[Update: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered an end to military operations, saying Russia achieved its objectives to "punish" Georgia. A ceasefire is good news, but I agree with the Georgian Prime Minister: it would be wise not to rest easy until a formal peace deal is signed.]
McClatchy reports the Bush Administration supposedly had no idea that Georgia was going to poke Russia back by attacking South Ossetia, even though the situation has been escalating for months:
Not only did the U.S. troops working alongside their Georgian counterparts not see any signs of an impending invasion, Georgian officials did not notify the U.S. military before the incursion, a senior U.S. defense official told McClatchy.
But the Bush administration had fretted for months over what officials saw as intensifying Russian moves that it feared were aimed at provoking Georgia into a conflict over South Ossetia or Abkhazia, another secessionist province...
At the same time, U.S. officials said that they believed they had an understanding with Russia that any response to Georgian military action would be limited to South Ossetia.
"We knew they were going to go crack heads. We told them again and again not to do this," the State Department official said. "We thought we had an understanding with the Russians that any response would be South Ossetia-focused. Clearly it's not."
So let me get this straight. Russia, displeased with Georgia's -- through which some crucial oil pipelines run, by the way -- close ties with the West, has been provoking a confrontation for months: from trade embargoes to closing its border with Georgia, from strengthening its ties with separatist leaders to shooting down an unmanned Georgian surveillance drone, from sending heavily armed "peacekeepers" to Abkhazia and South Ossetia to embedding Russian officers in the separatists' military forces. Yet the Bush posse thought it would stay within South Ossetia's borders and not invade Georgia?
Really, Bush has to stop looking deep into Pootie-poot's eyes and attempting to read his KGB soul. He definitely sucks at it.
And what about Georgia's attack on South Ossetia? As Fred Kaplan notes, Saakashvili was obviously feeling cocky, encouraged in no small part by Bush:
Regardless of what happens next, it is worth asking what the Bush people were thinking when they egged on Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's young, Western-educated president, to apply for NATO membership, send 2,000 of his troops to Iraq as a full-fledged U.S. ally, and receive tactical training and weapons from our military. Did they really think Putin would sit by and see another border state (and former province of the Russian empire) slip away to the West? If they thought that Putin might not, what did they plan to do about it, and how firmly did they warn Saakashvili not to get too brash or provoke an outburst?
It's heartbreaking, but even more infuriating, to read so many Georgians quoted in the New York Times—officials, soldiers, and citizens—wondering when the United States is coming to their rescue. It's infuriating because it's clear that Bush did everything to encourage them to believe that he would.
And so here we are, in the current situation. We taunt Russia by pumping up Georgia; Russia retaliates by invading Georgia. Meanwhile, warmongers Bush, Cheney and McCain noisily rattled their sabres, warning Russia that there will be "consequences" for breaking international law and invading a sovereign state.
We, of course, hardly have the moral authority to finger wag at Russia for breaking international law and invading a sovereign state. Moreover, what exactly are these "consequences" they're talking about? Fred Kaplan again [emphasis mine]:
A few counterquestions for those who rise to compare every nasty leader to Hitler and every act of aggression to the onset of World War III: Do you really believe that Russia's move against Georgia is not an assertion of control over "the near abroad" (as the Russians call their border regions), but rather the first step of a campaign to restore the Warsaw Pact in Eastern Europe and, from there, bring back the Cold War's Continental standoff? If so—if this really is the start of a new war of civilizations—why aren't you devoting every waking hour to pressing for the revival of military conscription, for a war surtax to triple the military budget, and—here's a twist—for getting out of Iraq in order to send a few divisions right away to fight in the larger battle? If not, what exactly are you proposing?
...Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly called Saakashvili on Sunday to assure him that "Russian aggression must not go unanswered." ...The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the Security Council, "This is completely unacceptable and crosses a line." Talk like that demands action. What's the plan, and how does he hope to get the Security Council—on which Russia has veto power—to approve it?