I've never read anything before by Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks, but she sure hit the nail right on the head in her column today on how Georgia got into this situation.
As we know, about a week ago, the Republic of Georgia sent troops into South Ossetia, one of two regions populated mainly by ethnic Russians that have been effectively self-governing for over a decade. Russian strongman Vladimer Putin and his chief underling Dmitri Medvedev were waiting for it, and they launched a full scale assault on Georgia, a former Soviet Republic with a pro-western government.
Brooks asks and answers the question, "how did Georgia make such a foolish mistake?" And she points her finger at two men: John McCain and George Bush.
So where did the Georgians get the silly idea that the U.S. would bail them out?
Maybe from John McCain, Republican heir apparent, whose top foreign policy advisor, Randy Scheunemann, just happens to be a highly paid lobbyist for the Georgian government. Whoops-- correction! Scheunemann usedto be a highly paid lobbyist for Georgia. The McCain campaign says Scheunemann hasn't taken a dime from the Georgians since May 15. (Which is lucky for the Georgians, who are going to need all the spare cash they can get to rebuild all the stuff the Russians just bombed.)
According to the Washington Post, the relationship between Scheunemann and Georgia used to be very cozy (not to mention lucrative for Scheunemann). Between Jan. 1, 2007 and May 15, 2008, while Scheunemann was also a paid McCain advisor, "Georgia paid his firm $290,000 in lobbying fees."
And what did Georgia get in return?... they got Scheunemann's expensive pledge ot garner U.S. support for Georgia's admission into NATO and for its claims to South Ossetia, and his commitment to use his ties to politicians such as McCain to advance Georgia's causes. McCain has sponsored legislation supporting Georgia's claim over South Ossetia, an issue on which he was lobbied by Scheunemann's firm. And as recently as mid-April, Scheunemann was simultaneously taking money from Georgia and actively preparing McCain for supportive calls with Georgian President Mikheil Shaakashvili.
I thought it was illegal for foreign governments to pay U.S. politicians. But I guess it's OK now to pay their chief advisors. Imagine how much of an outcry there would be if, for example, a top advisor to Obama were found, even months after he secured his party's nomination, to be on the payroll for a foreign country.
Brooks goes on....
Is it any wonder that Saakashvili concluded that he had the backing of the Republican power structure when it came to South Ossetia?
But Scheunemann and McCain aren't the only ones who encouraged the Georgians to think that baiting the Russians was going to work out for them.
President Bush shards the blame.... The Bush administration supported [Georgia and others] and denounced antidemocratic crackdowns in Russia-- while making excuses for 'friendly' authoritarian regimes elsewhere.The administration also virtually shut down extensive multi-issue dialogues with Russia that had been maintained by previous administrations, hammering in the message that we didn't care much about good relations with Moscow....
Meanwhile the administration singled out Georgia for "Our Best Buddy in the Caucuses" award..... In return, Georgia sent 2,000 troops to Iraq, and the administration pretended to be deaf when Georgian politicians crowed that their newly improved military would be perfect for teaching those pesky South Ossetian seperatists a lesson.
But it's all gone disastrously wrong for our best buddies, and we're sitting on the sidelines, offering empty reassurances to the Georgians and empty threats to the Russians.
And this is the danger of the continuous saber rattling and bluster that we've seen from the GOP administration the past few years (and continue to see from Sen. McCain).
Putin (just like other potential opponents like Iranian President Ahmadinejad) know darn well that Bush has gotten our military stuck in the quicksand of Iraq and are in no condition to fight a major war right now. So they can be as belligerent and violent as they want to be, secure in the knowlege that we can't do anything about it. Russian oil provides up to a third of what is imported into Western European countries and Putin is well aware of how to use this power of pursuasion.
The danger is not that Bush and McCain may continue to rhetorically project force that in reality they can't back up. The danger is that someone else may do what the Georgians did-- actually believe the rhetoric.