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Contentions

The Other Georgias

This morning, President Bush announced that a U.S. Air Force C-17 was on its way to embattled Georgia to deliver humanitarian aid. “This mission will be vigorous and ongoing,” he said. He also announced he is sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Tbilisi to “personally convey America’s unwavering support for Georgia’s democratic government.”

But will the Georgian government be there to greet her? Minutes before the dramatic statement, Steve Harrigan of Fox News reported that Russian forces had advanced to within twelve miles of Tbilisi and that the road between their positions and the Georgian capital was undefended. Earlier reports indicated that the Russians controlled Georgia’s airspace. In short, President Bush is, once again, relying on the Kremlin’s good will.

Mr. Bush’s moves today were the best that could have been made under the deteriorating circumstances. Yet the circumstances would have been much more favorable to the Georgians and to us had the White House taken decisive action on Friday, when the Russian invasion began. Instead, the President, while not learning beach volleyball from Misty May in the Chinese capital, issued words that the Kremlin of course ignored.

Long before his outing at the Olympics, the President should have made it clear to Russian leaders that they would face great consequences should they use force against Georgia. Instead, he continued his evenhanded policy that predictably emboldened Moscow.

Given the current unfavorable “correlation of forces,” the President might end up acquiescing in the Russian occupation of previously undisputed Georgian territory or perhaps accepting an even worse outcome. It may take years or even decades to unwind the damage done in the past few days. There are, unfortunately, few scenarios that we can rule out.

Yet as we undertake the defense of Georgia, we need to think about the other Georgias-specifically Ukraine and Taiwan. Each of these democracies is being threatened by a neighboring big-power aggressor–and in each case the United States has yet to make firm commitments to its defense. That’s because the Bush administration has yet to abandon Secretary Rice’s fundamentally flawed notion that the United States should try to manage the world with the help of the other great powers, especially Russia and China.

So let’s change course and make sure there is only one Georgia this year.


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