Georgia on My Mind

Georgia on My Mind

During his long presidential campaign when he also had responsibilities and duties as a United States Senator, John McCain found the time to make three separate trips to the nation of Georgia, a country of less than 5 million people, whose main claim to importance was a pipeline carrying oil from wells owned by western companies in the Caspian Sea basin.

McCain chief policy adviser Randy Scheunemann and his business partner lobbied McCain or his staff on 49 occasions in a 3 1/2 year span while being paid $830,000 dollars by the government of Georgia. Scheunemann stopped lobbying for Georgia this March but retains an interest in the lobbying firm that signed a new $200,000 agreement with the Georgian government.

McCain’s time spent in Georgia is noteworthy because it affected his campaign: he has not found the time to visit a number of states in the US whose votes he will need to be elected president. Clearly he was not seeking votes in nation Georgia but perhaps he was looking for campaign contributions. Contributions from foreign governments and citizens are illegal but American oil companies may have shown their gratitude.

On August 13, McCain told reporters, “In the 21st century, nations don’t invade other nations,” as he denounced the Russian invasion of Georgia. The irony of that statement was not lost on the rest of the world given the US invasion of Iraq after the United Nations refused to authorize US invasion of Iraq. The US invaded on its own. So much for the McCain version of history.

McCain insists that the Russian invasion was a “setback for democracy” because President Saakashvili had been elected twice. But he doesn’t tell that that president declared martial law in Georgia last November using tear gas and rubber bullets on Georgian citizens, shutting down an opposition television station too.

US officials have stressed that the White House and State Department repeatedly warned President Saakashvili and his government against responding to Russian military provocations in ways that could spark a broader conflict. A Georgian official confirmed this. But Saakashvili took the Russian bait and made the first military move in South Ossetia, responding to small-scale local violence with heavy handed military. Saakashvili was conferring with McCain by telephone virtually every day. What kind of advice did he receive? That “We are all Georgians?” That the US would ride to the rescue?

McCain has some explaining to do. Did his interest in Georgia promote campaign contributions? Is his foreign-policy basically run by lobbyists and in some cases lobbyists for foreign governments? Does that put him in direct conflict with the US State Department and even the Secretary of Defense? How reliable is his judgment? Is he a risk taker whose first instinct is to use the military? Or promise it when he shouldn’t?

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