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Weekend Georgia Update

The Georgians have apparently cried uncle, withdrawing their troops from South Ossetia and calling for a cease-fire. Those looking to place the conflict in historical context would do well to consult James Traub's lengthy New York Times Week in Review piece from yesterday. Meanwhile, Blake Hounshell over at Foreign Policy offers this sharp analysis of the situation:

Here's the basic logic:

  • Georgia can't join NATO until it is stable
  • Russia doesn't want Georgia to join NATO
  • Ergo, Russia will destabilize Georgia

The policy had the added bonus of revenge for the Western powers' recognition of Kosovo and it cast doubts on the wisdom of using Georgia as an energy corridor. Plus, it puts the United States in an awkward position and exposes American backing of Georgia as not worth a damned thing. For Putin, it's a quadruple play.

Did Saakashvili miscalculate? Absolutely. He foolishly thought that Georgia could take back South Ossetia before Russia could effectively counterattack, and then the international community would shut the conflict down. But given Putin's brutal logic, this war was probably going to happen one way or another--it was just a question of when.

It also seems like the Obama campaign swung and missed when it tried to highlight McCain adviser Randy Scheunemann's lobbying for Georgia. Yes, McCain's campaign is basically run by lobbyists (and, in many cases, lobbyists for foreign governments), but when Russia marches into Georgian territory it hardly seems like the right time to raise the issue. If McCain's initial statement was too aggressively pro-Georgian, then it should be criticized on those grounds, not because of Scheunemann's ties to Tbilisi. That said, Obama's new statement strikes the right tone in placing the blame more firmly on Russia's shoulders, while McCain is veering ever further in the direction of calling for a new cold war (and is absurdly suggesting that Obama is "in sync with Moscow").

--Josh Patashnik