used with regard to the Russian actions).

As a military officer, you know that militaries plan and train for various scenarios. Russia may well have been prepared for this one and may have even laid a trap for the Georgian president. The Georgian president was elected on a promise to restore the errant provinces that don’t want to be part of Georgia.

For the Bush administration to criticize with a straight face the Russians for invading a third of Georgia, making their point, and then partially withdrawing, when the U.S. has conducted a full invasion of Iraq, deposed the Iraqi government, and conducted a five-plus year occupation (and counting) is unbelievable. At least Russia has the excuse that it must police its sphere of influence. Iraq isn’t in the Western Hemisphere, and so it is not anywhere near falling under the Monroe Doctrine.

Empirically, political scientists will note that democracies are no less aggressive than autocracies. In other words, internal form of governance has little to do with foreign policy. In the post-World War II world, the U.S. is by far the champion in using military power and covert action to get countries to do its bidding. And it doesn’t have a very good record of choosing democratic leaders over friendly leaders, having even overthrown some of the former to impose the latter.

I deplore Putin’s creation of a semi-authoritarian state, but the West did kick sand in Russia’s face by expanding NATO to its borders, acquiring bases on former Soviet territory in Central Asia, and now installing missile defenses in Eastern Europe. The current system does not greatly threaten Russia’s nuclear deterrent, but one can’t exclude Russia’s nervousness since that deterrent eroded significantly during the years after the Cold War ended. Also, the radar can look into Russia, and the Russians fear that an augmented system could one day produce a bigger threat to their deterrent. I don’t think the Russians fear that the radar will threatened their deterrent per se, but it can gather data up close and personal.

The West did provide aid to Russia on the mistaken notion that if Russia stayed democratic, it would be less of a threat to Europe. (Of course, some of this aid was to secure nukes, and much of it was ineffectual.) But at the same time, it hedged its bets by expanding NATO and running a neo-containment policy.

The U.S. essentially followed the post-WWI model of excluding Russia from the European structure rather than the inclusive Congress of Vienna model after the Napoleonic Wars. The first produced Hitler and the second produced peace for a century.

But my biggest point is why does the U.S. care about Georgia? Only to needle Russia. The U.S. is in Russia’s face, not vice versa. If Russia were making alliances with Mexico, the U.S. would go berserk. Some empathy is needed for other countries’ points of view and security needs, even when they have authoritarian governments. Georgia is strategic to the U.S. The U.S. is so used to policing every corner of the world that even this limited Russian action is seen as a threat. The key question is how does this specifically threaten the U.S.? The answer is that it doesn’t.

Russia had the Napoleonic invasion and more than 20 million dead in WWII in combat on their soil. We have never had anything close to that happen in the U.S. The Russians feel they need some sphere of influence. It is unwise to deny them that. You can provide all the aid in the world and they will still resent the lack of a buffer, because it affects their security.

Biden Means Business As Usual

Biden’s original support for the resolution authorizing the war was, according to his speech at the time, based on his understanding from conversations with the White House that no action would be taken without UN Security Council approval. That approval was not obtained, and Bush attacked anyway. Bush thus broke his promise to Biden and violated the most important treaty this or any country ever entered into – the UN Charter – that prohibits the use of force by one nation against another unless authorized or unless the exception of immediate threat applies.

Biden’s poor showing on the Georgia question is more disturbing. As chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee he knows what is going on: Georgia is de facto an instrument of the U.S. government. The CIA and DOD are there as advisers, as mercenaries (who, pray tell, is paying the 1,000 Israeli troops?), as suppliers of equipment, as bankers and backers. It was our foolish advice that supported the artillery barrage and invasion by Georgian troops into an area operating as a Russian protectorate. It is we who are embarrassed: we were caught far from our own shores playing a thinly disguised interventionism in a place where we had no business.

The UN Charter’s first article calls on all nations to maintain peace and security; to take effective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace; to bring about by peaceful means and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law and adjustment or settlement of international disputes. The U.S. simply ignored these provisions in creating a military outpost on Russia’s doorstep and threatening to bring NATO arms into Russia’s home territory. This was a blatant threat to Russia’s security. Is Biden unaware of the neocon plan to station U.S. troops around the world, to create an empire of dependent states where U.S. forces can be deployed permanently? Georgia would be better served if it followed the Swiss example: strict neutrality. By being seen as a country with no territorial ambitions, content with its borders and in peace and friendship with its neighbors, it has a better chance of a long and peaceful existence than relying on an overstretched U.S. that can offer words but little else.

The hope and change that Obama offers should be the withdrawal of U.S. troops from all their overseas stations. Korea does not need us. Germany does not need U.S. troops stationed on its territory. And Iraq does not want our troops unless we can give them a timetable. The Black Sea is no place for our troops or naval forces. The Mideast should be free of all U.S. armed forces. We have almost no legitimate interest in patrolling the far Pacific. That is simply too remote from our own territory to be seen as anything but meddling in foreign waters, a risk and expense far beyond our capacity and our pocketbooks. A measured withdrawal from all our overseas bases would seem to offer hope for peace. Whether Biden is likely to support shrinking our far-flung empire in not at all clear. But what is clear is that Obama is our best hope for ushering in a new foreign policy based on our real interests and within our fiscal means.

~ Stephen Kaye

Biden’s committee did have Scott Ritter – an eloquent and highly qualified debunker of the WMD lies – before the invasion of Iraq. I was angry when Biden dissed Ritter with the unforgettable insult: That’s above your pay-grade, isn’t it?

~ Ron Carpenter

Mystery in Moscow

Malic need not be puzzled as to why Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia after protesting the USA’s recognition of Kosovo. What good were Moscow’s protests doing? Nothing. Now, with the recognition of the two breakaway areas of Georgia, Moscow has manipulated the West into protesting the utter lawlessness of it all, and thereby put Kosovo “in play” again. For, after all, it is impossible for the West to say it is illegal to recognize South Ossetia and maintain the legality of recognizing Kosovo. By creating additional facts on the ground that confirm the hypothesis that there are no rules, Kosovo may once again be Serbian. Why not? Anything goes! It’s all up in the air – again.

~ Tim Blendheim

You ask if the authorities in Moscow understand the hypocritical attitude of the U.S. neocon administration? Are you kidding?

They’ve known for a very long time what self-righteous mentality governs our “leaders” – far longer than the general U.S. population has, sadly.

~ Valerie Gartseff

Nebojsa Malic replies:

Oh, I assure you, I’m very serious. But I never said that Moscow didn’t understand neocon hypocrisy, only the whole relativistic “logic” and absence of reality. It’s such an abhorrent concept, anyone sane has trouble coping with it, myself included.

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