As a regular reader of the Washington Post, I'm used to the paper's hostile attitude towards Russia. The Post's biased coverage of the recent conflict in the Caucasus thus hasn't come as a surprise.
What was somewhat surprising, though, was the level of the Post's attention to the topic: between August 9 and September 2, the Post has published a whopping 37 editorials and op-eds (and I might have missed some) — not to mention regular reports from on-the-ground.
The usual suspects like Anne Applebaum and Charles Krauthammer have put in their two cents. The Victim-in-Chief, Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, has warned on August 14 that Georgia's defeat in the conflict would be "the death knell for the spread of freedom and democracy everywhere." World luminaries have made their royal appearances. French president Nicolas Sarkozy hailed his diplomatic prowess, whereas the president of Ukraine, Victor Yushchenko, struggled to decide who he was more: a statesman or Saakashvili's buddy. Legendary Francis Fukuyama has reminded that the end of history was still upon us. Mikhail Gorbachev and the Nixon Center's Paul Saunders have cast rare votes of reason and common sense.
The Post's editors haven't spent much time on figuring out what actually happened in South Ossetia on August 8. While pundits were meticulously reconstructing the timeline of the events in the war zone, the Post immediately proceeded to the perennial Russian question: "Who is to be blamed?" The answer was obvious.
An August 9 editorial headlined "Stopping Russia. The United States and its allies must unite against Moscow's war on Georgia" didn't even mention the fact that scores of innocent civilians have been massacred by Georgian troops. The editorial went straight to business: “Georgia’s democratically elected government has accepted U.S. military and economic aid, supported the mission in Iraq and pursued NATO membership.” That was enough for the Post to justify that “the United States and its NATO allies must impose a price on Russia."
(The lack of curiosity about events on the ground seems to reflect the newspaper's standard policy. Writing for it on August 11, Ronald Asmus and Richard Holbrooke opined: “Exactly what happened in South Ossetia last week is unclear.” Robert Kagan went a step further: “The details of who did what to precipitate Russia’s war against Georgia are not very important.”)
The only sign of the diversity of opinions allowed by the Post's authors was whether the condemnation of Russia was unconditional (George Will: "Russia's aggression is really about the subordination of Georgia, a democratic, market-oriented U.S. ally." Harold Meyerson: "The invasion of Georgia was a chilling display of Russia's brutal force.") or accompanied by a timid attempt to scrutinize Russia's actions (Richard Cohen: "… the Caucasus is Russia's Latin America — a sphere of influence asserted by its own version of the Monroe Doctrine." Strobe Talbott: "… it's payback time for a grievance that Russia has borne against the West for nine years."). Some restless minds went as far as to acknowledge that the other side bore some responsibility, too (Michael Dobbs: "… the behavior of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili has been erratic and provocative").
Having easily disposed of the question "Who is to be blamed?", the Post has moved to another perennial Russian question: "What is to be done?"
Charles Krauthammer was the first to come up with a comprehensive list of "sanctions" against Putin. (This isn't a typo: in his piece titled "How to Stop Putin", Krauthammer uses "Putin" and "Russia" interchangeably. Here is a quote: "What is to be done? Let's be real. There's nothing to be done militarily. What we can do is alter Putin's cost-benefit calculations.") The list included suspension of the NATO-Russia Council, barring Russia's entry to the WTO, "dissolving" the G-8 (and a "reconstitution of the original G-7" without Russia), and a U.S. boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
In my previous post, I argued already that the proposed "measures" are unlikely to succeed, and my reservations happen to be shared by some at the Post (William Courtney and Kenneth Yalowitz: "Threatening to withdraw support for Russia's hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi would divide the West and probably fail").
Having come to terms with the fact that "the West" has very limited diplomatic — and no military – leverage over Russia, the Post has turned to the idea of punishing the Kremlin by using "soft power." First hinted at in an August 26 editorial, this idea was fully articulated in the next day's piece – by David Rivkin and Carlos Ramos-Mrosovsky — tastefully titled "Target the Kremlin Pocketbooks."
Rivkin and Ramos-Mrosovsky call on U.S. and E.U regulators to examine "the business transactions of people close to Putin's regime for money laundering or for securities, tax and other economic irregularities." And, in the case when "irregularities" are found, use "subpoenas, indictments, asset forfeitures … and travel restrictions" to punish the "Chekist oligarchs" (as the authors prefer to call Russian businessmen).
Rivkin and Ramos-Mrosovsky provide no evidence that the alleged "irregularities" are widespread enough — or are even taking place at all — to justify the proposed witchhunt. Nor do they consider the legality and the potential cost of the future "investigations" — a somewhat puzzling fact given that both are lawyers. But what makes their views border insanity is the declared objective of the "soft power" harassment. Rivkin and Ramos-Mrosovsky believe that "[I]f enough pain is inflicted on them [Russia's governing elites], they will … seek to replace Putin as the power behind the throne." Wow!
It took the cool head and un-Post wisdom of David Ignatius to tell his readers something that every responsible political writer in the U.S. — even a Post contributor – must know: "American leaders shouldn't make threats the country can't deliver or promises it isn't prepared to keep. The rhetoric of confrontation may make us feel good, but other people end up getting killed."
"The rhetoric of confrontation may make us feel good, but other people end up getting killed."