On September 12, I published a column on PJ Media raising questions about some reporting about the Georgia conflict by Wired magazine’s David Axe. I pointed out that Axe, in attempting to argue Georgia was at fault in the conflict, had relied on a single source, Professor Gordon Hahn, whose background indicates a web of Kremlin connections that Axe did not disclose, calling his journalistic ethics and/or competence into question. I also noted that Axe himself is by no means a qualified military expert, so he should have reached out to a corroborating source to verify the story — which should have been child’s play if he really has the access he claims.
On that same day, Axe responded to my piece on his blog War Is Boring. Yet in fact there was no response at all. He totally ignored my question, the sole point of my article, which was to ask why he didn’t tell his readers about Hahn’s obvious conflict of interest — and, indeed, if he even knew about it — or obtain a corroborating source before reporting his claims as credible. He made no attempt to stand behind his discredited source or to offer additional corroboration of Hahn’s claims, seeming to confirm there is none. In fact, he didn’t even mention Hahn’s name at all. Is that what passes for journalism at Wired?
Instead, Axe chose to focus only on his own credentials as a military expert, seeking to defend himself as qualified because he’d been to Iraq and Afghanistan eight times and published in various newspapers, as if I hadn’t in fact acknowledged that openly. But he admits he has no formal training in national security and has simply visited various battlefields basically as a citizen journalist and recorded his impressions there. Basically, in other words, he tried to change the subject. As to his background, he admits his education is in the humanities, not military science or even journalism, and he has no special knowledge of Russia. That doesn’t mean, of course, he’s necessarily wrong when he credits Hahn’s statements, but it does mean he’s no qualified military expert. Thus, readers have to take a good, hard look at his claims before accepting them as anything other than childish nonsense.
So now, let’s take that good, hard look at the specific factual claims made by Hahn that Axe reported as evidence, and let’s also review some of the other things Hahn said that Axe chose to ignore. To start with, it’s important to remember that Hahn did not publish his ideas in any credible third-party source but merely sent them around in an email. As we study them, it will become clear why that was so. You will watch those claims fall apart before your very eyes.
The only support cited by Axe and Hahn for their claim that Georgia was the aggressor in Ossetia was an August 25 translation by BBC monitoring and republished on Norbert Strade’s Chechnya List, a forum harshly critical of Russian policy in Chechnya. The BBC summarized a report in the Georgian newspaper Kviris Palitra in which the Georgian military touted the effectiveness of its artillery barrage against the invading Russian forces, claiming 100 tank kills. It’s an odd place, to be sure, to try to uncover information supporting Russia’s version of events. But never underestimate the power of neo-Soviet creativity — especially if motivated, perhaps, by the Kremlin’s large store of petrodollars, funneled through enterprises like Russia Profile and Russia Today!
Hahn’s claim, as reported by Axe, was that the mere fact that artillery was used in the battle proves Georgia was prepared for it. Axe quotes Hahn as follows: “It takes many days if not weeks to bring in the kind of heavy artillery about which the commander is talking into or near the conflict zone through the mountainous terrain around South Ossetia from Georgian army bases in Tbilisi, Senaki, or Gori.” But there is no source whatsoever given by Hahn to support this claim, and Hahn has no military credentials or qualifications which would enable him to make it on his own. Moreover, the Eurasia.net story (and much other similar reporting) proves that Russians were preparing for battle months in advance, not “days if not weeks” in advance.
Believe it or not, that’s it. That’s what Wired’s Axe went to press with. Hahn cited no actual evidence of Georgian artillery being moved into the conflict zone in advance, nor in fact is there even any independent confirmation that Georgia actually destroyed 100 invading Russian tanks — something that, coming from a Georgian source, could be nothing more than nationalistic bluster. He cited no evidence that the artillery could not have been moved into place quickly. And even if there were clear proof of Georgia moving artillery into place days or weeks in advance, how could anyone possibly criticize it for doing so when it was witnessing the massive buildup of Russian forces on its border, something Hahn does not deny — because he cannot — and perceived the possibility that it was about to be invaded?
Axe makes an argument in Russia’s favor on an Economist magazine debate forum; there, he makes no reference to Hahn’s claims about the movement of artillery. And, again, he makes no reference to it in his response to my original article, while ignoring the questions I actually raised there.
On September 11, Garry Kasparov’s Other Russia website published a translation of a comment on former Kremlin insider Andrei Illarionov’s blog which used a published interview with a Russian solider to establish that Russian soldiers were on the move into Georgian territory long before Georgia’s attack on Ossetia began. On September 16, the New York Times reported on the release of intercepted radio broadcasts showing that “part of a Russian armored regiment crossed into the separatist enclave of South Ossetia nearly a full day before Georgia’s attack on the capital, Tshkinvali, late on Aug. 7.” Even China has sided with Georgia against Russia, giving Russia a humiliating refusal to approve the war or recognize the breakaway regions and inking a massive loan deal with Georgia to promote reconstruction. The evidence is simply overwhelming that Russia initiated the attack and ignored Georgia’s unilateral call for a ceasefire because it wanted to annex the disputed territories, which it has effectively done. The only ones left to take Russia’s side are the likes of Daniel Noriega, Pat Buchanan, and, yes, even David Duke.
And Gordon Hahn, of course, whose shadowy Monterey Institute, as I reported previously, is caught up in a major spy scandal. Hahn is, in other words, either a complete fool or else engaged in a totally shameless campaign of smoke-and-mirrors disinformation, for reason or reasons unstated.