The intense pressure on mainstream journalists to stick to the same narrative cripples our ability to conduct robust democratic debate. Read more at my Think Again column this week, "Of Groupthink and ‘Groupthink,’" here.
Now here’s Reed:
On Display, the Republican Party’s Empty Foreign Policy Toolbox
by Reed Richardson
In the middle of the night on September 22, 2010, a bomb planted outside the US Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia, exploded. Fortunately, no one was hurt. (A second bomb that had been thrown over a security wall and into an embassy parking lot was disabled before detonating.) Months later, two men were arrested and convicted of the crime and, during their interrogation, they said that Yevgeny Borisov, a Russian major in the GRU, the country’s foreign intelligence service, planned the attack.
That you’ve likely never heard of this incident is no surprise or accident, for that matter. Foreign news bureaus being something of a luxury these days, not a single major American news organizations made mention of it in the days or months following, despite the story unfolding into such stuff of gripping, Cold War-era international intrigue. Even among Western foreign policy wonks, the attempted bombing passed by with little notice.
After nearly a year, however, the bombing finally appeared on the media’s radar. Sadly, that’s when the right-wing Washington Times ran an three-part series on the incident that—naturally—portrayed the Obama foreign policy team, which was downplaying the bombing, as weak and having ignored naked Russian aggression. The news hook to the story was the recent revelation of a CIA report that had concluded that Borisov was involved in the bombing; a subsequent National Intelligence Council report found “no consensus” on his involvement, though. This discrepancy, of course, did not stop right-wing think tanks and pundits from restarting their Cold War jingoism and making dire predictions about the impending failure of Obama’s ‘reset’ policy with Russia.
In fact, the reality of the diplomatic situation in Georgia was much more complicated than what appeared in the media. The U.S. embassy bombing in 2010 was actually but one incident in a series of broader attacks—stretching back for more than a year—that was clearly aimed at destabilizing Georgia politically and undermining its effort to keep the disputed territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. (See this study for a detailed account of two-year bombing campaign.) The onset of this violence could be traced back to the Georgian-Russian military battles in August 2008, the aftermath of which was still claiming lives despite a European Union-brokered ceasefire.
Despite neo-conservatives champing at the bit for a confrontation with Russia, the Obama administration chose a different path. Rather than publicly blast Moscow’s involvement in the embassy and other bombings based on shaky evidence—likely igniting a strong pushback and further destabilizing the situation—Secretary of State Clinton quietly engaged in several diplomatic, face-to-face meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to arrive at a more comprehensive solution. And guess what? It worked.