Two good articles on the US role in Georgia. The first, by Helene Cooper and Thom Shanker of the New York Times: “After Mixed U.S. Messages, a War Erupted in Georgia.”
One month ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a high-profile visit that was planned to accomplish two very different goals.
During a private dinner on July 9, Ms. Rice’s aides say, she warned President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia not to get into a military conflict with Russia that Georgia could not win. “She told him, in no uncertain terms, that he had to put a non-use of force pledge on the table,” according to a senior administration official who accompanied Ms. Rice to the Georgian capital.
But publicly, Ms. Rice struck a different tone, one of defiant support for Georgia in the face of Russian pressure. “I’m going to visit a friend and I don’t expect much comment about the United States going to visit a friend,” she told reporters just before arriving in Tbilisi, even as Russian jets were conducting intimidating maneuvers over South Ossetia.
In the five days since the simmering conflict between Russia and Georgia erupted into war, Bush administration officials have been adamant in asserting that they warned the government in Tbilisi not to let Moscow provoke it into a fight — and that they were surprised when their advice went unheeded. Right up until the hours before Georgia launched its attack late last week in South Ossetia, Washington’s top envoy for the region, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried, and other administration officials were warning the Georgians not to allow the conflict to escalate.
But as Ms. Rice’s two-pronged visit to Tbilisi demonstrates, the accumulation of years of mixed messages may have made the American warnings fall on deaf ears.
The United States took a series of steps that emboldened Georgia: sending advisers to build up the Georgian military, including an exercise last month with more than 1,000 American troops; pressing hard to bring Georgia into the NATO orbit; championing Georgia’s fledgling democracy along Russia’s southern border; and loudly proclaiming its support for Georgia’s territorial integrity in the battle with Russia over Georgia’s separatist enclaves.
But interviews with officials at the State Department, Pentagon and the White House show that the Bush administration was never going to back Georgia militarily in a fight with Russia.
In recent years, the United States has also taken a series of steps that have alienated Russia — including recognizing an independent Kosovo and going ahead with efforts to construct a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. By last Thursday, when the years of simmering conflict exploded into war, Russia had a point to prove to the world, even some administration officials acknowledge, while Georgia may have been under the mistaken impression that in a one-on-one fight with Russia, Georgia would have more concrete American support.
The story dovetails with both Rob’s and my suspicions about how to understand the different evidence floating around in recent coverage. To the extent that Tblisi focused on signals that we would back them, and ignored explicit signals that we wouldn’t, this would seem to justify some NATO members’ reluctance to embrace Georgia. On the other hand, I expect Tblisi has figured out the extent and nature of western backing by now.
The second story, by Matthew Mosk and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, appears in The Washington Post: “While Aide Advised McCain, His Firm Lobbied for Georgia.” Give it a read and make up your own mind.