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by Alexander Cockburn

Georgia War Is a Neo-con Election Ploy

Vacations are dangerous. Ask Barack Obama. He went off to Hawaii for rest and fun, and while he was being tossed around in the surf, John McCain -- who should by rights be snoozing in a hammock in one of his eight homes -- was right there in the trenches fighting World War Three. Guess who's jumping in the polls. Obama is still stuck at 45, and McCain is pushing past him, right on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. Obama's having nearly as bad a summer as John Kerry did four years ago.

Vacations have cost Georgia dearly too. A friend of mine has business in Georgia. Correction. He may have business in Georgia, but on the phone, he didn't sound too confident that it would stay that way. "Georgia's a disaster," he said gloomily.

"But why did Saakashvili do a dumb thing like attacking the capital of South Ossetia?" I asked. "Couldn't he figure that this was exactly what the Russians wanted him to do?"

My friend said the problem was that all the sensible people around Saakashvili had gone off on holiday. It seems that the Georgian president is a man of impulse. He blows his top easily, just like his friend John McCain. The Americans had given his army nice shiny new toys, and his generals were eager to use them. One bright morning in early August, he started screaming orders to invade, and there was no one around to tell him to cool it. Only the nuts were in the office, and they cheered him on.

Saakashvili also made the mistake of thinking the United States was right behind him. That's almost as big a mistake as going on vacation. Ask the ghost of Saddam Hussein. He swore up and down that in August 1990 he only invaded Kuwait after a U.S. envoy in Baghdad gave him the OK. The envoy was called April Glaspie. Many hold the view that it was not entirely unreasonable of Saddam to draw that inference. The record seems to show it.

They obviously don't teach Cold War history at the law schools at Columbia University in New York or George Washington University in the nation's capital, otherwise Saakashvili, who attended both institutions, would have thought twice about encouragement from the United States for his ill-fated attack.

He could have read vivid accounts of U.S. broadcasts, via the CIA-controlled Radio Free Europe, encouraging the Hungarians in 1956 to believe that if they rose against the Soviet occupier, NATO troops would race to their aid. The CIA's director of operations, Frank Wisner, fervently hoped the U.S. would intervene, but President Eisenhower never had the slightest intention of doing so. Wisner was devastated and suffered a severe breakdown, ultimately committing suicide.

Another lesson for Saakashvili came in the dawn of the Kennedy administration, when Cuban exiles seeking to topple Castro in the Bay of Pigs landing waited vainly for U.S. air support, which they thought the CIA had guaranteed. Kennedy declined to make such an order, and the furious exiles claimed they had been stabbed in the back.

And indeed there were mixed signals from Washington, where Republicans had local political motives for encouraging Saakashvili. Republican contender John McCain needs bare-knuckle confrontations with America's enemies. In such eyeball-to-eyeball crises, he can strut before the cameras as the seasoned warrior with "experience," unafraid to lead America to the very brink of nuclear Armageddon. Ever since Harry Truman in 1948, it's been a reliable way of getting elected as president.

McCain's chief foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, has until recently worn two hats, acting as McCain's lead foreign policy man and also as a lobbyist for Georgia. Between Jan. 1, 2007, and May 15, 2008, the McCain campaign paid Scheunemann nearly $70,000 and, across the same period, the government of Georgia paid Scheunemann's firm, Orion Strategies, $290,000 in lobbying fees. Scheunemann has since quit the lobbying firm, a two-man operation.

So Scheunemann indubitably had the ears of both Saakashvili and of McCain. What advice he tendered his patrons is a matter of speculation, but any adviser to McCain would certainly regard a vintage Cold War era confrontation between the United States and Russia as potentially a huge plus for McCain, just as it turned out to be.

So is the electorate ready to be pushed into McCain's column on the grounds that he can stand up to the Russians? It could happen. As noted above, no politician here ever lost a race by overplaying his determination to face down supposed threats to national security.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor   August 22, 2008   (

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