Yesterday, 8/8/08, will be remembered not because it was the date that the so-called “Mainstream Media” were finally forced by the National Inquirer‘s scoop to deal with the sordid news of John Edwards’s mendacious implosion. That story will soon be relegated to the oblivious archive that contains footage of his “I feel pretty” hair-combing routine. (Oblivious? Well, maybe not: the referenced YouTube clip reports more than 1,200,000 views.) No, future historians will not pause long over the squalid Mr. Edwards. Some may draw comparisons between the spectacle laid on by China at the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing yesterday and an earlier Olympic spectacle that convened in Berlin in 1936. Repressive regimes with dismal human-rights records and untidy international ambitions may nevertheless excel at histrionic displays of self-obliterating pomp. Just ask Leni Riefenstahl.
But I suspect that in the years to come what most historians–and perhaps the rest of us, too–will think of when we hear the date August 8, 2008 is not China, and certainly not old what’s-his-name with the hair, the mistress, and pathetic claims of being “99 percent honest“. What we’ll think of is the country of Georgia and we’ll realize that August 8 was the date when Russia began reassembling the former Soviet empire in earnest.
When Russian tanks and troops poured into the separatist Georgian province of South Ossetia yesterday, it was not, as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said, part of a “peacekeeping mission.” It was part of an imperialist mission whose undeclared goal is to reabsorb the whole of Georgia–West-leaning Georgia with its critical oil pipeline supplying energy to an increasingly thirsty Europe–into mother Russia.
Indeed, that pipeline is the unacknowledged key to the drama–unacknowledged, anyway, by the belligerents. As an AP story notes, the “U.S.-backed oil pipeline runs through Georgia, allowing the West to reduce its reliance on Middle Eastern oil while bypassing Russia and Iran.” A good thing for the West; but is such autonomy something Russia (or, for that matter, Iran) wants to encourage? Indeed, as I write, Reuters has issued an unconfirmed report that earlier today Russia attacked not only targets in South Ossetia but also targeted “the major Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline.”
The whole drama as the eerie sense of history repeating itself. The London Times today carries an article about “The Revolt in Georgia”–not the one unfolding before our eyes, but the revolt against Soviet occupation in September 1924. The Soviets had initially recognized Georgia’s independence in the wake of the First World War, but occipied the country in 1921 and brutally put down the revolt that erupted three years later. At the time, the president of Georgia made an appeal to the League of Nations. The Times reports that although “sympathetic reference” to Georgia was made in the assembly, “it is realized that the League is incapable of rendering material aid and the moral influence which may be a powerful force with civilized countries is unlikely to to make an impression upon Soviet Russia.”
That was in 1924. What sort of impression do you suppose the “moral influence” of the successor institution to the League of Nations, the U.N., is likely to have on the uncivilized successor to the U.S.S.R.?