Monday, August 11, 2008

The Silence Is Deafening

Russians Bomb Gori
Image what the response would have been by the "Stop War Coalition" if America rather than Russia had bombed Georgia.

I did, however, march with them when they attempted to stop the invasion of Iraq. It was only afterwards that I thought they lost the plot. I am, therefore, now awaiting their call to join them once more in a demonstration outside the Russian Embassy. Or are we to be selective about the wars we wish to stop?


Bob Piper said...

Harry, I'm not certain the silence is deafening. I have read lots of stuff criticising the Russians. However, there has been a fair bit about the atrocities by the Georgian military too. Those leaping to the defence of the Georgians may well have had their protest muted by the fact that the Georgian army started the latest outbreak.

There was not exactly a massive protest movement over the first Gulf war for the same reason, i.e. saddam provoked the war by invading Kuwait.

Harry Barnes said...


My point is that the silence is deafening from the "Stop The war Coalition". My opposition to the invasion of Iraq was certainly not due to any support for Saddam Hussein. Likewise my opposition to what Russia is up to is not support for Georgia's attack on South Ossetia. Perhaps there should be coordinated protests outside the Russian and Georgian Embassies.

Anand said...

Bob, what are you talking about?

Georgia is the most successful former USSR republic except for Latvia/Lithuania/Estonia (but then they are Scandinavian.)

Of the remaining 15 provinces, Georgia has the freest, most plural, democracy. They have the best record on human rights, freedom of press, religion and speech. They have the most free market and fastest growing economy. They have the most efficient and competent civilian government.

In addition to all the above the Georgians have one of the highest quality militaries the world has ever seen (despite its small size.) In many ways Georgia is a lot like Israel, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. They are the envy of the world.

I don't get where this criticism of Georgia is coming from. The Georgians agreed to the vast majority of Russian demands almost immediately after Russia invaded. I don't get what purpose Russian military operations serve.

Bob, the Brits are weired. Look at the last Pew world research opinion poll from June, 2008. Russia is viewed worse than America in much of the world. But I guess the Brits like Russians and therefore tacitly support the Russians against the Georgians without openly admitting it.

Harry, the problem is that the Brits (and Americans) are fat and happy. Thanks to their nuclear arsenals they don't feel threatened by Russia. But the reaction among smaller and medium sized countries around the world is much different. They are afraid.

Of topic, regarding Iraq:
Harry, see:

Many in the US military have a very poor opinion about the performance of the British military inside Iraq (excluding the SAS and other British Special Forces which have performed very well.) This perception is also partly true of the British Army's performance in Afghanistan.

Are the British people aware of this? What is their reaction to this?

Although this is not emphasized in the articles I cited, the British trained IA brigades (and division HQs) were the worst quality in the entire IA (Iraqi Army.) The British also did a worse job training the al Basrah provincial IP (Iraqi police) than trainers did in any other Iraqi province. Hence the many problems Basrah had before PM Maliki ordered his military operation on March 25th, 2008.

Harry, why do you think this is? Is it because many British army soldiers aren’t emotionally vested in the success of their Iraqi army, Iraqi police, and Iraqi government counterparts?

Anand said...

Harry Barnes said...

Anand : On the issues your raise -

(1) Georgia made some considerable strides forward from its 2003 Rose Revolution in the type of areas you cover. But what resulted was far from problematic. Its format alienated the ethnic Russian populations of Abkhazia and South Ossetian. If it had not been that Russia was on the border of these provinces and interfering, then perhaps an Iraqi Kurdish type solution could have been found giving the "Russian" areas de facto autonomy whilst retaining the legal fiction of Georgia remaining a sovereign nation. My major criticism over recent developments are directed at Russia, but it did not help matters that the US Government pushed its ideological, military and perceived national interests upon Georgia making it easier for Russia to move to its hard line.

(2) I am not sure who the "Brits" are. We are a mixed bunch in this country. Some people can even be found who support our Prime Minister. Britain's military problems arise from the fact that our forces are seriously overstretched. This adds to the case for their removal from Iraq so that we can concentrate on the situation in Afganistan.

(3) The invasion of Iraq was a huge military blunder as well as a humanitarian one. It has meant that America and Britain then took its eye off Afganistan which has never been given the military, logistical and humanitarian help it has needed. Invading Iraq was also done with inadequate forces and no proper planning for reconstruction. Then we had a whole series of blunders which alienated wide sectors of the Iraqi public including Shock and Awe, Abu Ghraib, Falluja and Blackwater. It took until the Surge to begin to turn the military situation around - and that is only part of the remaining problem. Whilst British forces had some initial success in the "soft hat" era, the situation in the Basra area became much more problematic as the insurgency grew amongst the Shia - something that was aided considerably by blunders on the wider screen by the USA. We then just did not have the resources to mount our own Surge.

(You will appreciate that although I strongly opposed the invasion, I did not then move on to an immediate "troops out" stance but have always argued the case for the economic, political and social re-construction of Iraq.)

(4) As I have had to plough through
abumuqawama, I recommend the antidotes of Ali A Allawi's "The Occupation of Iraq" and Ahmed Rashid's "Descent Into Chaos" (covering Afganistan, Pakistan and Central Asia). There are also many vidoes via google of the authors being interviewed.

Harry Barnes said...

Anand: This might help to explain something about the complexity of some of us Brits who have a working class background -

Anand said...

Ahmed Rashid's "Descent Into Chaos"
I want to read it. I have been a big fan of Ahmed Rashid since the 1990s.

abumuqawama and many at the long war journal are fans of his as well.

Afghanistan is also an important question that needs to be discussed.

Ali A Allawi's "The Occupation of Iraq" is an interesting account. Ali A Allawi was the finance minister of the failed Iraqi Governing Council 2003 to 2004. A large part of Ali A Allawi's book is an attempt to deflect blame away from himself and onto others. His book also only deals with the CPA which dissolved in June, 2004. Iraq has been sovereign since June, 2004, and his account is not useful in understanding post sovereignty Iraq.

He has little understanding of the Iraqi Army . . . and never presented a practical plan to improve the Iraqi Army quicker. Ali A Allawi has been in opposition to the Iraqi government since 1.30.05, and is therefore free from the need to offer constructive practical policy solutions.

Ali A Allawi’s perspective is valuable to understand, but please remember which political movement he represents and its relationship with the UIA, Kurdish, Sawha (assorted Sunni Arab parties.)

“(You will appreciate that although I strongly opposed the invasion, I did not then move on to an immediate "troops out" stance but have always argued the case for the economic, political and social re-construction of Iraq.)”
I like you opposed invading Iraq, but felt we owed the Iraqis a blood debt after invading Iraq (to build the GoI’s institutions including civilian ministries, army and police, to improve governance, and facilitate Iraqis reconstructing their own country.)

HB, the Brits did a poor job training and equipping the Iraqi police and Iraqi army in the south. They also did a poor job building the provincial and local governments in the south. Over time these failures led to the south being over run by organized crime and the militias associated with differing organized crime families and political parties. Many Iraqi civilians were killed or harmed in the conflict between these groups. Billions of dollars worth of oil revenues were stolen from the GoI in Basrah (and funded the Shia death squads killing Sunni Arab civilians elsewhere in Iraq.)

All of this happened because the Brits massively messed up training and equipping the IA and IP in the south. The ISF was unable to militarily confront and defeat the armed militias.

The attacks against British troops were not the primary problem in the South. But the Brits focused on force protection much more than American troops did, and were not sufficiently focused on their mission of improving Iraqi institutions.

This view that I am expressing is one that many Iraqis and Americans share. I am wondering if the British people are upset about the failures in competence by the British military. Are the British people sorry that they failed in their mission in al Basrah province. (Ultimately the problem was solved quite rapidly when PM Maliki sent in high quality Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police from elsewhere in Iraq.)

One Basrahan’s reaction to the British troops leaving Basrah last year was classic: “There were British troops here? I never saw them.”

Anand said...

"the US Government pushed its ideological, military and perceived national interests upon Georgia"

How did America push its national interests on Georgia? Georgia reached out to America and the rest of the world more generally. Isn’t it normal for America and European countries to reciprocate?

Perhaps you mean America, Israel, Europe and other countries training and equipping the Georgian military? Well, I think that was justified because Georgia was contributing significantly to Iraq, Afghanistan and global peace keeping missions.

The Georgian army brigade in Wasit province inside Iraq has done an amazing job. It is now flying back to Georgia thanks to the Russian offensive.

calgacus said...

Georgia may have the best record on human rights among former Soviet republics but unfortunately it's record still isnt good. There was ethnic cleansing of Abkhazian and Ossetian civilians in the civil war in 1992 according to Human Rights Watch - which gives credibility to Russian claims of recent Georgian war crimes in Ossetia (though HRW also say Russian claims on Ossetian civilian casualties are exaggerated and fuel killings of Georgian civilians by Ossetian militias).

According to the OSCE observers' report the last Georgian Presidential election involved 'intimidation of voters', 'serious irregularities' which were 'never investigated' and the bribing of voters with government vouchers.

Amnesty and HRW also report the use of rubber bullets and beatings by Georgian police on peaceful protesters and the jailing of some of Saakashvili's critics without fair trial.

None of that justifies Russian bombing of civilians or their invasion of Georgian territory after defeating the Georgian attempt to re-conquer South Ossetia. They should stop bombing and withdraw their troops now - as well as telling the separatist militias to get back into South Ossetia and Abkhazia and end all attacks on Georgian minorities in them.

As a STWC member i think that should be STWC policy too - but since i havent turned up to a meeting in years i couldn't tell you if i'm in a minority or the majority on that.

From what i can see on the website the leadership's position seems to be to criticise the US and Saakashvili but not Putin and Russia - that doesnt seem balanced to me.

Harry Barnes said...

Anand and (at point 4)Calgacus:

(1) One of the of the main shortcomings of the book "The Occupation of Iraq" is that Ali A Alawi fails to examine his own role, except in the thinnest of ways. He evades a full self-examination by limiting direct talk about himself ( and in the first person) to the introduction and the conclusion. In the bulk of the book he only gives himself "bit" roles and then talks about himself in the third person. I also felt that he dismissed the work of Hannu Batatu too readily early on in the book where he describes Iraq's background. Instead he draws from Ali-al-Wardi (whose work I have not read, but must get round to). Yet he produces a perspective on both Iraq's background and events since the invasion which no Iraq watcher should ignore.

(2) Amongst us "Brits" there are at least four approaches about the role of British troops in Iraq. First, there are those who share the approach of the leadership of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) and demand the immediate withdrawal of British Troops. This means that they are not focussed on analysing defects in our operations which we should attempt to rectify. For (from their viewpoint)that might help to prolong our stay. Secondly from those who supported the invasion but are part of the growing Conservative opposition to the Government in this country, there is continuing criticism about failures associated with the troops having inadequate equipment and resources. But this seldom spills over into a wider critique of a strategic nature. Thirdly, there is a reluctance to criticise the stategy in case it is seen as a criticism of the troops themselves. Finally, those looking for de-escalation and a move to getting out of Iraq, both encouraged and supported the withdrawal from Basra and the move to the airport. There are, of course overlaps between some of these attitudes.

(3) Prior to the recent Russian intervention (and since) I have seen no evidence of Bush and the US administration attempting to influence the Georgian Government towards a defusing of tension in the area. Recent moves to develop a means of holding the ring have come from France. I don't feel that the USA, Georgia and (certainly not) Russia are free from serious criticism in what has occured.

(4) I feel that Calgacus is correct in showing that all hasn't been well as far as the operations of the Georgian Government is concerned, yet (as he accepts) this did not justify the response of the Russians. Any analysis which is one-sided seems to me to be faulty. Unfortunately, Andrew Murray of the StWC had a one-sided anti-US analysis in an article in the Morning Star on Wednesday claiming that the Bush administration approach had been the root cause of the crisis. He comes close to justifying a policy of Russian expansionism. The problem with people such as Andrew Murray is that they have a "one-answer-fits-all" solution to any international problem. Its the Yanks to blame. Often what C Wright Mill way back described as America's "Power Elite" are part of the problem. But to then ignore defects amongst other interests in the world is just foolish.