Monday, August 18, 2008

Gideon Levy - Not the good guys vs. the bad guys

TBILISI- The weekend edition of The Georgian Times left no room for doubt. The weekly, which is published in English and edited entirely by women, enlisted in the cause with all its might: "For Georgia and victory," "Georgia alone in stand-off with Russi€a," and "Europe learned nothing from Hitler's crimes" screamed the paper's front-page headlines. When the cannons are roaring in this spectacular Caucasian country, as in almost every country, everything serves a melodramatic purpose and self-criticism falls silent.

But one does not have to be a propagandizing Georgian newspaper to paint this new war in stark black and white. After all, the West and Israel are doing it, too: Georgia, a tiny democracy, dear to the West and darling of the U.S., is facing off against the aggressive, conquering, bullying Russian bear, not to mention the new Nazi. Good guys versus bad guys, David versus Goliath, "Adolf Putin" versus the freedom fighters.

It has been years since we have had a war in which it is so clear to spectators in the West who constitute the Children of Light and who constitute the Children of Darkness.

It is a matter of propaganda. The U.S. president's remarks on Friday that the world would not accept bullying and intimidation could only raise a bitter smile.

George W. Bush talking about bullying? The U.S. president talking about intimidation? Who set off to two bullying wars this decade? Who tried to solve problems and replace regimes through intimidation if not our friend in the White House? Which power spilled more blood this decade? Russia or "the leader of the free world"?

For the West, everything goes, from placing missiles on Polish soil to discussing Georgia's joining NATO. But Russia is not even allowed to respond?

After a few days on the frontline in Gori, the picture that emerges is complex and far from unilateral. The first question is, as usual, who started it. Georgian minister Temur Yakobashvili, of course, has a ready and clear-cut response: the Russians. The separatists provoked, Russia invaded. But even as he expresses himself in fluent Hebrew - "either you get screwed or you screw" - one is not easily convinced that this is simply an innocent country that found itself the victim of a fire-breathing giant.

Yakobashvili, the Jewish minister of "reintegration," another white-washed term for occupation, is responsible in the name of his government for two controversial regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He ignores the fact that the inhabitants of these areas do not want to be part of his country.

The two maps of these regions hanging in his office do not change this. He also blurs the fact that about a week ago his country sent troops into South Ossetia, most of whose inhabitants are Russian citizens, a move Moscow could not help but consider a provocation.

Encouraged by Western sympathy for their president, the Georgians thought they could do anything and that Russia would remain indifferent. But then came the surprise: Russia responded with force.

This is also how Israel responded to another provocation - the killing and abduction of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. This is how countries, including freer and more democratic ones than Russia, respond to provocations.

It is disconcerting to see Russian tanks rumbling along the main road from Gori to Tbilisi as if they owned the place, but this is the way things happen in a bullying world. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili should have known that.

When the cannons fall silent, perhaps in his country, too, the tough questions will be raised: why and for what.

The hundreds of refugees who gathered last Wednesday in the square in front of the parliament on Rustaveli Boulevard poured out their wrath not only on Moscow, but also on their adventure-seeking president who suffers from hubris.

The Cold War is back. It returned suddenly, after Russia already lost. The question remains as to whether a single-power world is more peaceful than a polarized world. In two decades of sole American hegemony we have not seen less war and bloodshed - even if the world is considered "freer."

This is something worth remembering. It should also be remembered that those who rent out their power and skills to others end up paying a price: Israel might pay a heavy price for the drones and training by Israel Ziv and Gal Hirsch, our new mercenaries in Georgia. The next time President Shimon Peres meets Vladimir Putin and asks him to stop arming Hezbollah, Putin, the enemy of the new world, will respond with a reasoned response.

There are no good guys and bad guys, but only bad and violent guys, some more and some less. In the backyard of a Europe in the process of unification, something happened that must be corrected through diplomatic means alone.

It is unlikely that the war has ended, but meanwhile let us not fall again into a deceptive trap just because Saakashvili speaks better English than Putin.

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