Too Many Arguments, Not Enough Facts
Ossetian civilians, just like the teenagers in Seattle and politicians in Washington, are trying to understand what is going on. It is just as hard to get the facts at the "ground zero" of the conflict as it is thousands of miles away.
True story from Seattle: Two teen-age girls were overheard at lunch yesterday:
"Did you see that the Russians have attacked Georgia?"
"No! Where? Atlanta?"
"I'm not sure!
"Like, why would they DO that?"
Well, those girls are not much far behind the mentality of the political and media--and think tank--classes these past few days. People should be wary about the lack of information, let alone perspective. But that hasn't stopped the opinion classes from offering their dire analyses and even more dire recommendations. We could link to literally hundreds of opinion pieces about the significance of what has happened in the "war in Ossetia and Georgia."
But before we opine further on this here, some questions:
It is said that the Russians provoked Ossetian militia to attack Georgians with machine guns and mortars in order to provoke a response.
What is the hard evidence for this? Did our intelligence agencies know this, by the way?
It is said (by the Russians) that the Georgians undertook indiscriminate shelling of Ossetia, resulting in (variously reported) 1600 or 2000 deaths and 35,000 Ossetian refugees who poured into Russia. If so, that is serious, but where is the evidence? We have a few, frequently repeated photos, but where is the proof of that many deaths and that many refugees?
The Russians invaded South Ossetia, and crossed into Georgia, cutting communications lines and capturing various Georgian military bases. Civilians were killed--it is said by the Georgians. Again, we have a few, frequently repeated pictures of Georgians killed by Russian bombs. What actually happened? There seems to be a lot of impressionistic reporting about casualties, but little hard information.
It goes on. The Georgians say they shot down 50 Russian planes. The Russians say only two planes were shot down.
Now that there is a cease-fire (not predicted by the media wise men even this time yesterday), wouldn't it be a good idea to find out what really happened before more strident prescriptions are offered for the future of the region, the US-Russian relationship, etc.? There are answers to the questions I have posed. Let's have them.
One of the few things I am absolutely sure of right now is that the US was not on top of this development, and that includes the US media as well as the US government.
Bruce Chapman served as United States Ambassador to the United Nations Organizations in Vienna, Austria from 1985 through 1988.