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Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

#6 - JRL 7060
From: "Robert Bruce Ware" <...@brick.net>
Subject: Chechnya Debate
Date: Wed, 12 Feb 2003

Dear David,

Thank you for carrying the recent debate on Chechnya. The conflict in this region has reached a critical juncture, and this is the right time to reexamine our approach to it.

I hope that it was clear that I wasn't questioning any aspect of Michael McFaul's scholarship except the basis for his recommendations on US policy toward Chechnya in his LAT oped. When it comes to Chechnya I think that the American policy community is ahead of the scholarly, journalistic, and rights communities and I hope that American officials will either receive support or careful criticism. If there was any weakness in Professor McFaul's criticism I don't think that it was his particular failing so much as an artifact of the widespread complacency regarding information and assumptions about this region, as illustrated by a series of similar articles in JRL 7057.

Details provided by David Filipov were useful, but I'm afraid that I still have difficulty distinguishing his basic chronology from mine. And I'm still not sure why most journalists have not helped their readers to understand why the region was so rarely covered between 1997 and 1999. That might be of interest to those readers who are trying to understand what Russian motives and objectives are today.

I wish I could have said it as well as Cheryl Garner. I think it helps one to appreciate the complacency surrounding this issue that Captain Garner's points have been so rarely made despite the frequency with which human rights organizations issue reports that ignore them.

But Im dismayed that even by her second contribution, Catherine Fitzpatrick has failed to grasp that if she depends on the internet for information about this region she is not likely to get it right. If Fitzpatrick is forced to rely upon Mary Robinson's UNHCR website account of her visit to Dagestan then she is going to get a different view than one gets from Dagestanis who were at the scene at the time. A further instance of that misinformation to which I've attempted to call her attention is Fitzpatrick's recommendation that one seek affirmation from the "president of Dagestan." Dagestan has never had a president.

I concur with much of P. P. Sharikov's critique, but if it had been written by me it would have been harsher. Two clarifications: First, I'm not trying to silence anyone, especially those who disagree with me. I'm trying to direct attention to the weakness of the information and assumptions about this region, including my own work on Dagestan and well as Chechnya. I'm calling for a less complacent more critical approach to that information. Second, I'm not saying that fieldwork is a litmus test, nor ignoring that there are relevant moral and philosophical issues that are not directly accessible to empirical research. I'm saying that we must not forget the glaring deficiencies in our current information and strive for better information. Sooner or later that will involve some fieldwork, and I am the first to recognize that it must be by someone better qualified than I am. I know that I could be wrong about Chechnya, and half the time I hope I am.

Visa regimes for the region change frequently. Sometimes all one needs is a passport and an all points business visa purchased from a New York travel agency. Other times there are official obstacles to visiting the region, but persistence generally pays. It would be incorrect to conclude from Peter Rutland's account that Americans are not permitted to visit the region, but he's correct about the State Department's warning. Further to Rutland's contribution, reviews may suggest that Matthew Evangelista's book might have benefited either from a minimum of experience, or from a moderation of its attack upon those who ventured beyond Red Square.

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