Monday, April 29, 2013

Beslan Comes to Boston

Ever noticed the difficulty the media has naming people and things connected to the Boston bombings and generally get anything right in that story ?   I guess the first prize for inanity in the non-stop twaddle the MSM delivered on Boston must go to Wolf Blitzer who described Dzhokar’s flight, running over his brother with a car and a hide-and-seek with the cops as an ordeal.  Close second:  has anyone (other than the news pros) not noticed that Zubeidat Tsarnayeva, the killers’ mother, is an emotionally unstable psycho and a classical portrait of enabler, someone whose judgmental posturing coupled with manifest sociopathic tendencies would be enough to explain her sons finally going nuts ?   And again, I find it interesting that no one in the chase for an improbable Armenian convert to Islam who poisoned Tamerlan’s (see my previous blog) sound mind, cares to observe the extraordinary contempt the Islamic people of the Caucasus hold the Armenians (for their alleged sycophantic and servile nature), and the utter improbability that ethnic Chechens (as perhaps the most warlike people in Caucasus) would take cues from an Armenian – in anything, let alone religious fervour !    
       But my focus in this blog is on the meaning of the strange overuse of the geographic term “Russia” in the reports. Both The New York Times and Washington Post now refer to the capital of Dagestan as Makhachkala, Russia a marked departure with the previous convention in mentioning the region's capital. The major networks refer in unison to the whereabouts of Anzor and Zubeidat as Russia, even though they inhabit the part of Russia that the US foreign policy considers land in which the Russians keep the natives in bondage.   It is as though Novosti and Pravda started to refer to San Juan as USA in connection to hypothetical bombing in Rostov in which Puerto Rican secessionists – for whom Russia was known to have a great deal of sympathy – were implicated.  Surely, this sudden misnaming would be seen as a veiled finger pointed at the US, especially if among the news US was being criticized for not cooperating with Russia as much as Russia would want.  Of course, the overt and covert criticism of Russia’s stance on terrorism that regularly crops up, is the ultimate irony of the Boston tragedy. 

    That in the journalistic equivalent of a hunt for Sasquatch, the importance of  Putin’s statement on Boston would be buried among tall tales about Misha that the relatives are spinning is of course to be expected.  For the US media to admit the US policy toward Russia after the fall of the Soviets is mostly wrong-headed, and at times plain stupid, is as unthinkable as the Moscow editorials in the early eighties admitting that Brezhnev’s politburo was brain-dead.  Of course, Putin is spinning his own yarn but the fact remains he has pacified the Caucasus to a degree which would have not been possible under Yeltsin.  He has been criticized in the West as being heavy-handed. But has he ?  Has anyone actually looked at the way  Russia under Putin has been behaving in North Caucasus ?  And if so, who would be – from the US security point of view – the optimal dominant power in that region ?  US NATO ally Turkey under Erdogan ?  Ahmanidejad and Khamenei ?   Saudi Arabia via the Wahhabi colonies there ?   See what I mean by stupid  
    Being a Czech ex-pat I have no illusions about the Russians. But I know enough of Russia, its history and political culture to know that the colossus rarely offers the kind of stability and prospects, civility and realpolitik, that it has been in the last decade under the dynamic duo. There are some significant opportunities that Russia today has to offer in bolstering US security.  All the US has to do is to acknowledge Russia’s legitimate interests and understand where they intersect with their own.  Unfortunately, this perspective has never quite made it past the Cold War view of Russia as a dangerous usurper and a jail of nations (which it was under Soviets but is not any longer, at least not for the moment).  And it is not just the mainstream media or the academics who see themselves in the old war-horse  Zbig Brzezinski (who sees Putin as a Mussolini wannabe). 
       An alternative view of Russia seems to be missing also in the writings of thoughtful critics and people usually immune to popular nonsense.  Surprising that even someone as bright as Daniel Pipes, whose father was an eminent scholar of Russia to boot, does not seem to grasp the opportunity that the Boston bombing presents to Kerry and Obama, in finally – at long last - resetting, the bilateral relations with Moscow as advocated by one of the most knowledgeable people in the US foreign policy business, the former US ambassador to Moscow, George F.Kennan.  For Pipes the Boston tragedy should lead to outlawing burqas and niqabs in the US. Not a bad idea but I do not see a meaningful connection there.  Nor am I particularly impressed by Daniel’s next item on his blog, Education by Murder. My beef with it is not on the analysis side; I am convinced that he is correct in assessing the Islamic danger. It’s on the practical approaches and measures that I see him as coming up short.  It’s the lack of focus and as a result of coherent policy which besets the thinking about Islam,  sadly in both,  the White House and the conservative think tanks.  The  mujehaddin heros the US supported in Afghanistan against the Soviets and in Bosnia against the Serbs, re-appeared as  attackers on US soil unleashing insane mayhem on 9/11.  Is there any wonder that the Caucasian highlanders with a dream of a Caucasian emirate that the US eggs on against the Russians, would eventually appear in the US to do a demo of the insane mayhem that has become all but synonymous in Russia with the name Chechen ? 

    In the drool and drivel that the media has dished on the Boston tragedy,  The Truth About Chechen Threat op ed at the CNN website from early last week summarizes neatly the idiotic posturing that only encourages people and ideologies who wish to destroy the US.  The piece struggles with facts in the most horrendous way:  Shaefer writes – much in the same manner that Zubeidat Tsarnaeva speaks – that ‘the once secular, democratic Chechen independence movement is all but gone..’.  When was there a ‘secular, democratic Chechen independence movement ?’, may I ask.  Pray, it would not be like the secular, democratic movement known as the Arab Spring !  The fact of the matter is that In 1991 Dzhokhar Dudayev, a Dr Strangelove with an idee fixe to nuke Russia's cities, staged a coup and declared himself without any silly pretense of elections, the president of independent Ichkeria. Almost immediately the Islamic theme entered the post-Soviet Chechen politics, and the former Soviet general was attacked by the competing warlords for his lack of islamic fervour.  It is also not true that Chechnya was de-facto independent from Russia in 1996-1999.  In reality, Moscow signed a deal with the separatists in early 1997 under which Russia would withdraw its armed forces and let the locals run their internal affairs, in return – specifically – for Chechnya to remain in the Russian federation and subject to its laws.  The ink was not yet dry on the agreement when Sharia shootings and dismemberments began throughout Chechnya in violation of the treaty. The Russians looked the other way. They kept looking the other way when president Mashkadov proclaimed Sharia the law of the land in 1999. The only felt impelled to go in the second time in response to several bombings (with casualties in the hundreds !) and to Basayev's, Raduyev's and al-Khattab's horde attempting to annex Dagestan.  Shaefer admits that Putin’s 1999 campaign was brilliant but calls it brutal.  Well, it was not brutal or ham-handed as Pavel Grachev’s assaults on Grozny in 1995-96.  Actually, the second war is most remembered in Caucasus for the siege of Gudermes and the expulsion of the islamist warlords from there. It has been described as the battle for the hearts and minds even by people who don't like Russians.  Putin won over even some warlords and prominent political figures who fought against the Russians previously, notably Akhmad Kadyrov, Chechnya’s mufti and later president (assassinated by the Wahhabi allied Islamists in 2004).   
    Schaefer long-term historical memory is also faulty.  Stalin did deport the majority of Chechens from the region after the war in one of his nasty ethnic cleansing edicts. But he did not erase Chechnya from the map as it has never existed, as Schaefer claims. The Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic (established in 1936) continued to exist through the repression.  Shaefer predictably fails to mention the big picture  that overshadowed Russia’s invading in the region in the 18th and 19th century.  Turkey is not mentioned by the diligent truther , yet it was Russia’s struggle with the Ottomans for the hegemony in the region - and that above all other causes - that shaped Russia’s political and cultural view of the Caucasus.  The expulsion of the Circassians, Turkey’s allies in the region, is of course regrettable and a dark chapter of Russia’s history. But it needs to be understood in the context of the times and gauged against the brutality of the Ottomans against the Armenians and the Balkan Slavs.   It is a sad irony, that one of the great conquering hero of the early Caucasian campaign, general  Yermolov , was himself a rebel in his youth and a liberal supporter of constitutional monarchy. He and two of Russia’s great poets, Pushkin and Lermontov, believed in Russia’s mission in Caucasus, because they believed civilization must conquer barbarity. Even if Russia was not the model of civilization itself, its intelligentsia has always understood the importance of its window on Europe.   
Shaefer complains about Putin’s success in rebranding the Chechen separatist fighters as terrorists.  He admits that this was not without merit, and mentions a headline grabbing incident at a school in Beslan.  My jaw drops when I read vacuous babble of this kind. If Mr Schaefer can talk himself through the visceral disgust that should grip anyone confronted by the bestiality of the attack on the elementary school in North Ossetia, he deserves nothing but contempt. There is absolutely nothing – no cause under the sun - that can justify assaults on innocent humanity going about the business of living.  And that is the message of Beslan and Boston, if 9/11 did not deliver the message.   

To the New York Congressman Peter King: Instead of criticizing the Russians for what they should have done it would be better to adopt this simple and doable security policy: If you get the names of terrorists that the Bear watches, trust, they bear watching !

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