In August 2008, as the world’s leaders gathered in Beijing for the Olympic games, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, hot-headed and erratic, made his gamble for greatness.
It began with a stunning artillery barrage on Tskhinvali, capital of tiny South Ossetia, a province that had broken free of Tbilisi when Tbilisi broke free of Russia. As Ossetians and Russian peacekeepers fell under the Georgian guns, terrified Ossetians fled into Russia.
Saakashvili’s blitzkrieg appeared to have triumphed.
Until, that is, Russian armor, on Vladimir Putin’s orders, came thundering down the Roki Tunnel into Ossetia, sending Saakashvili’s army reeling. The Georgians were driven out of Ossetia and expelled from a second province that had broken free of Tbilisi: Abkhazia.
The Russians then proceeded to bomb Tbilisi, capture Gori, birthplace of Joseph Stalin, and bomb Georgian airfields rumored to be the forward bases for the Israelis in any pre-emptive strike on Iran.
The humiliation of Saakashvili was total, and brought an enraged and frustrated John McCain running to the microphones.
“Today, we’re all Georgians,” bawled McCain.
Well, not exactly.
President Bush called Putin’s response “disproportionate” and “brutal,” but did nothing. Small nations that sucker-punch big powers do not get to dictate when the fisticuffs stop.
What made this war of interest to Americans, however, was that Bush had long sought to bring Georgia into NATO. Only the resistance of Old Europe had prevented it.
And had Georgia been a member of NATO when Saakashvili began his war, U.S. Marines and Special Forces might have been on the way to the Caucasus to confront Russian troops in a part of the world where there is no vital U.S. interest and never has been any U.S. strategic interest whatsoever.
A U.S war with Russia — over Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia — would have been an act of national criminal insanity.
Days later, there came another startling discovery.
McCain foreign-policy adviser Randy Scheunemann had been paid $290,000 by the Saakashvili regime, from January 2007 to March 2008, to get Georgia into NATO, and thus acquire a priceless U.S. war guarantee to fight on Georgia’s side in any clash with Russia.
What makes this history relevant today?
Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio, rising star of the Republican right, on everyone’s short list for VP, called for a unanimous vote, without debate, on a resolution directing President Obama to accept Georgia’s plan for membership in NATO at the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago.
Rubio was pushing to have the U.S. Senate pressure Obama into fast-tracking Georgia into NATO, making Tbilisi an ally the United States would be obligated by treaty to go to war to defend.
Now it is impossible to believe a senator, not a year in office, dreamed this up himself. Some foreign agent of Scheunemann’s ilk had to have had a role in drafting it.
And for whose benefit is Rubio pushing to have his own countrymen committed to fight for a Georgia that, three years ago, started an unprovoked war with Russia? Who cooked up this scheme to involve Americans in future wars in the Caucasus that are none of our business?
The answer is unknown. What is known is the name of the senator who blocked it — Rand Paul, son of Ron Paul, who alone stepped in and objected, defeating Rubio’s effort to get a unanimous vote.
The resolution was pulled. But these people will be back. They are indefatigable when it comes to finding ways to commit the blood of U.S. soldiers to their client regimes and ideological bedfellows.
Back in 2008, however, as Bush was confining himself to protesting the excesses of Russia’s response, his ex-U.N. ambassador was full of righteous rage and ready for military action.
In the London Telegraph, Aug. 15, 2008, John Bolton declared that Russia had conducted an “invasion,” that Georgia had been a “victim of aggression,” that America had “fiddled while Georgia burned,” that we had played the “paper tiger”when faced by the snarling Russian Bear.
As for the European Union, in bringing about a ceasefire, it had achieved results “approaching Neville Chamberlain’s moment in the spotlight at Munich.”
But did not Georgia launch the attack that started the war?
“This confrontation is not about who violated the Marquis of Queensbury’s rule in South Ossetia,” scoffed Bolton. Russia planned this “rape” because brave little Georgia refused to be “Finlandized.”
Restoring America’s credibility, said Bolton, now requires “drawing a clear line for Russia” in the Caucasus and elsewhere.
And who is John Bolton?
Newt Gingrich told two groups Wednesday he intends to name Bolton secretary of state.
With Newt appointing as America’s first diplomat an uber-hawk who makes Dick Cheney look like Gandhi, and Mitt Romney’s foreign policy team crawling with neocons primed for war with Iran, a vote for the GOP in 2012 looks more and more like a vote for war.
Like the Bourbons of old, the Republican Party seems to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.