U.S. reaction to the Russia-Georgia war

c17.jpg For those of us who grew up during the Cold War years, the conflict between Russia and Georgia has got our attention in a big way, and not because we’re particularly concerned about Georgia.

Back in the day, there was a constant fear that one wrong move could start a nuclear war and we’d be forced to duck under our desks.

As the war between the two appears to be intensifying, the U.S. appears to be ready to jump in.


In Washington, President Bush said the United States planned a massive humanitarian effort involving American ships and aircraft, including a C-17 military cargo plane loaded with supplies that landed on Wednesday.

He said Russia must ensure that “all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, roads and airports,” remain open to let deliveries and civilians through.

“The United States, its allies, and other countries need to send a strong signal to Moscow that creating 19th-century-style spheres of influence and redrawing the borders of the former Soviet Union is a danger to world peace,” The Christian Science Monitor quotes Ariel Cohen saying. He’s senior research fellow in Russian and Eurasian studies at the Heritage Foundation ( Read his analysis).

Back in the day, this is the kind of thing that kept us up nights. We’re up late at night this week, but only because we’re watching the Olympics. The war, and the U.S. role in it, is playing second fiddle to Michael Phelps.

The problem here is it’s 2008 and the world is more of a juggling act than ever before.

The U.S., notes James Traub, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, needs Russia to help “contain Iran.”


This is precisely what Bush administration officials are asking themselves right now. Can we afford to confront Russia over Georgia, if we need to bring Russia in line with sanctiuons on Iran? This is why diplomacy is hard. But these trade-offs often prove self-defeating. If the United States does not confront Russia over Georgia, that will not necessarily translate into help on Iran and other issues — and it might embolden Russia in its increasingly confrontational approach to relations with the West. Europe has generally taken a more accommodating line with Russia; but to what effect? Putin’s Russia seems to take a zero-sum approach to diplomacy: You must lose if I am to win. It’s not clear that Russia can be cajoled into a more cooperative approach.

The administration , not surprisingly perhaps, is leaning toward the view of the gentleman from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank. Says the Washington Post:


Although options appeared limited, the senior administration officials said that the West actually has more leverage now over Russia than it did in 1968, when Soviet forces occupied Czechoslovakia. Then, one official said, “they didn’t care about their integration into these institutions,” or what the world thought of them.

Russia, the official said, now has “a lot more to lose than the Soviet Union did in ’68.”

The politicians outside the administration seem inclined to sit this one out. Sen. Norm Coleman’s statement on the subject, for example, is short on ideas of what this country should be doing:


“I am deeply concerned about the ongoing hostilities in Georgia, and particularly the provocative actions of the Russian military. I believe that the Russian government must respect the territorial integrity of our strong ally, and remove its troops from South Ossetia. The U.S. must be firm in its disapproval of Russian actions and work quickly to implement a cease-fire.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar has not issued a statement on the situation, her press secretary told me this afternoon.

None of the 8 congressional representatives from Minnesota has issued a statement on the war and the potential of U.S. involvement. One, John Kline, is in Washington, but he’s live-blogging a protest over the House leadership’s inaction on an energy policy — an issue that’s primarily driven by the coming election.

Rep. Tim Walz’s press secretary said the 1st District representative hasn’t had anything to say about the situation because nobody’s asked him yet (Now, someone has). A call to 6th District Rep. Michele Bachmann has not yet been returned.

(Update 4:50 p.m.) – The only member of the Minnesota delegation to react to the situation is Rep. Jim Oberstar, who responded to my request with this:


“I support the United States sending humanitarian aid to Georgia and engaging in an international effort to halt the conflict there. However, it is regrettable to see yet another colossal failure of U.S. intelligence under the Bush administration.

We should have had the intelligence in place to know that tensions were escalating and war was imminent. Instead, President Bush stood next to Vladimir Putin at the Beijing Olympics just days before Russian tanks rolled into Georgia, and missed an opportunity for direct face-to-face diplomacy that could have made a difference. After all of the attention that has been paid to reforming our intelligence services and systems since 9-11, it is incredible that the United States was unaware of this situation until shots were actually fired in Georgia.

It is not enough to express outrage after shots are fired and people have died. As a superpower, the United States has the duty to rally the international community in time to halt aggression. We have missed that opportunity in the Caucuses and now the people of Georgia are suffering from this violent invasion.”

What do you think the U.S. reaction should be?

  • David

    Regarding spheres of influence, isn’t Georgia wanting to be a member of NATO and President Bush giving that his blessing kinda, sorta, a sphere of influence issue? And one that Russia isn’t keen on? Just sayin’.

  • brian

    I think letting Russia bowl over a staunch US ally (Georgia had the third greatest number of troops in Iraq until last week) is a bad idea. I obviously don’t want us to go to war with Russia, but I don’t think Putin can be allowed to have any bigger of a head than he already has. Maybe we would be in more of a position to do something about if we hadn’t invaded a certain other county. I think protecting an ally is much more important right now than the possiblility of Russian help with Iran. Don’t we want “US ally” to continue to mean something?

    A no-fly zone, or something similar, seems appropriate… but I don’t know what would happen if we shot down a Russian plane.

  • brian

    I can see why Russia wouldn’t want Georgia to leave its sphere of influence. But that isn’t Russia’s choice. Georgia elected a pro-western government. They should be allowed to be pro-western if they want to be.

  • David

    brian, Russia ain’t Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. For one thing, they really do have nukes. The U.S. doesn’t have to agree with Russia or abandon Georgia, but we don’t want to do anything stupid either.

  • brian

    Maybe I underestimate the possibility that any nation will ever actually use nukes again.

    You are right David, I don’t want us to do anything stupid. I’d usually be the last to advocate military action. This situation just seems to set a dangerous precident.

  • bsimon

    Speaking of which, does anyone else think that Phelps guy wears his suit a little low?

    The Georgia problem is a prickly one. There’s not a lot we can do, largely because we don’t have a lot of leverage with Russia. For instance, if we want to impose no-fly zones in Georgia, what do we do if Russia ignores them?

  • Jean

    At the very beginning of this conflict about one week ago Georgia launched a deadly night attack killing hundreds of innocent people.

    This genocide attack prompted the russian to launch a very effective retaliation attack on the Geogian armed forces with the result that their army system was broken apart within 2 days leaving the whole country at the feet of his powerful neighbour ennemy.

    It is evident that the georgian plan to be a member of NATO is at geopardy because of the Georgian President lack of judment for which he will have to answer before the georgian parliament once the crisis get resolved if it is ever be.

    Consequenly to this profound mistake the georgian loss will cause his protector, the USA, a subtancial decrease in the potential of increasing the sphere of influence of USA with a corresponding increase of the Russia sphere of influence in the whole area.

    Just to bad

  • Kris

    Several balls, of varying sizes are all falling toward to US concurrently. And maybe for once we should concede that all cannot be caught. So what do we do? Choose which is least messy (or whose splatter will be least painful), and let those one fall.

    Iran is obviosly not one of those least messy balls. Is it guaranteed that Russia will coorporate with us on that matter? Not particularly. Is it guaranteed that Russian will NOT ccorporate with us, should we step on her toes? Most definitely (guaranteed).

    That being said, maybe we should let the Georgians clean up its mess, and avoid at all costs (including not flying in via our humanitarian-cape) stepping (yes I’ll sat it), Russia’s toes….If indeed the iran ball cannot be dropped.

    A lesson in compromise, which isn’t always a bad thing.

  • Phil

    I am increasingly amazed at how hypocritical this administration is, to actually come out and condemn Russia for its actions wrong as they may be, but to come and tell them that this is not 1968 where another country cannot invade another sovereign nation , oh my goodness, we sure have a lot of credibility in that area, when our government has done the very same, and our young people are dying for the lies that got there every day.

  • stehen

    At the very beginning of this conflict about one week ago Georgia launched a deadly night attack killing hundreds of innocent people.

    This genocide attack prompted the russian to launch a very effective retaliation attack on the Geogian armed forces with the result that their army system was broken apart within 2 days leaving the whole country at the feet of his powerful neighbour ennemy.

    Jean, can you provide any documentation or grounds for your statement that hundreds of innocent people were killed? Just curious. To my knowledge, nothing on this issue has been confirmed or established at this point.

    Furthermore, though I abhore the loss of any human life, I wonder if it’s appropriate to call such an attack genocide.

    Finally, I also take issue with your seemingly pride-filled statement that Georgia was left at the feet of its powerful neighbor enemy. This is an appropriate comment because….???

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