With Russian tanks advancing on the Georgian capital, and Russia possibly poised to become an occupying power, are deliveries of US aid to Georgia without real risk? Is the delivery of humanitarian aid to Georgia really worth the risk?
Russian perceptions matter. The Russian newspaper Kommersant actually calls US humanitarian aid to Georgia, "the beginning of military intervention in the Russian-Georgian conflict." That's not how the White House has described the aid. The Kommersant article helps us to see how American actions may be perceived inside Russia:
Several minutes after Bush’s appearance, Saakashvili announced that U.S. planes and ships would guard Georgian ports and airports. That statement was immediately denied by the U.S. Defense Department. Official Defense Department spokesman Brian Whitman explained a little later that a second C-17 will fly to Georgian today. According to Whitman, The U.S. is helping Georgia rebuild the military potential its lost in the war with Russia.This Russian media outlet identifies presidential candidate John McCain as a Russophobe:
In that speech, Bush, for the first time in Russian-American relations, threatened Russia with full-scale international isolation. He said that Russia is risking remaining outside the international diplomatic, political, economic and security structures of the 21st century. Other American officials developed the theme of the repression that awaited Russia. The U.S. ambassador to NATO called on member states to reconsider their relations with Russia. . . .
Almost a complete consensus toward Russia has developed in American society in the past few days. Republican presidential candidate John McCain, how has long been demanding the expulsion of Russia from the G8 and says that all that can be seen in Vladimir Putin’s eyes are three letters – KGB – represents the most radical group of critics. During his last meeting in Pennsylvania, he stated that he called Saakashvili and “I speak for every American when I said to him today we are all Georgians.”One fact easily overlooked amidst alarmist American media reports is that neither US security nor vital US national interests have been compromised by Russian military activities in Georgia. US humanitarian aid relief operations into a war zone within the territory of the former USSR, to help an adversary of Russia, carry some of the highest potential risks. What if Russia misinterprets US intentions? Or Georgia contrives to bring America personnel into the line of fire? (Saakashvili appears to have had delusions of exploiting US friendship in the hopes of advancing a nationalist agenda). The Americans may in fact hope that the humanitarian deliveries could complicate a possible Russian advance. Maybe. But is the risk worth it?
Barack Obama also condemned Russia’s actions, saying that there is “no possible justification” for the invasion of Georgia. Unlike his opponent, Obama also criticized Georgian authorities. . . .
Concerning the present conflict, Americans would be well advised to 1) Tone down the rhetoric. The Russians would surely like to divide America and Western Europe. The rhetoric in not going to change Russia and alienates Europe. 2) Leave the humanitarian assistance to others.
Update: When asked about possible risks associated with humanitarian aid deliveries, US officials "had no response." (CNN) Sound familiar? Iraq and Katrina showed that planning for contingencies have never been a strong point of this US administration.