As the fighting in South Ossetia heats up, it’s interesting to see the rush by all the bloggers to do the biggest, grandest roundups. By looking at this, you see those who think they’re clever by either stating the obvious (Russia wants to split Georgia, Abkhazia is getting involved), the conventional wisdom (Russia wants to disrupt the Georgia energy corridor), or the plain old wrong (Russia wants to annex Georgia). The examples are countless, and while not necessarily wrong, none are really saying anything those who are knowledgable of the situation haven’t been saying for months or years. You also notice that the same four or five stories from the New York Times, CNN, or the BBC all get linked and excerpted, as people play arm-chair correspondents and try to track every bombing, explosion, artillery strike, and troop movement.
Basically, ignore all of that. We will not have a useful picture of the minutae of the fighting for at least several days (really? Russia will own Georgian airspace just like that?), until some good correspondents get on the scene and we’re not left hearing only what the various foreign ministries say. If you can read Russian or Georgian, there are many blogs posting pictures and personal accounts that can provide much better data (Yerevan-based reporter Onnik Krikorian is a notable exception and his collections of local blogger-journalism are absolutely necessary reading). Far more interesting than the minutae of the tactical aspects of this fight, at least to me, is the political aspect. Blake Hounshell did an admirable job of rounding up some of these, including the very salient point that Russia has refused a cease-fire.
But even that is just conventional wisdom. Who cares? It’s called conventional wisdom because everyone already knows it. Finding something new or interesting about this conflict is tough, and the blogosphere is being more hurtful than helpful in offering anything of value. There is very little attention being paid, for example, to Russia’s diplomatic moves, which seem curiously centered in Brussels, and not Tskhinvali, Tblisi, or Moscow. Why Brussels? This escalation happened right before Georgia was scheduled for its ascension into NATO, and Russian would love nothing more than to scuttle Georgia’s chances. Pretending that the South Ossetian shadow government makes any of its own decision is about as useful as pretending the shadow government in Abkhazia does. They got violent because Moscow told them to, and it has been that way for a good fifteen years now (the Abkhaz government is a bit more autonomous, but they remain fatally reliant on Russian support).
Sunday, August 10, 2008