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ROSA BROOKS

Who got Georgia into this?

August 14, 2008|ROSA BROOKS

The Georgians have now been punished enough, declared Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday. Or maybe not. At press time, Russian tanks were reportedly rolling through the Georgian city of Gori, in violation of a cease-fire agreement. So there could be more punishment in store for the Georgians, who were stupid enough to imagine that if they picked a fight with Russia over the disputed region of South Ossetia, Uncle Sam would come riding to their rescue.

Puh-lease. Haven't the Georgians noticed that we're sort of busy in Afghanistan and Iraq? That even if we had any available troops, we're not going to get involved in a shooting war with Russia, which has the world's second-largest nuclear arsenal? That we have no other forms of leverage over Russia these days?

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, also just happens to be a highly paid lobbyist for the Georgian government. Whoops -- correction! Scheunemann used to 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? Well, no troops, that's for sure. But they got Scheunemann's (expensive) pledge to garner U.S. support for Georgia's admission to 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 claims 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 Saakashvili.

Is it any wonder that Saakashvili concluded that he had the backing of the U.S. Republican power structure when it came to South Ossetia?

But Scheunemann and McCain aren't the only ones who irresponsibly encouraged the Georgians to think that baiting the Russians was going to work out for them.

President Bush shares the blame. Once he stopped swooning over the soulfulness of "Vladimir's" baby blues, Bush seemed intent on showing Putin and other Russian leaders that he no longer gave a damn. The Bush administration supported the "color revolutions" in Russia's backyard 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.

The administration also aggressively pushed policies that couldn't have been better designed to enrage the Russians. At the April NATO summit in Romania, Bush urged a fast track to NATO membership for Georgia. Th U.S. also insisted this summer on the deployment of an almost certainly useless missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, virtually on Moscow's doorstep.

Meanwhile, the administration singled out Georgia for the "Our Best Buddy in the Caucasus" award. The U.S. has supported the development of gas and oil pipelines running through Georgia that will challenge Russia's regional economic hegemony, and provided the fledgling Georgian republic generous economic and military aid, including an overhaul of its forces. 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 separatists 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.

Moscow will stop pummeling Georgia when it decides the Georgians have truly been punished enough. And this being the real world, punishment will rain down on the pawns -- but those who egged them on (to score political points, seek power or gain profit) will, of course, face no punishment at all.

--

rbrooks@latimescolumnists.com

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