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NYT Blames Georgia For Russia’s Invasion

From the New York Times:

[NYT caption:] Georgian soldiers being trained by American military instructors in December 2005 for deployment in Iraq took part in exercises at a base south of Tbilisi.

U.S. Watched as a Squabble Turned Into a Showdown

By HELENE COOPER, C.J. CHIVERS and CLIFFORD J. LEVY

August 18, 2008

WASHINGTON — Five months ago, President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, long a darling of this city’s diplomatic dinner party circuit, came to town to push for America to muscle his tiny country of four million into NATO.

On Capitol Hill, at the State Department and at the Pentagon, Mr. Saakashvili, brash and hyperkinetic, urged the West not to appease Russia by rejecting his country’s NATO ambitions.

At the White House, President Bush bantered with the Georgian president about his prowess as a dancer. Laura Bush, the first lady, took Mr. Saakashvili’s wife to lunch. Mr. Bush promised him to push hard for Georgia’s acceptance into NATO. After the meeting, Mr. Saakashvili pronounced his visit “one of the most successful visits during my presidency,” and said he did not know of any other leader of a small country with the access to the administration that he had.

Three weeks later, Mr. Bush went to the Black Sea resort of Sochi, at the invitation of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. There, he received a message from the Russian: the push to offer Ukraine and Georgia NATO membership was crossing Russia’s “red lines,” according to an administration official close to the talks.

Afterward, Mr. Bush said of Mr. Putin, “He’s been very truthful and to me, that’s the only way you can find common ground.” It was one of many moments when the United States seemed to have missed — or gambled it could manage — the depth of Russia’s anger and the resolve of the Georgian president to provoke the Russians.

The story of how a 16-year, low-grade conflict over who should rule two small, mountainous regions in the Caucasus erupted into the most serious post-cold-war showdown between the United States and Russia is one of miscalculation, missed signals and overreaching, according to interviews with diplomats and senior officials in the United States, the European Union, Russia and Georgia. In many cases, the officials would speak only on the condition of anonymity.

It is also the story of how both Democrats and Republicans have misread Russia’s determination to dominate its traditional sphere of influence.

As with many foreign policy issues, this one highlighted a continuing fight within the administration. Vice President Dick Cheney and his aides and allies, who saw Georgia as a role model for their democracy promotion campaign, pushed to sell Georgia more arms, including Stinger antiaircraft missiles, so that it could defend itself against possible Russian aggression.

On the other side, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and William J. Burns, the new under secretary of state for political affairs, argued that such a sale would provoke Russia, which would see it as arrogant meddling in its turf, the officials and diplomats said.

They describe three leaders on a collision course. Mr. Bush, rewarding Georgia for its robust troop contribution to Iraq — at 2,000, the third highest, behind the United States and Britain — promised NATO membership and its accompanying umbrella of American military support. Mr. Putin, angry at what he saw as American infringement right in his backyard, decided that Georgia was the line in the sand that the West would not be allowed to cross. And Mr. Saakashvili, unabashedly pro-American, was determined to show, once and for all, that Georgia was no longer a vassal of Russia.

With a vastly more confident Russia, flush with oil money, a booming economy and a rebuilt military no longer bogged down in Chechnya, the stars were aligned for a confrontation in which Russia could, with a quick show of force, teach a lesson to the United States, Georgia and all of the former Soviet satellites and republics seeking closer ties with the West.

“We have probably failed to understand that the Russians are really quite serious when they say, ‘We have interests and we’re going to defend them,’ ” said James Collins, United States ambassador to Russia from 1997 to 2001. “Russia does have interests, and at some point they’re going to stand up and draw lines that are not simply to be ignored.” …

[T]he career foreign policy establishment worried that the wrong signals were being sent. “We were training Saakashvili’s army, and he was getting at least a corps of highly trained individuals, which he could use for adventures,” said one former senior intelligence analyst, who covered Georgia and Russia at the time. “The feeling in the intelligence community was that this was a very high-risk endeavor.” …

Washington was quick to rally around Mr. Saakashvili. Senator John McCain, whose campaign foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, had represented Georgia as a lobbyist, was the first to blast Russia. Mr. McCain, who already was the Republicans’ presumptive presidential nominee, telephoned Mr. Saakashvili to offer support, and then told reporters on April 17 that “we must not allow Russia to believe it has a free hand to engage in policies that undermine Georgian sovereignty.” On April 21 came a statement from a “deeply troubled” Senator Barack Obama, the leading Democratic candidate…

Within the Bush administration, “the fight between the hawks and the doves” erupted anew, said one administration official. In this case, the people he called the “hawks” —Mr. Cheney and the assistant secretary of state for Europe, Daniel Fried — argued for more American military aid for Georgia; the “doves” — Ms. Rice, Mr. Hadley, Mr. Burns — urged restraint…

Bush administration officials have been adamant that they told Mr. Saakashvili that the United States would not back Georgia militarily in a fight with Russia, but a senior administration official acknowledged that “it’s possible that Georgians may have confused the cheerleading from Washington with something else.”

Ms. Rice traveled to Tbilisi, Georgia, in July, where, aides said, she privately told Mr. Saakashvili not to let Russia provoke him into a fight he could not win. But her public comments, delivered while standing next to Mr. Saakashvili during a news conference, were far stronger and more supportive…

The Russians and the Georgians give different accounts of who provoked whom in the weeks before Aug. 7. Each side accuses the other of premeditated attack. While the public line from the Bush administration has been that Russia and Mr. Putin are largely to blame, some administration officials said the Georgian military had drawn up a “concept of operations” for crisis in South Ossetia that called for its army units to sweep across the region and rapidly establish such firm control that a Russian response could be pre-empted.

They note that in January, the Georgian Ministry of Defense released a “strategic defense review” that laid out its broad military planning for the breakaway regions. As described by David J. Smith of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, the document sets out goals for the Georgian armed forces and refers specifically to the threat of conflict in the separatist regions.

American officials said that they had clearly told their Georgian counterparts that the plan had little chance of success, given Kremlin statements promising to protect the local population from Georgian “aggression” — and the fact of overwhelming Russian military force along the border…

This is a typically wildly verbose article from the New York Times.

But in general it means to blame Georgia and ultimately the Bush administration — and particularly that warmonger Vice President Cheney — for Russia’s invasion of Georgia.

Of course this is nothing new from the New York Time or even Helene Cooper:

U.S. Watched as a Squabble Turned Into a Showdown
By HELENE COOPER, C.J. CHIVERS and CLIFFORD J. LEVY
The U.S. seemed to have missed or gambled it could manage the depth of Russia’s anger and the resolve of Georgia’s leader to provoke the Russians.
August 18, 2008

After Mixed U.S. Messages, a War Erupted in Georgia
By HELENE COOPER and THOM SHANKER
Bush administration officials say they cautioned Georgia not to let Russia provoke it into a fight, but the warnings may have fallen on deaf ears.
August 13, 2008

Russia Steps Up Its Push; West Faces Tough Choices
By HELENE COOPER
The U.S. and its European allies seemed uncertain how to adjust to Russian actions in Georgia that could undermine democratic gains in the region.
August 11, 2008

In Georgia Clash, a Lesson on U.S. Need for Russia
By HELENE COOPER; C. J. CHIVERS CONTRIBUTED REPORTING.
While America considers Georgia an ally, it needs Russia too much on issues like Iran to risk it all to back Georgia.
August 10, 2008

Somehow Ms. Cooper knew from the start it was all Bush’s fault.

How predictable these people are.

This article was posted by Steve on Monday, August 18th, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

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