Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Georgia's Blunder

Georgian missile batteries firing on South Ossetia

Lost in all of the Obama glory last week was a major news story from the Nov. 6 New York Times. Turns out that the war in Georgia--which erupted this summer and set off a "new Cold War" between the US and Russia--may not have started precisely as we've all been told. The official story from Georgia's president Mikheil Saakashvili was of an unprovoked Russian attack on his small country. Russia however charged that it was the Georgians who attacked the separatist region of Ossetia, killed Russian troops and hundreds of civilians--to which they reacted (or perhaps overreacted). Now, months later, turns out that the truth of the entire sordid affair is coming to light. And Saakashvili is looking less than David facing off Goliath, and more like the boy who cried "wolf."

According to the New York Times:

Newly available accounts by independent military observers of the beginning of the war between Georgia and Russia this summer call into question the longstanding Georgian assertion that it was acting defensively against separatist and Russian aggression. Instead, the accounts suggest that Georgia’s inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm.

While not conclusive in this game of "he said, she said," the Times article does call into question Georgia's motives and the painting of themselves as a defenseless innocent against a bullying Russia. Whatever the larger designs of Russia's increasingly autocratic Putin, it is looking more and more that it was Georgia who kicked off this crisis. And given the current state of Russian-Western relations, this has embarrassing implications for Georgia's biggest financial and military backer--the US. For certain, this is a full scale bi-partisan blunder, which had leading American figures like George Bush, John McCain, Joe Biden and (yes) Barack Obama, all rushing to the defense of Georgia, and proclaiming Mikheil Saakashvili the "George Washington of the Caucus."

The question now is, how will this all play out in an Obama presidency, which has (sadly) already cozied up to Saakashvili. Joe Biden has a "special relationship" with Georgia second probably only to John McCain. Georgian diplomats were "special guests" at the Democratic National Convention. What's more, some of those surrounding the president-elect are best described as old Cold War Hawks who are still obsessed with the "Russian threat." And Obama, in a serious lack of good judgment, has previously made statements about Georgia joining NATO. Yet allowing Georgia into such a military alignment would do little more than intensify Russian anger with the West's broken promises regarding NATO expansion, and turn the small country into a flashpoint of conflict--a literal "Kashmir of the Caucus."

About the only promising statement out of the Obama camp regarding Georgia, was his call for "restraint" on both sides during the conflict (which was derided by his detractors) and his preventive assertions long before, that international peacekeepers needed to replace the Russian troops in South Ossetia. Let's hope that kind of good sense prevails in the months and years to come, because (unless you're talking Outkast), contrary to Sen. McCain, we are NOT all Georgians. And the risks of antagonizing an already disgruntled and nuclear armed Russia over Saakashvili (a reckless leader with, at best, pretensions of democracy) is not in this nation's best interest--or anyone else's.

No comments: