The Great Game in the Caucasus

11 August 2008.

  • The Great Game is on again, it seems, but this time 'round, the United States is not the only major player involved ; instead, as Professor Chossudovsky points out in this insightful analysis, Washington's man in Tbilisi, Mikheil Saakashvili by using the occasion of the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing* to launch an all-out attack on South Ossetia, and thereby, according to news reports, succeeding in destroying much of the capital Tskhinvali and killing some 1500 residents (a majority of which, as usual in this kind of attack, were civilians) managed also to draw in Russia. As a consequence, the «victory» of Georgian (or US and Israeli) arms was not long-lasting, however, and shortly the Georgian troops found themselves in full retreat, pounded by the Russian military. Much can be said about this matter, and much that is hidden now will no doubt come to light in drips and drabs during the course of the next thirty years, but with regard to the outstanding question - what's next ? - what seems most important is whether Saakashvili's foreign «advisors» tried but failed to restrain him (he has, as Jonathon Steele points out in the Guardian a (well-deserved) reputation as a «hot head», or whether, on the contrary, as Professor Chossudovky seems to indicate here, his handlers rather made use of this character flaw, employing him as a pawn to draw Russia into a conflict from which she may find it difficult to extract herself. «Conspiracy theory !» some will cry, but conspiracies are what Departments of State and Foreign Ministries and intelligence agencies, etc, etc are for, and as any psychologist can tell you, the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. After all, the US has pulled this stunt previously ; smarting from its forced retreat from Indochina, it decided to create a situation in Afghanistan in which the Soviet leadership would find itself forced to intervene - quite successfully, as a matter fact, as Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzeziński has been bragging about ever since. But today's Russia is hardly the same as the Soviet Union of thirty years ago, nor are Bush/Cheney/Rice the same as Carter/Brzeziński or Putin/Medvedev the same as an aging Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev. My guess, for what it is worth, is that Russia will speedily agree to a cease-fire when all Georgian troops have been driven from South Ossetia and probably from Abkhazia as well (which latter would involve their retreat from the Kodori Valley, occupied (or «liberated», depending upon one's point of view) by Georgian troops in 2006). That Messrs Putin and Medvedev would be so imprudent as to attempt an occupation of Georgia seems to me unlikely in the extreme - as for Mr Saakashvili, he is now thoroughly discredited and when the patriotic fervour in Georgia cools, he will probably not survive the maelstrom of Georgian politics, which is not especially kind to those who have gambled with the nation's destiny and lost. Personally, I should like to see Mr Saakashvili answer to a tribunal in Den Haag for the entirely unnecessary loss of lives his foolhardy policies have caused. (Were his bagmen to join him there, my cup would run over, but I suppose that is too much to ask of le meilleur monde possible)....

    **My guess is that the Chinese leadership are quietly fuming at this violation of the «Olympic Truce» and blatant attempt to steal the thunder of the opening of the Games, but careful and prudent as they usually are, will say nothing, as their vital interests are not touched. But I doubt they are particularly impressed with the statecraft of the United States....


The Tibet Card

29 March 2008.

  • Today's Information Clearing House - one of the most essential organs for anyone with the English language at his or her disposal who wishes to remain à jour with what is happening behind that which seems to be happening in our little world - has published a must-read article, entitled The Tibet Card by Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich. Her article being so brief, I permit myself in the following to quote from it extensively :
    During the Vietnam era, the United States eagerly supported the regime of Ngo Dinh Diem, a man who brutally oppressed the Buddhists; yet today our government has risen in defense of the Dalai Lama and Tibet. Has our sordid history finally led to compassion for the people of Tibet? One must wonder which people we want to protect for there are 41 races in Tibet, including Tibetan, Menpa, Luopa, Han Chinese, Hui, Sherpa, Deng, and so on; although by far, the majority are Tibetans. Perhaps the US is reaching out to the Dalai Lama - again?
    It would seem, however, that the risk that the United States government will dispatch its «ally», the Dalai Lama, as readily as it dispatched Ngo Dinh Diem when the latter couldn't deliver the goods is very small ; after all, the task assigned to Tenzin Gyatso is much less arduous than that assigned to Ngo Dinh Diem, who was to keep the southern half of Vietnam safely within the Empire's grasp. All the former has to do is help to keep the present Chinese government off balance, and draw attention from the egregious human rights violations being actively committed by the United States (and its «coalition of the willing» around the globe. At this, the Dalai Lama seems to be quite adroit - at least for readers and, not least, watchers of our corporate media, which have projected into our minds an image of an ancient Shangri-La which is being pillaged and ravished by the dastardly Chinese (by which is meant the majority, Han, population of China ; in the so-called «Western» media, none of the non-Han «minority peoples» are to be regarded as Chinese, whatever their contribution to the civilisation we subsume by that name. As can be expected, this mythical version of a peaceful paradise hardly stands up to scrutiny (which, of course, is why it almost never receives such scrutiny) ; as pointed out in Michael Parenti's brief essay, Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth,
    A reading of Tibet’s history suggests a somewhat different picture. “Religious conflict was commonplace in old Tibet,” writes one western Buddhist practitioner. “History belies the Shangri-La image of Tibetan lamas and their followers living together in mutual tolerance and nonviolent goodwill. Indeed, the situation was quite different. Old Tibet was much more like Europe during the religious wars of the Counterreformation.” 5 In the thirteenth century, Emperor Kublai Khan created the first Grand Lama, who was to preside over all the other lamas as might a pope over his bishops. Several centuries later, the Emperor of China sent an army into Tibet to support the Grand Lama, an ambitious 25-year-old man, who then gave himself the title of Dalai (Ocean) Lama, ruler of all Tibet. Here is a historical irony: the first Dalai Lama was installed by a Chinese army.

    His two previous lama “incarnations” were then retroactively recognized as his predecessors, thereby transforming the 1st Dalai Lama into the 3rd Dalai Lama. This 1st (or 3rd) Dalai Lama seized monasteries that did not belong to his sect, and is believed to have destroyed Buddhist writings that conflicted with his claim to divinity. The Dalai Lama who succeeded him pursued a sybaritic life, enjoying many mistresses, partying with friends, and acting in other ways deemed unfitting for an incarnate deity. For these transgressions he was murdered by his priests. Within 170 years, despite their recognized divine status, five Dalai Lamas were killed by their high priests or other courtiers. 6

    For hundreds of years competing Tibetan Buddhist sects engaged in bitterly violent clashes and summary executions. In 1660, the 5th Dalai Lama was faced with a rebellion in Tsang province, the stronghold of the rival Kagyu sect with its high lama known as the Karmapa. The 5th Dalai Lama called for harsh retribution against the rebels, directing the Mongol army to obliterate the male and female lines, and the offspring too “like eggs smashed against rocks…. In short, annihilate any traces of them, even their names.” 7

    In 1792, many Kagyu monasteries were confiscated and their monks were forcibly converted to the Gelug sect (the Dalai Lama’s denomination). The Gelug school, known also as the “Yellow Hats,” showed little tolerance or willingness to mix their teachings with other Buddhist sects. In the words of one of their traditional prayers: “Praise to you, violent god of the Yellow Hat teachings/who reduces to particles of dust/ great beings, high officials and ordinary people/ who pollute and corrupt the Gelug doctrine.” 8 An eighteenth-century memoir of a Tibetan general depicts sectarian strife among Buddhists that is as brutal and bloody as any religious conflict might be. 9 This grim history remains largely unvisited by present-day followers of Tibetan Buddhism in the West.[For the references, and more on Tibet during the first half of the last century, which may strike some as more relevant to our discourse, as they touche on the present, 14th (or 12th, depending upon how one wishes to count) Dalai Lama, please see both Ms Sepahpour-Ulrich's and Professor Parenti's orginal articles, accessible via the links above.]
    Let us return to Ms Sepahpour-Ulrich's article. She has the temerity to indicate that other interests than «human rights» may play a role in the concern exhibited by the US and certain other countries for the plight of one group among the population of Tibet :
    What is the reason behind America’s sudden interest in Tibet, the Buddhist ideology of 1649 Dalai Lama preserving animal and nature (we certainly could be preserving nature at home) or is it what is under nature? Tibet has the world’s largest reserve of uranium, and in addition to gold and copper, large quantities of oil and gas were discovered in Qiangtang Basin in western China's remote Tibet area[iii]. A friendly Dalai Lama would help reimburse the CIA subsidies, and much more.
    While it is certainly true that the government of the United States (and that of its «allies») would very much like to gain control over these resources - and moreover, has shown itself more than willing to go to war to secure assets of this type, I think, as also Ms Sepahpour-Ulrich seems to do (see below), that this is not the major factor in determining the present policy ; it seems unlikely that the rulers of the United States would prove as successful in splitting China and installing client states on the periphery of the rump as they were in the case of the Soviet Union, and my best guess is that they are very much aware of this fact. (This is not to say, however, that any opportunities in that direction will be overlooked....)
    There are other more important factors. Israel’s interest is undeniable. In fact, they have been helping this ancient green land with ‘agriculture techniques’ in recent years[iv]. Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, is recruiting fellow Nobel winners to press China on Tibet. Other notables such as Spielberg have already cooperated, and Sarkozy is considering boycotting the Olympics. One has to ask why these humanitarians are not concerned with the well-being of 1.4 million Palestinians described by the UN and the ICRC as being subjected to worst possible human disaster witnessed.

    China has always shown reluctance to impose sanctions on Iran. From an Israeli and American perspective, China became a veritable short-term liability (versus a long term power challenging the US) when Iran and China engaged in talks to allow for a military base for China in one of Iran’s Persian Gulf ports. This was in response to Sarkozy making an announcement that France and the UAE were negotiating a deal in which France would have a small base in that region. Such a cooperation between Iran and China would make Iran less vulnerable to an attack by Israel and/or the United States.

    I do not wish here to deny that some people may be genuinely concerned with the fate of Tibetan people(s) and convinced that what we there are witnessing (through the rather biased eyes of our corporate media) is a Manichaean struggle beween the forces of light - represented by the Dalai Lama and his group and certain monks in Tibet, backed by such idealistic practitoners of human rights as the guide to policy as George Walker Bush, Richard Bruce Cheney, and Nicolas Paul Stéphane Sárközy de Nagy-Bócsao (not to mention assorted Hollywood actors, who know - or whose managers know - a good publicity stunt when they see one) on the one hand, and the forces of darkness, represented by the Chinese government (and behind that goverment, die gelbe Gefahr, the great mass of the Chinese people. But these well-meaning people are not the «movers and shakers» behind the policies which may yet again cause more suffering on the «Roof of the World» ; they are merely, as always, those in whose name these policies are carried out....

    Below, in any event, my brief response to Ms Sepahpour-Ulrich's article. as posted to Information Clearing House and my StumbleUpon page :

It is indeed a pleasure to read an article in which historical precedents are marshaled so skilfully - and so accurately - to allow us to sweep away the veil of rhetoric and spin which infests our corporate media and analyse the motivations of the players, obvious and hidden, who figure in the recent events in Tibet and the various reactions to them seen in differing countries around the world. Alas, the term «human rights» has become so debased by the strange selective nature of the conflicts to which it is applied that it has lost its original meaning, and merely become synonymous with the political interests of the US empire and its satellites and satrapies. Much thanks are due Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich for writing, and not least ICH for publishing, this essay....