Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Georgia on My Mind

Georgia on My Mind
By Jerome Grossman

During his long presidential campaign when he also had responsibilities and duties as a United States Senator, John McCain found the time to make three separate trips to the nation of Georgia, a country of less than 5 million people, whose main claim to importance was a pipeline carrying oil from wells owned by western companies in the Caspian Sea basin.

McCain chief policy adviser Randy Scheunemann and his business partner lobbied McCain or his staff on 49 occasions in a 3 1/2 year span while being paid $830,000 dollars by the government of Georgia. Scheunemann stopped lobbying for Georgia this March but retains an interest in the lobbying firm that signed a new $200,000 agreement with the Georgian government.

McCain’s time spent in Georgia is noteworthy because it affected his campaign: he has not found the time to visit a number of states in the US whose votes he will need to be elected president. Clearly he was not seeking votes in nation Georgia but perhaps he was looking for campaign contributions. Contributions from foreign governments and citizens are illegal but American oil companies may have shown their gratitude.

On August 13, McCain told reporters, “In the 21st century, nations don't invade other nations,” as he denounced the Russian invasion of Georgia. The irony of that statement was not lost on the rest of the world given the US invasion of Iraq after the United Nations refused to authorize US invasion of Iraq. The US invaded on its own. So much for the McCain version of history.

McCain insists that the Russian invasion was a “setback for democracy” because President Saakashvili had been elected twice. But he doesn't tell that that president declared martial law in Georgia last November using tear gas and rubber bullets on Georgian citizens, shutting down an opposition television station too.

US officials have stressed that the White House and State Department repeatedly warned President Saakashvili and his government against responding to Russian military provocations in ways that could spark a broader conflict. A Georgian official confirmed this. But Saakashvili took the Russian bait and made the first military move in South Ossetia, responding to small-scale local violence with heavy handed military. Saakashvili was conferring with McCain by telephone virtually every day. What kind of advice did he receive? That “We are all Georgians?” That the US would ride to the rescue?

McCain has some explaining to do. Did his interest in Georgia promote campaign contributions? Is his foreign-policy basically run by lobbyists and in some cases lobbyists for foreign governments? Does that put him in direct conflict with the US State Department and even the Secretary of Defense? How reliable is his judgment? Is he a risk taker whose first instinct is to use the military? Or promise it when he shouldn’t?

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Chinese Olympic and Humiliation

The Chinese Olympic and Humiliation
By Jerome Grossman

For China the Olympics are a demonstration of the ascendancy of the host nation -from historic international humiliation “to the gate of greatness.” The Chinese investment was enormous, $40 billion, 10 times the amount spent by any country in previous Olympics. Large sections of Beijing were refitted; enormous efforts tried to control and minimize pollution; the city was beautified in its buildings and public art; every effort was made to make housing and accommodations and entertainment pleasant for foreign guests. The organization and precision of the opening ceremonies stunned the entire world.

The Chinese were out to prove that their system of capitalist authoritarianism is a success, with national goals that their Gross Domestic Product will surpass the United States by 2025 and that they will dominate the 21st century as America dominated the 20th.

But the Chinese are careful not to threaten the US, their best customer. Their emphasis is on economic primacy, not military, not interventionist. While they have modernized the military establishment, they have not built their capacity to a threatening level. For example, their nuclear arsenal has only about 200 capable of reaching the US while the US has 10,000 capable of reaching China and an armed American fleet regularly prowls the Western Pacific.

The Chinese have serious problems that may prevent realization of national goals: too many people to be adequately supported, especially the elderly beneficiaries of the health system, who must be supported in retirement; unrest among the workers as inequality of income grows; an overrated economy not yet capable of using all modern technology; environmental problems that affect the health of all Chinese; rejection of the state ideology by some members of the intellectual and underprivileged classes.

However, all Chinese are united in hosting the Olympics as a demonstration that the humiliating legacy of the domination by foreigners has ended. The humiliation began with China's defeat in the Opium Wars in the 19th century; continued when the 1919 Treaty of Versailles allotted port concessions to European governments to profit from goods entering and exiting China; the treatment of Chinese laborers in the US; the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and China proper; the British seizure of Hong Kong; the Portuguese control Macao; the separation of Taiwan, etc. etc..

The Chinese want the world to know that those days are over. In 2001, the National People's Congress passed a law establishing a National Humiliation Day. The leaders, past and present, of all parties and factions scorned the humiliating insults to the Chinese people, the yoke, the suffering, uniting such diverse political figures and Sun Yatsen, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Ze Dong.

So the Chinese Olympics are much more than a series of pageants and athletic contests. They are an emotional, national, prideful statement: we have arrived; there will be no more humiliation.


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