WASHINGTON - Barack Obama's presidential campaign got off to a puzzling start in reacting to Russia's invasion of the republic of Georgia, which had sent troops to help the U.S. pacify Iraq.
Hari Sevugan, a spokesman for the Illinois senator who is the Democratic hopeful, said the quick and firm response from Republican John McCain of Arizona against the Russians was evidence that the Arizona senator "is ensconced in a lobbyist culture."
The Obama spokesman was referring to Randy Scheunemann, the Republican presidential candidate's top foreign policy adviser. Until April, Scheunemann was a paid lobbyist for Georgia with the administration and Congress. Scheunemann withdrew from the relationship with Georgia just as he joined the McCain campaign, but retains an interest in the small Washington firm that still serves Georgia.
"In a major international crisis, what is their response?" Scheunemann said of the Obama camp in an interview last Sunday."To take a cheap shot at me, as if helping a struggling democracy is somehow wrong."
Heading for a Hawaii vacation with his family last week, Obama initially urged restraint by both Georgia and Russia. On Saturday, Obama urged restraint again, but blamed the armed conflict on Russia. By Monday, Obama was sternly urging Russia to respect Georgia's sovereignty and withdraw back north from the Georgian frontier.
On Tuesday, the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House joined President Bush in condemning the invasion.
Some sources blame Europe's members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for encouraging Russia when they rejected President Bush's appeal in April to begin the process of admitting Georgia and another former Soviet satellite, Ukraine, into the NATO military alliance. Or was Bush to blame for arousing false hopes in Georgia, as President Eisenhower did in encouraging the 1956 revolt in Hungary, which was crushed by the Soviet Union, with the U.S. looking on, during the Olympic Games.
On Wednesday, President Bush called on Russia to live up to its public promise to cease military operations in Georgia and announced he is ordering American military forces, in uniform, to begin a mercy mission to Georgia, and also an aid mission by sea to that country, whose ports are now blockaded by Russian ships. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday echoed Bush's demands as she departed for a meeting with NATO allies in Paris and then a diplomatic mission to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. She and Bush called on Russia not to interfere with the military and naval rescue mission.
The Russian incursion into Georgia has aroused fears that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's forces will strike at Ukraine next and then move to undermine Poland and the former Soviet satellites of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania after that. All are members of NATO. Has President Bush moved the nation toward another more deadly war? Is NATO any longer an effective restraint on Russia's ambitions? Was Obama right in initially urging diplomacy? Was McCain, who has strong links with Bush administration intelligence, unfairly advantaged in the politics of the controversy?
Is Georgia worth getting the U.S. into a confrontation with Russia? Is Ukraine worth it? Why did Bush warmly hug Putin at the opening of the Olympic Games last Friday when the invasion was beginning instead of rebuking him in front of the entire world?