Sunday, August 31, 2008

NOAA Buoys

NOAA National Data Buoy Center

Storm Special! View the latest observations near Atlantic Hurricane Gustav and Atlantic Tropical Storm Hanna.

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Noah's Girls: Woody Allen as Dr. Noah with his Guard Girls.

h/t: David

Trophy Truck

Click to enlarge image.

Rick Johnson of Team 71 piloted his General Tire Trophy Truck to an overall race and class victory in the Best in the Desert Vegas to Reno race held Saturday, August 23, 2008. (PRNewsFoto/General Tire)

2008 vegas to reno & terribles 250 - YouTube link

Vegas to Reno Desert Race TIME TRIAL 2008 BITD - YouTube link

Trophy Truck Porn - YouTube link

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hurricane Preparedness Checklist

Things You Can Do Right Before a Storm

  • Secure buildings by closing and boarding up windows. Remove outside antennas.

  • Bring all lawn furniture, outdoor decorations, trash cans, hanging plants and anything else that could be picked up by the wind inside. Anchor objects that cannot be brought inside.

  • Move your car to a garage, a carport or an area of higher ground in the case of flooding.

  • If you must leave your car outdoors, park as close to a building as possible. Move your car away from trees or poles that may topple onto it.

  • Make sure you fill your car's gas tank.

  • Get emergency cash.

  • Turn your refrigerator to its coldest setting.

Make a Hurricane Kit

  • 3-day supply of water and ready-to-eat, non-perishable food for every family member and pet.

  • Manual can opener for canned foods.

  • Essential medicines, including eyeglasses and contact lenses.

  • First-aid kit and manual. Include bandages, antiseptic, tape, a compress, non-aspirin pain reliever and anti-diarrhea medication.

  • Battery-powered flashlight and radio with extra batteries.

  • Personal hygiene items such as toilet paper, toothbrushes and toothpaste.

  • Special items for infants, elderly or disabled family members.

  • Two coolers – one for food, the other for ice.

  • Change of clothing, including extra shoes and rain gear.

  • Paper towels, pre-moistened towelettes and eating utensils.

  • Blankets, pillows, and sleeping bags (one for each family member).

  • Mosquito repellant and citronella candles.

  • Plastic tarp for roof/window repairs and tools (hammer/nails).

  • Plastic trash bags.

  • Quiet games, books, playing cards.

Some Tips for Your Hurricane Plan

  • Learn the best evacuation routes and keep a road map in your car in case you are forced to take unfamiliar roads.

  • Arrange for a ride well before the storm if you don't have your own transportation. You may be forced to evacuate.

  • Have an emergency supply kit prepared for your car with extra keys, food, water, jumper cables, a first-aid kit and sleeping bags.
    See Emergency Supply Kit for a suggested list.

  • Make a plan now for what to do with your pets. Many shelters and hotels will not accept them. If you are unable to take your pets when you evacuate, make sure you leave behind "Pet Inside" signs on you front and back doors with the number and kind of pets inside so others can evacuate them.

  • Identify an out-of state contact so if your family members get separated, you'll know who to call. If time allows call or e-mail your out-of-state contact to let them know where you are going and when you expect to get there.

  • Plan a meeting location at least 50 miles inland in case your family members get separated.

  • Gather important papers to take with you:
    * Driver’s License or personal identification
    * Social Security Card
    * Proof of residence (deed, lease, or utility bills)
    * Insurance Policies
    * Birth and marriage certificate
    * Stocks, bonds, and other negotiable certificates
    * Wills, deeds, and copies of recent tax returns

  • Fill up your bathtub, sinks and other large containers with fresh water. This will serve as an important reserve should you be without running water after a storm.
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Learn more about hurricane Gustav and how to prepare at FEMA.gov or Emergency.Loisiana.gov


Click to enlarge image.

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Unlike most of his neighbors, New Orleans resident Larry Denny isn't worried enough about Hurricane Gustav to leave.

Never mind that his house flooded during Hurricane Katrina, the stress cracks in his roof have yet to be fixed and he and his wife felt it was necessary to get two guard dogs and an armory of weapons to ward off looters that roamed their street back in 2005.

Denny says that there is "no way" he and his wife Charlotte will evacuate New Orleans.

"Why do we stay?" asked Denny, who was raised in Louisiana and returned to New Orleans 15 years ago. "Because we know the government won't protect our house, so we have to."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Barack Obama's Democratic National Convention Speech

Barack Obama's Nomination Acceptance Speech - YouTube link

Democratic Convention Night

Convention Night - YouTube link

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"I Have A Dream" is the popular name given to the historic public speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., when he spoke of his desire for a future where blacks and whites among others would coexist harmoniously as equals. King's delivery of the speech on August 28, 1963, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, was a defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement.

It Ain't Easy Being Green

A wooden sculpture of a crucified frog, entitled "Zuerst die Fuesse" (Feet First) and made by late German artist Martin Kippenberger in 1990, is shown in an undated photo released in Bolzano August 28, 2008.

A modern art sculpture, portraying a crucified green frog holding a beer mug and an egg that Pope Benedict has condemned as blasphemous, may have its days numbered.

The board of the Museion museum in the northern Italian city of Bolzano were meeting on Thursday to choose whether to side with the pope and other opponents of the frog or with those who say it should be defended as a work of art.

(Courtesy Museion Museum, via Landov) Full Story

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In the words of Kermit the frog, "It ain't easy being green."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tiny

Tiny - YouTube link

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Poppy Crop

Press Statement
Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman, U.S. Dept. of State
[photos added by me]

Release of 2008 UNODC Report

We welcome the release of the 2008 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Report and are encouraged by its findings. The report further strengthens our commitment to the current comprehensive counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan. We are especially encouraged to learn that 18 provinces, over half of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, are now poppy free, a significant increase from 13 provinces in 2007. The gains in the North and East, which traditionally have been poppy-rich areas, clearly show that counternarcotics efforts can succeed, given adequate security conditions, integrating counter-narcotics efforts with the counter-insurgency campaign, and sustained political will.



We are pleased to note that total poppy cultivation in Afghanistan fell for the first time in 3 years, and is now at or below 2006 levels. In addition, the potential production of heroin from the Afghan poppy crop has also decreased. We are committed to building on these positive trends.



The drug threat in Afghanistan remains unacceptably high. We are particularly concerned by the deteriorating security conditions in the South, where the insurgency dominates, and where 98 percent of Afghanistan’s poppy is produced. The government of Afghanistan and the international community must redouble their efforts to build effective security so that the poppy crop in the South can be eliminated just as it has in the other parts of the country.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Engravings from "The Naval Monument" 1815

Click to enlarge images.

Large image of "We have met the enemy and they are ours," drawn by J.R. Penniman (frontispiece).


The Naval Monument, containing official and other accounts of all battles fought between the Navies of the United States and Great Britain during the late war; and an account of the war with Algiers, with twenty-five engravings.

The plates illustrating this work, are primarily woodblocks engraved by Abel Bowen after original drawings by M. Corne. Constituting an early iconography of American naval warfare.


The Naval Monument (pdf 13.2 MB)

The Naval Monument (plain text online)


Constitution's Escape from the British Squadron After a Chase of Sixty Hours


The Constitution Bearing Down for the Guerriere


The Constitution in Close Action with the Guerriere


The Wasp Boarding the Frolic


The United States and Macedonian


The Java Surrendering to the Constitution


The Hornet Blockading the Bonne Citoyenne off St. Salvador


The Hornet Sinking the Peacock


The Chesapeake & Shannon


The Enterprize and Boxer


First View of Com. Perry's Victory


Plan of the First View of the Battle on Lake Erie


Second View of Com. Perry's Victory


Plan of the Second View of the Battle on Lake Erie


Capture of the Essex


The Peacock and the Epervier


The Wasp and the Reindeer


The Wasp and Avon


Com. MacDonough's Victory on Lake Champlain Sept. 11th. 1814


A Key to Com. MacDonough's Victory


The President Engaging the Endymion, While Pursued by the British Squadron


The Constitution Taking the Cyane and Levant


The Hornet and Penguin


The Hornet's Escape from a British Seventy-Four


United States Squadron Returning from the Mediterranean, After Concluding Peace with Algiers

Sources: Navy Department Library, The Age of Sail

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Biden

Joe Biden On Barack Obama - YouTube link

What Does Biden Bring to the Obama Ticket? - YouTube

Biden thinks gun owner should have his head examined - YouTube link

Friday, August 22, 2008

Wright

Jeremiah Wright - YouTube link

Wright - YouTube link

F/A-18D Missile Launch

Click to enlarge high-resolution image.

A U.S. Navy F/A-18D from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Three One (VX-31) launches an AGM-88E Advanced Anti- Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM) at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake on August 11, 2008. (U.S. Navy photo - PRNewsFoto/ATK)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Morale

Friday, August 15, 2008

Gone Fishing

Click to enlarge image. (3,504 × 2,336 pixels, file size: 3.41 MB)

Durham Ranger salmon fly.

The hook length in this example is 4.5cm.

[inspiring]

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Bought a boat. Gone fishing.

No return date scheduled. No kidding.

Thanks for reading. ;) - c

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Danish Cartoon Artist Ready to Stand Trial

Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard is ready to stand trial in Jordan over his controversial caricature depicting the Prophet Mohammed (p... [forget that!]) with a bomb in his turban, the press reported on Thursday.

A Jordanian prosecutor summoned Westergaard for questioning in June after local media outlets sued him over his cartoon, which was republished in at least 17 Danish dailies in February, sparking violent protests in Muslim countries, including the kingdom.

"I would like to go to Amman to stand trial. However, what I fear is that I am convicted in advance," Westergaard told the government-owned Jordan Times in Copenhagen.

But he added that he has not been officially notified of the summons and defended his cartoon, saying he sought to "highlight that there are some terrorists who misuse Islam and they take it as their spiritual ammunition."

"I wanted to depict the terrorists as if they were taking the Prophet Mohammed as a hostage. I have no problem with Islam but with the terrorists," he said.

Toger Seidenfaden, chief editor of the centre-left Danish daily Politiken, one of the seventeen newspapers that reprinted the cartoon, said the paper had received no summons from Amman and did not know if there would even be a trial.

"(If there was a trial) and if there were guarantees, we would take part in it," he said.

Westergaard, who has been in hiding because of death threats, insisted that he respects Islam but "will not apologize."

"I respect Islam and its followers and I have nothing against it... however, I will not apologize. We have freedom of the press and religion in Denmark... I can't apologize, I respect Islam and I did not target it," he said.

At least 30 independent newspapers, websites and radio stations in Jordan sued Westergaard in April for "blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed and Islam as well as sowing religious and sectarian discord" and violating Internet and publication laws.

"We welcome his reasonable approach, but in our opinion this person has committed a crime and should be punished," Zakarya Sheikh, who heads the media group, told AFP.

MPs have demanded that the government sever ties with Denmark, and Amman has condemned the caricature, warning that it could spark further extremism and harm relations between Denmark and Muslim countries.

Source: Al-Arabia

The Open Window

Saki (H.H. Munro) 1870-1916 - As a master of humor as well as of the chilling and macabre, H.H. Munro (or "Saki," as he is universally known) has very few peers. Born in Burma but educated in British schools, he learned the craft of writing first as a reporter, then as a foreign correspondent in Russia and France. What had already become a brilliant career ended tragically with his death in battle during World War I.

~

"Victorian Girl" by Karen Vladman

The Open Window a short story by Saki (H.H. Munro)


“My aunt will be down presently, Mr. Nuttel,” said a very self-possessed young lady of fifteen; “in the meantime you must try and put up with me.”

Framton Nuttel endeavored to say the correct something which should duly flatter the niece of the moment without unduly discounting the aunt that was to come. Privately he doubted more than ever whether these formal visits on a succession of total strangers would do much towards helping the nerve cure which he was supposed to be undergoing.

“I know how it will be,” his sister had said when he was preparing to migrate to this rural retreat; “you will bury yourself down there and not speak to a living soul, and your nerves will be worse than all the people I know there. Some of them, as far as I can remember, were quite nice.” Framton wondered whether Mrs. Sappleton, the lady to whom he was presenting one of the letters of introduction, came into the nice division.

“Do you know many people around here?” asked the niece, when she judged that they had had sufficient silent communication.

“Hardly a soul,” said Framton. “My sister was staying here, at the rectory, you know, some four years ago, and she gave me letters of introduction to some of the people here.”

He made the last statement in a tone of distinct regret.

“Then you know practically nothing about my aunt?” pursued the self-possessed young lady.

“Only her name and address,” admitted the caller. He was wondering wither Mrs. Sappleton was in the married or widowed state. An indefinable something about the room seemed to suggest masculine habitation.

“Her great tragedy happened just three years ago,” said the child; “that would be since your sister’s time.”

“Her tragedy?” asked Framton; somehow in this restful country spot tragedies seemed out of place.

Snipe in flight. Artist unknown.

“You may wonder why we keep that window wide open on an October afternoon,” said the niece, indicating a large French window that opened onto the lawn.

“It is quite warm for the time of the year,” said Framton; “but has that window got anything to do with the tragedy?”

“Out through that window, three years ago to a day, her husband and her two young brothers went off for their day’s shooting. They never came back. In crossing the moor to their favorite snipe-shooting ground they were all three engulfed in a treacherous piece of bog. It had been that dreadful wet summer, you know, and places that were safe in other years gave way suddenly without warning. Their bodies were never recovered. That was the dreadful part of it.” Here the child’s voice lost its self-possessed note and became falteringly human. “Poor aunt always thinks that they will come back some day, they and the little brown spaniel that was lost with them, and walk in at that window just as they used to do. That is why the window is kept open every evening till it is quite dusk. Poor dear aunt, she has often told me how they went out, her husband with his white waterproof coat over his arm, and Ronnie, her youngest brother, singing, ‘Bertie, why do you bound?’ as he always did to tease her, because she said it got on her nerves. Do you know, sometimes on still, quite evenings like this, I almost get a creepy feeling that they will all walk in through that window—“

She broke off with a little shudder. It was a relief to Framton when the aunt bustled into the room with a whirl of apologies for being late in making her appearance.

“I hope Vera has been amusing you?” she said.

“She has been very interesting,” said Framton.

“I hope you don’t mind the open window,” said Mrs. Sappleton briskly; “my husband and brothers will be hope directly from shooting, and they always come in this way. They’ve been out for snipe in the marshes today, so they’ll make a fine mess over my poor carpets. So like you menfolk, isn’t it?” She rattled on cheerfully about the shooting and the scarcity of birds, and the prospects for duck in the winter. To Framton it was all purely horrible. He made a desperate effort to turn the talk onto a less ghastly topic; he was conscious that his hostess was giving him only a fragment of her attention, and her eyes were constantly straying past him to the open window and the lawn beyond. It was certainly an unfortunate coincidence that he should have paid his visit on this tragic anniversary.

“The doctors agree in ordering me complete rest, an absence of mental excitement, and avoidance of any violent physical exercise,” announced Framton, who labored under the tolerably widespread delusion that total strangers and chance acquaintances are hungry for the least detail of one’s ailments and infirmities. “On the matter of diet they are not so much in agreement,” he continued.

“No?” said Mrs. Sappleton, in a voice which only replaced a yawn at the last moment. Then she suddenly brightened into alert attention – but not to what Framton was saying.

“Here they are at last!” she cried. “Just in time for tea, and don’t they look as if they were muddy up to the eyes!”

Framton shivered slightly and turned towards the niece with a look intended to convey sympathetic comprehension. The child was staring out through the open window with dazed horror in her eyes. In a chill shock of nameless fear Framton swung round in his seat and look in the same direction.

In the deepening twilight three figures were walking across the lawn towards the window; they all carried guns under their arms, and one of them was additionally burdened with a white coat hung over his shoulders. A tired brown spaniel kept close at their heels. Noiselessly they neared the house, and then a hoarse young voice chanted out of the dusk: “I said, Bertie, why do you bound?”

Framton grabbed wildly at his stick and hat; the hall door, the gravel drive, and the front gate were dimly noted stages in his headlong retreat. A cyclist coming along the road had to run into the hedge to avoid imminent collision.

Detail of the "English Springer Spaniel" painting at The Dog Museum.

“Here we are, my dear,” said the bearer of the white mackintosh, coming in through the window; “fairly muddy, but most if it’s dry. Who was that who bolted out as we came up?”

“A most extraordinary man, a Mr. Nuttel,” said Mrs. Sappleton; “could only talk about his illnesses, and dashed off without a word of good-by or apology when you arrived. One would think he had seen a ghost.”

“I expect it was the spaniel,” said the niece calmly; “he told me he had a horror of dogs. He was once hunted into a cemetery somewhere on the banks of the Ganges by a pack of pariah dogs, and had to spend the night in a newly dug grave with the creatures snarling and grinning and foaming just above him. Enough to make anyone lose their nerve.”

Romance at short notice was her specialty.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Russo-Georgian War and the Balance of Power

Aug. 8: A local resident greets Georgian troops moving into Tskhinvali. The region is geographically part of Georgia but includes a large Russian population. Photo: Irakli Gedenedze-Reuters

The Russo-Georgian War and the Balance of Power

by George Friedman, Stratfor

The Russian invasion of Georgia has not changed the balance of power in Eurasia. It simply announced that the balance of power had already shifted. The United States has been absorbed in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as potential conflict with Iran and a destabilizing situation in Pakistan. It has no strategic ground forces in reserve and is in no position to intervene on the Russian periphery. This, as we have argued, has opened a window of opportunity for the Russians to reassert their influence in the former Soviet sphere. Moscow did not have to concern itself with the potential response of the United States or Europe; hence, the invasion did not shift the balance of power. The balance of power had already shifted, and it was up to the Russians when to make this public. They did that Aug. 8.

Click to enlarge images.

Let’s begin simply by reviewing the last few days.

On the night of Thursday, Aug. 7, forces of the Republic of Georgia drove across the border of South Ossetia, a secessionist region of Georgia that has functioned as an independent entity since the fall of the Soviet Union. The forces drove on to the capital, Tskhinvali, which is close to the border. Georgian forces got bogged down while trying to take the city. In spite of heavy fighting, they never fully secured the city, nor the rest of South Ossetia.

Aug. 8: Georgian troops fire rockets at South Ossetian troops near Tskhinvali. Georgia is taking measures to prevent Russian "mercenaries" from infiltrating the country, its prime minister said. Photo: Vano Shlamov-AFP/Getty Images

On the morning of Aug. 8, Russian forces entered South Ossetia, using armored and motorized infantry forces along with air power. South Ossetia was informally aligned with Russia, and Russia acted to prevent the region’s absorption by Georgia. Given the speed with which the Russians responded — within hours of the Georgian attack — the Russians were expecting the Georgian attack and were themselves at their jumping-off points. The counterattack was carefully planned and competently executed, and over the next 48 hours, the Russians succeeded in defeating the main Georgian force and forcing a retreat. By Sunday, Aug. 10, the Russians had consolidated their position in South Ossetia.

Aug. 8: A television image features what Russian Channel 1 claims is a convoy of Russian tanks moving towards Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. Russia's Defense Ministry says it has sent reinforcements to its peacekeepers deployed in South Ossetia to help end bloodshed. Photo: ORT Russian Channel 1 Television-AP

On Monday, the Russians extended their offensive into Georgia proper, attacking on two axes. One was south from South Ossetia to the Georgian city of Gori. The other drive was from Abkhazia, another secessionist region of Georgia aligned with the Russians. This drive was designed to cut the road between the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and its ports. By this point, the Russians had bombed the military airfields at Marneuli and Vaziani and appeared to have disabled radars at the international airport in Tbilisi. These moves brought Russian forces to within 40 miles of the Georgian capital, while making outside reinforcement and resupply of Georgian forces extremely difficult should anyone wish to undertake it.

Aug. 8: A television image depicts burning Georgian armored vehicles in Tskhinvali in the South Ossetian breakaway region of Georgia, according to Russian Channel 1. Photo: AP

The Mystery Behind the Georgian Invasion

In this simple chronicle, there is something quite mysterious: Why did the Georgians choose to invade South Ossetia on Thursday night? There had been a great deal of shelling by the South Ossetians of Georgian villages for the previous three nights, but while possibly more intense than usual, artillery exchanges were routine. The Georgians might not have fought well, but they committed fairly substantial forces that must have taken at the very least several days to deploy and supply. Georgia’s move was deliberate.

Aug. 9: A Georgian man cries as he holds the body of his relative, who died when a Russian warplane dropped a bomb on an apartment block in Gori, Georgia. Photo:Gleb Garanich-Reuters

The United States is Georgia’s closest ally. It maintained about 130 military advisers in Georgia, along with civilian advisers, contractors involved in all aspects of the Georgian government and people doing business in Georgia. It is inconceivable that the Americans were unaware of Georgia’s mobilization and intentions. It is also inconceivable that the Americans were unaware that the Russians had deployed substantial forces on the South Ossetian frontier. U.S. technical intelligence, from satellite imagery and signals intelligence to unmanned aerial vehicles, could not miss the fact that thousands of Russian troops were moving to forward positions. The Russians clearly knew the Georgians were ready to move. How could the United States not be aware of the Russians? Indeed, given the posture of Russian troops, how could intelligence analysts have missed the possibility that the Russians had laid a trap, hoping for a Georgian invasion to justify its own counterattack?

Aug. 10: A Georgian woman holds her baby and cries over her damaged home in Gori. Photo: David Mdzinarishvili-Reuters

It is very difficult to imagine that the Georgians launched their attack against U.S. wishes. The Georgians rely on the United States, and they were in no position to defy it. This leaves two possibilities. The first is a massive breakdown in intelligence, in which the United States either was unaware of the existence of Russian forces, or knew of the Russian forces but — along with the Georgians — miscalculated Russia’s intentions. The second is that the United States, along with other countries, has viewed Russia through the prism of the 1990s, when the Russian military was in shambles and the Russian government was paralyzed. The United States has not seen Russia make a decisive military move beyond its borders since the Afghan war of the 1970s-1980s. The Russians had systematically avoided such moves for years. The United States had assumed that the Russians would not risk the consequences of an invasion.

Aug. 10: Georgian women weep as they leave their village near Tskhinvali. Georgia has been fighting Russia for control of the breakaway province of South Ossetia. Photo: Gleb Garanich-Reuters

If this was the case, then it points to the central reality of this situation: The Russians had changed dramatically, along with the balance of power in the region. They welcomed the opportunity to drive home the new reality, which was that they could invade Georgia and the United States and Europe could not respond. As for risk, they did not view the invasion as risky. Militarily, there was no counter. Economically, Russia is an energy exporter doing quite well — indeed, the Europeans need Russian energy even more than the Russians need to sell it to them. Politically, as we shall see, the Americans needed the Russians more than the Russians needed the Americans. Moscow’s calculus was that this was the moment to strike. The Russians had been building up to it for months, as we have discussed, and they struck.

Aug. 10: A Georgian woman leaves her village. Georgia says it is seeking a ceasefire with Russia. Photo: David Mdzinarishvili-Reuters

The Western Encirclement of Russia

To understand Russian thinking, we need to look at two events. The first is the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. From the U.S. and European point of view, the Orange Revolution represented a triumph of democracy and Western influence. From the Russian point of view, as Moscow made clear, the Orange Revolution was a CIA-funded intrusion into the internal affairs of Ukraine, designed to draw Ukraine into NATO and add to the encirclement of Russia. U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton had promised the Russians that NATO would not expand into the former Soviet Union empire.

That promise had already been broken in 1998 by NATO’s expansion to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic — and again in the 2004 expansion, which absorbed not only the rest of the former Soviet satellites in what is now Central Europe, but also the three Baltic states, which had been components of the Soviet Union.

The Russians had tolerated all that, but the discussion of including Ukraine in NATO represented a fundamental threat to Russia’s national security. It would have rendered Russia indefensible and threatened to destabilize the Russian Federation itself. When the United States went so far as to suggest that Georgia be included as well, bringing NATO deeper into the Caucasus, the Russian conclusion — publicly stated — was that the United States in particular intended to encircle and break Russia.

Aug. 10: A Georgian soldier lays dead on a street on the outskirts of Tskhinvali, the regional capital. With its military charge into a rebel pocket of Georgia, Russia has staked out a strategic red line, analysts said. Photo: Dmitry Kostyukov-AFP/Getty Images

The second and lesser event was the decision by Europe and the United States to back Kosovo’s separation from Serbia. The Russians were friendly with Serbia, but the deeper issue for Russia was this: The principle of Europe since World War II was that, to prevent conflict, national borders would not be changed. If that principle were violated in Kosovo, other border shifts — including demands by various regions for independence from Russia — might follow. The Russians publicly and privately asked that Kosovo not be given formal independence, but instead continue its informal autonomy, which was the same thing in practical terms. Russia’s requests were ignored.

Aug. 10: A South Ossetian soldier holds a child as he watches an armored vehicle roll through the village of Dzhava, Georgia. Photo: Dmitry Kostyukov-AFP/Getty Images

From the Ukrainian experience, the Russians became convinced that the United States was engaged in a plan of strategic encirclement and strangulation of Russia. From the Kosovo experience, they concluded that the United States and Europe were not prepared to consider Russian wishes even in fairly minor affairs. That was the breaking point. If Russian desires could not be accommodated even in a minor matter like this, then clearly Russia and the West were in conflict. For the Russians, as we said, the question was how to respond. Having declined to respond in Kosovo, the Russians decided to respond where they had all the cards: in South Ossetia.

Aug. 11: Georgian soldiers return to Tbilisi, Georgia, from Iraq. The U.S. military started flying some 2,000 Georgian troops home from Iraq on Sunday after Georgia recalled them. Photo: Shakh Aivazov-AP

Moscow had two motives, the lesser of which was as a tit-for-tat over Kosovo. If Kosovo could be declared independent under Western sponsorship, then South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two breakaway regions of Georgia, could be declared independent under Russian sponsorship. Any objections from the United States and Europe would simply confirm their hypocrisy. This was important for internal Russian political reasons, but the second motive was far more important.

Aug. 11: A Georgian Port Authority employee passes in front of a Russian rocket that landed on top of a Georgian military police car during an airstrike in the Georgian port of Poti. Photo: Marco Longari-AFP/Getty Images

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin once said that the fall of the Soviet Union was a geopolitical disaster. This didn’t mean that he wanted to retain the Soviet state; rather, it meant that the disintegration of the Soviet Union had created a situation in which Russian national security was threatened by Western interests. As an example, consider that during the Cold War, St. Petersburg was about 1,200 miles away from a NATO country. Today it is about 60 miles away from Estonia, a NATO member. The disintegration of the Soviet Union had left Russia surrounded by a group of countries hostile to Russian interests in various degrees and heavily influenced by the United States, Europe and, in some cases, China.

Aug. 11: Russian soldiers are seen during sunset outside the Georgian village of Zemo Nikozi, outside the South Ossetian capital of Tshinvali. Photo: Denis Sinyakov-Reuters

Resurrecting the Russian Sphere

Putin did not want to re-establish the Soviet Union, but he did want to re-establish the Russian sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union region. To accomplish that, he had to do two things. First, he had to re-establish the credibility of the Russian army as a fighting force, at least in the context of its region. Second, he had to establish that Western guarantees, including NATO membership, meant nothing in the face of Russian power. He did not want to confront NATO directly, but he did want to confront and defeat a power that was closely aligned with the United States, had U.S. support, aid and advisers and was widely seen as being under American protection. Georgia was the perfect choice.

By invading Georgia as Russia did (competently if not brilliantly), Putin re-established the credibility of the Russian army. But far more importantly, by doing this Putin revealed an open secret: While the United States is tied down in the Middle East, American guarantees have no value. This lesson is not for American consumption. It is something that, from the Russian point of view, the Ukrainians, the Balts and the Central Asians need to digest. Indeed, it is a lesson Putin wants to transmit to Poland and the Czech Republic as well. The United States wants to place ballistic missile defense installations in those countries, and the Russians want them to understand that allowing this to happen increases their risk, not their security.

The Russians knew the United States would denounce their attack. This actually plays into Russian hands. The more vocal senior leaders are, the greater the contrast with their inaction, and the Russians wanted to drive home the idea that American guarantees are empty talk.

Aug. 12: A Georgian man with bloodied hands holds the identification of a shell victim in Gori. As Russian Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered a halt to the strikes, Georgian President Saakashvili said that "the majority of Georgia's territory is occupied" and that the Russian military now threatened Tbilisi. Photo: Marco Longari-AFP/Getty Images

The Russians also know something else that is of vital importance: For the United States, the Middle East is far more important than the Caucasus, and Iran is particularly important. The United States wants the Russians to participate in sanctions against Iran. Even more importantly, they do not want the Russians to sell weapons to Iran, particularly the highly effective S-300 air defense system. Georgia is a marginal issue to the United States; Iran is a central issue. The Russians are in a position to pose serious problems for the United States not only in Iran, but also with weapons sales to other countries, like Syria.

Therefore, the United States has a problem — it either must reorient its strategy away from the Middle East and toward the Caucasus, or it has to seriously limit its response to Georgia to avoid a Russian counter in Iran. Even if the United States had an appetite for another war in Georgia at this time, it would have to calculate the Russian response in Iran — and possibly in Afghanistan (even though Moscow’s interests there are currently aligned with those of Washington).

Aug. 12: Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili delivers his speech in Tbilisi. A crowd of 150,000 came out to hear Saakashvili speak out against Russia. Photo: Burak Kara-Getty Images

In other words, the Russians have backed the Americans into a corner. The Europeans, who for the most part lack expeditionary militaries and are dependent upon Russian energy exports, have even fewer options. If nothing else happens, the Russians will have demonstrated that they have resumed their role as a regional power. Russia is not a global power by any means, but a significant regional power with lots of nuclear weapons and an economy that isn’t all too shabby at the moment. It has also compelled every state on the Russian periphery to re-evaluate its position relative to Moscow. As for Georgia, the Russians appear ready to demand the resignation of President Mikhail Saakashvili. Militarily, that is their option. That is all they wanted to demonstrate, and they have demonstrated it.

Aug. 12: Crowds gather to hear President Saakashvili give a speech at a rally in Tbilisi. Supporters gathered outside Georgia's parliament backing Saakashvili's confrontation with Russia. Photo: Burak Kara-Getty Images

The war in Georgia, therefore, is Russia’s public return to great power status. This is not something that just happened — it has been unfolding ever since Putin took power, and with growing intensity in the past five years. Part of it has to do with the increase of Russian power, but a great deal of it has to do with the fact that the Middle Eastern wars have left the United States off-balance and short on resources. As we have written, this conflict created a window of opportunity. The Russian goal is to use that window to assert a new reality throughout the region while the Americans are tied down elsewhere and dependent on the Russians. The war was far from a surprise; it has been building for months. But the geopolitical foundations of the war have been building since 1992. Russia has been an empire for centuries. The last 15 years or so were not the new reality, but simply an aberration that would be rectified. And now it is being rectified.