National Security Network

Spotlight on the Response From Bush Administration to Crisis in Georgia

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Report 13 August 2008

Russia Russia bush Georgia

While much about the conflict between Georgia and Russia remains murky, what has become increasingly clear is that, though US forces in Georgia certainly ought to have been aware, the Bush administration was caught completely by surprise. In a response reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina, Secretary Rice remained on vacation, the President failed to cut short his Olympic visit and outsourced shuttle diplomacy to the Europeans, and it became clear to the world that the U.S. had no intention of standing by its aggressive pro-Georgia rhetoric. While no clear-eyed analyst or administration would risk war with Russia, the aggressive and, subsequently, empty rhetoric from the Bush administration may have emboldened Georgia to adopt a more confrontational stance toward Russia. Yet despite such rhetoric already proving to be completely counterproductive, John McCain went even further yesterday declaring that “today we are all Georgians.” Such statements raise real questions concerning McCain’s judgment. Is his statement merely more empty rhetoric, or would McCain risk military confrontation with Russia?


Administration again fails basic principles of crisis management - Bush stayed at Olympics and Rice stayed on vacation.
“So far the Administration has been missing in action, to put it mildly… President Bush finally condemned Russia's actions on Monday after a weekend of Olympics tourism in Beijing while Georgia burned. Meanwhile, the State Department dispatched a mid-level official to Tbilisi, and unnamed Administration officials carped to the press that Washington had warned Georgia not to provoke Moscow. That's hardly a show of solidarity with a Eurasian democracy that has supported the U.S. in Iraq with 2,000 troops. Compared to this August U.S. lethargy, the French look like Winston Churchill.” On Tuesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy flew to Russia and Georgia to broker a ceasefire between the warring states. Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice was on vacation. [WSJ, 8/13/08; Reuters, 8/12/08; LA Times, 8/12/08]

Aggressive U.S. rhetoric may have created “unrealistic expectations” in Georgia and has certainly cost US credibility. “Many officials in the U.S. government who have worked on the Russia relationship in recent years said, President Bush lionized Mr. Saakashvili as a model for democracy in the region to a point that the Georgian leader may have held unrealistic expectations about the amount of support he might receive from the U.S. and the West.” “Janusz Bugajski, author of a forthcoming book on Russia's relations with its neighbors, said Washington's lack of forceful response sends a chilling message to nations that had been relying on the U.S. to counter Russia's power. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ‘is demonstrating to the rest of the world that the United States is not the sole superpower any more. Or if it is, it's so stretched that it's not going to come to your aid,’ Bugajski said. ‘That weakens the U.S. position globally quite a bit.’” [LA Times, 8/13/08; WSJ, 8/12/08]

While aggressive rhetoric has been shown to be counterproductive, McCain recklessly ratchets it up even further. McCain said yesterday, “I told him [President Saakashvili] that I know I speak for every American when I said to him, today, we are all Georgians.” The Politico writes, “While virtually every other world leader called for calm in Georgia last Thursday morning, John McCain did something he’s done many times over his career in public life: He condemned Russia…though neither he nor any other leader has suggested that the West has any real way to blunt Moscow’s ultimate intentions. He’s also faced the accusation that his encouragement of Georgia’s dramatic defiance of Russia helped trigger the crisis…McCain’s current foreign policy team, including chief adviser Randy Scheunemann, are largely drawn from the circle of neoconservatives who backed the U.S. invasion of Iraq. To many of them, he’s a more authentic version of President Bush, whose public commitment to the spread of democracy, as they see it, was too often neglected in practice, notably in Russia.” [AP, 8/12/08; Politico, 8/13/08]

State Dept. notes its surprise, despite the substantial U.S. military presence in Georgia pre-invasion. State Department officials have noted their ‘surprise’ at Russia’s military actions. One State Department official said, "I would say that we mostly were focused elsewhere, unlike during the Cold War, when we'd see a single Soviet armor battalion move. So, yes, the size and scope of the Russian move has come as something of a surprise." However, the U.S. maintains 127 Pentagon advisors in Georgia, including Special Forces and intelligence contractors. Moreover, “On July 15… amid rising tension between Moscow and Tbilisi over South Ossetia, some 1,200 U.S. troops launched a three-week long joint military exercise with Georgian troops.” As one CQ reporter notes, “It is simply inconceivable that the Pentagon wasn't wired to the helmets of Georgian troops, despite the denials of U.S. military officials.” [CQ, 8/12/08]

Quick Hits


Three of Pakistan’s four provincial assemblies have now voted to demand that embattled President Pervez Musharraf resign or face impeachment.
Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence analyst Ted Gistaro said yesterday that for al-Qaeda, Pakistan “is a stronger, more comfortable safe haven than it was for them a year ago.”

As many as 18 people have been killed in the bombing of a bus in Lebanon; at least nine of the dead were off-duty soldiers who may have been the target of the blast.

Riots have erupted across cities in Indian-held Kashmir and in other parts of India following the fatal shootings of 16 Muslim protestors yesterday.

The Sudanese army has launched a major attack on northern Darfur, attempting to take power from anti-government elements in a region where China has oil interests.

BP’s shutdown of a major oil pipeline through Georgia highlights the power Russia gains from its natural resources.

Multiple suicide bombings in Iraq have killed at least 5 recently, in and around the turbulent Diyala province that the Iraqi army is trying to stabilize.

Three aid workers, including one American, were killed in Afghanistan
when Taliban fighters attacked their convoy.

General Norton Schwartz, the Air Force’s new chief of staff, spoke strongly about correcting the decay of the service’s credibility
following several “security and corruption problems,” particularly in the Air Force’s nuclear capacity.

Weeks before the Russian invasion of Georgia, a cyberwar was launched from a Russian address against Georgian Internet infrastructure,
the first instance of cyberwarfare occurring in close proximity to an actual military conflict.