I've got masonry problems. Complicated, expensive ones. So having hired a contractor to fix them, I greeted the two brick guys yesterday morning with eagerness.
Turns out they are Russians, whose English is not as good as their bricklaying. Great, says I. My wife Angela is fluent in Russian. I dragged her outside and made her talk to these guys about exactly what and when and how we were going to do this business.
She comes back inside 45 minutes later. Yikes, thinks I. Are things really that bad? Yes, says she, but the bricks are the least of it.
These guys aren't Russians exactly. One of them is Ossetian, and my wife hadn't been talking to him about bricks, but about the Russian invasion of Georgia. The gist of their conversation is this:
This guy is livid at the way the invasion has been covered in the American press (and the European press, which he was also following). From his point of view, the Russians acted to save South Ossetia from an ethnic cleansing orchestrated by the Georgian government. He told truly horrific stories of Georgian troops slaughtering Ossetians in villages and burning them alive in churches in an operation which, roughly translated, they called: Operation Clean Fields.
Further, he claims that the images of death and destruction shown in the west and labeled "Russian" actually show damage inflicted on the Ossetians by Georgian troops. Some in the Ossetian community are already talking about preparing war crimes documents against the Georgian government. The Russians, he claimed, came in and saved Ossetians from Serb-style treatment by the Georgians.
I don't know how reliable this Ossetian mason really is. Nor do I know how much he could really know, being so far away from the scene. But he was absolutely clear that the Georgian army executed its operation with American weapons, supplied by the Bush Administration.
Once the fighting subsides, the real story that may emerge here is the extent to which Georgia was supported by the Bush Administration. And if the press does follow that trail, it will make an interesting campaign issue.
As soon as Russian troops rolled across the border, McBush began using it in his campaign speeches. In fact, it may turn out that this small war in the Caucasus is yet another example of Bush foreign policy bungling.
Despite all the talk of the "post-9/11" world, most in the Bush administration - starting with Condalezza Rice (the "devil incarnate" according to my Ossetian bricklayer) - have never been able to leave the Cold War behind. They continue to see the world in those Manichean terms, and seem bent on re-manufacturing the Cold War now that Russia is reasserting itself in the world. Rice's first response to the Russian invasion was to squawk: This isn't 1968 and this isn't Czechoslovakia! Which only reveals the extent to which the Cold War remains the lenses through which she sees the world.
There is no question that the Bush foreign policy has been a categorical failure. Events in Georgia are merely the latest example of that. The Obama campaign, rather than shy away from security issues as Democrats have for the last 7 years, ought to use the Georgian affair to drive home the Republican blundering on foreign policy.
For my part, my new Ossetian friend said he was so incensed he was thinking about returning to fight the Georgians. He didn't show up for work today.