Bush's Georgian Betrayal

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, August 11, 2008; 3:46 PM

Back in 2005, speaking before a crowd of more than 150,000 exuberant Georgians cheering "Bushi! Bushi!", President Bush made a promise to the people of that former Soviet republic: "The path of freedom you have chosen is not easy, but you will not travel it alone. Americans respect your courageous choice for liberty. And as you build a free and democratic Georgia, the American people will stand with you."

So where was Bush as Russia launched a major military attack against Georgia? Monkeying around with the U.S. women's volleyball players -- and otherwise amusing himself at the Beijing Olympics.

This is not to suggest that Bush should have sent in the Marines. But his impotence in the face of such a gravely destabilizing move highlights not only his personal loss of stature, but how deeply he has diminished American authority on the world stage generally and, particularly, in the eyes of Russia.

The Coverage

Michael Abramowitz and Colum Lynch write in The Washington Post: "The White House stepped up its criticism of Russia for escalating the conflict in Georgia, with President Bush warning Monday that Russia's 'disproportionate response' is unacceptable and Vice President Cheney adding that the crisis threatens long-term relations between Moscow and Washington. . . .

"But U.S. options may be limited, given Washington's need for Russian help on a wide range of issues.

"Bush, interviewed Monday by NBC at the Olympics, called for a cease-fire and for both nations to return to positions they held before hostilities commenced on Friday."

Describing phone calls he placed on Friday, Bush said in the interview: "I said this violence is unacceptable -- I not only said it to Vladimir Putin, I've said it to the President of the country, Dmitriy Medvedev. And my administration has been engaged with both sides in this, trying to get a cease-fire, and saying that the status quo ante for all troops should be August 6th. And, look, I expressed my grave concern about the disproportionate response of Russia and that we strongly condemn bombing outside of South Ossetia. . . .

"I was very firm with Vladimir Putin -- he and I have got a good relationship -- just like I was firm with the Russian President. And hopefully this will get resolved peacefully. There needs to be a international mediation there for the South Ossetia issue."

Matt Spetalnick writes for Reuters: "Vice President Dick Cheney called Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to express U.S. solidarity in the conflict with Russia and told him 'Russian aggression must not go unanswered,' the vice president's office said on Monday.

"'The vice president expressed the United States' solidarity with the Georgian people and their democratically elected government in the face of this threat to Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity,' Cheney's office said in a statement.

"It said Cheney, in a phone call on Sunday, told Saakashvili that 'Russian aggression must not go unanswered, and that its continuation would have serious consequences for its relations with the United States, as well as the broader international community.' . . .

"'The vice president praised President Saakashvili for his government's restraint, offers of cease-fire, and disengagement of Georgian forces from the zone of conflict in the South Ossetian region of the country,' the statement said."

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