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?