Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tangled threads between the USA, Europe, and the Middle East

By Carol Gee

American and Russian astronauts man the International Space Station . . . very peacefully. As a matter of fact, U.S. astronaut Greg Chamitoff hinted that the crew had actually talked about their countries and the events This story comes from the NASA website: Station Crew Prepares for Visiting Vehicles on the ground this past week. That is all he said, but I found it very heart-warming and strangely comforting: Every night these three men, whose very lives are dependent upon each other's skill and good will, sit down to have dinner together. And they trust each other enough to talk about the news of the day, I imagine very frankly.

Flight Engineer Greg Chamitoff talks to reporters from Texas

Image: Flight Engineer Greg Chamitoff talks to reporters from Texas. Credit: NASA TV

The International Space Station was boosted to a higher orbit when Europe’s docked Automated Transfer Vehicle fired its engines for over 16 minutes early Wednesday morning. The orbital boost puts the station at the correct altitude for upcoming vehicle dockings. The Progress 30 cargo freighter will dock on Sept. 12 and a Soyuz spacecraft carrying the Expedition 18 crew will arrive on Oct. 14. Progress 29 will undock from the Zarya module’s Earth facing port on Sept. 1. The docked cargo craft is currently being loaded with discarded items.

Flight Engineer Greg Chamitoff talked with journalists from Texas. Chamitoff described science duties inside the station’s international laboratories and mentioned he will be the second astronaut to vote from space in a presidential election.

"Peace Plan Offers Russia a Rationale To Advance," is the headline from Memeorandum's news compilation of items about the Russia-Georgia crisis (see also Ref 1 below). It links to a New York Times story that leaves out a lot. Depending on the U.S. mainstream media to tell us what is going on abroad is risky business. Key facts may be missing. So to fill in those missing pieces, I turned to other sources outside of our borders.

"US blamed over S Ossetia crisis" (8/13/08) headlines the piece at The authors note that Mikhail Gorbachev said that the U.S. "made a serious blunder." Another source (a main Russian website) says that Russia's (see Ref 2 below) anger was triggered by the U.S. recognition of Kosovo, seeing it as a precedent for the Georgian situation. Complicating the situation is the fact of strong ties between Israel and Georgia (see the Israeli Ref 3 below). To quote Aljazeera:

The US has had stern words for Russia over its military intervention in Georgia to back South Ossietian separatists, but many analysts say that the Bush administration must share the blame for the crisis. Washington has formed a close bond with the government of Mikheil Saakashvili since he came to power in the 2003 'Rose Revolution,' offering military and economic aid and encouraging Georgia to join Nato.

. . . Tbilisi has also benefited from the Millenium Challenge Corporation, a Bush administration programme intended to reward countries for "effective governance". The corporation has signed agreements totaling $295 million, making Georgia the fourth-biggest recipient of funds.

. . . But analysts point to the presence of key natural resources as a reason for the scale of US largesse. . . "Underlying all this is a larger, more significant contest: a geopolitical struggle between Russia and the West over the export of Caspian Sea oil and natural gas," Michael Klare, the author of Resource Wars told the New American Media website.

"The United States seeks to use Georgia as an 'energy corridor' to transport Caspian energy to the West without going through Iran or Russia; to this end, it helped build the BTC pipeline across Georgia and helped beef up the Georgian military to protect it.

Brighter light shown on the threads between the U.S., Israel, Iran, Russia, and Georgia -- Informed Comment's Professor Juan Cole says much in today's post titled, "US Deters Israel from Attacking Iran; Russian Cooperation seen Key to Dissuading Tehran's Nuclear Program." To quote Cole's very logical conclusion (author's links):

You know, somehow, I just think that for Washington to get Russian cooperation for a push against Iran just got a lot more implausible, what with Bush being pushed by McCain to take a harder line in support of Georgia.

Russia may also be annoyed with Israel over its arms sales to Georgia.

Then there is this item: Israel fears war could hurt Iran effort.

The Cheney line that Russia needs to be punished, and Rice's warning that Russia will be isolated, may make them feel good. But the US is much weaker after the increase in power of the oil and gas states like Russia and Iran this year, and isn't in a position to "isolate" Russia without at the same time giving a lot of indirect aid to Iran.

Serious talks between Lebanon and Syria -- "Lebanon, Syria to work toward officially demarcating border" (8/14/08) from in Israel. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Syrian President Bashar Assad agreed at their summit meeting in Damascus. Israel was absent, of course. To quote:

Syria and Lebanon said on Thursday they had agreed to resume the work of a joint committee to formally demarcate their borders, but Damascus said the boundaries of the disputed Shaba Farms would not be drawn until Israel withdrew from them.

. . . Syria and Lebanon agreed Wednesday to establish full diplomatic ties for the first time since they gained independence from France in the 1940s, in a step toward easing tensions between the two countries that have fueled Lebanon's turmoil.

. . . But Syria only agreed to formal ties after its influence in Lebanon was
guaranteed by the creation on Tuesday of a unity government in Beirut that gives Damascus' ally Hezbollah a strong say in decision-making.

The tangled web between the United States, Europe and the Middle East has strong threads of interdependence in Space, U.S. energy dependence on foreign nations, the arms trade, remnants of very old conflicts (such as in the Balkans and the Middle East), and declining U.S. and Israeli influence. Keeping up with foreign affairs means remembering that the only thing constant is change, and making sure to get the whole picture.


  1. Memeorandum: "Russia and Georgia at war... in beach volleyball" at the Olympics.

  2. "Rice warns Russia faces isolation over Georgia" (8/14/08) from Russia's RIA Novosti. Traveling to Europe, Secretary Rice will first go to France and then to Tblilisi on the 15th, reporting back to President Bush at the Texas ranch on the 16th.

  3. "Georgia president denies Israel halted military aid due to war," from Israel's (8/14/08) Haaretz. To quote:
    . . . Earlier Wednesday, Yakobashvili [State Minister for Territorial Integration Temur Yakobashvili] told Haaretz that Israel has joined in the West's betrayal of Georgia. As the official in charge of bringing Abkhazia and South Ossetia back into the fold, Yakobashvili oversaw negotiations with the Russians to end the fighting there. He warned the world that the situation would escalate into war, but the West ignored him.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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