South Ossetia: Georgia, Russia and the U.S. Presidential Election

See Global Voices special coverage page on the South Ossetia crisis.

With the massive deployment of Russian forces in Georgia, the small South Caucasus country's conflict with Moscow over the breakaway region of South Ossetia has obvious political ramifications thousands of miles away in the United States where presidential elections will be held on 4 November. With some alleging that the crisis reflects a struggle between the West and Russia, where the U.S. Presidential candidates stand on the matter is fast becoming a significant campaign issue.

While Republican candidate John McCain takes a firm anti-Russian stand, the Democratic Party's Barack Obama is more neutral on the matter and calls for restraint from both Georgia and Russia. At the heart of the matter is the perpetual debate over foreign policy and Western energy interests in the region as well as U.S. military support for Georgia.

Across The Pond examines other reasons for the differences in approach. The blog run by Deutsche Welle also solicits the opinion of its readers.

What's the reason for the different reactions by McCain and Obama? As Martin writes, the McCain camp sees a “commander-in chief opportunity” for their candidate. But, adds Martin, Obama's team also sees an opportunity: To show that McCain is beholden once again to lobbying interests. His foreign policy adviser Randy Scheuneman lobbied for Georgia from 2003 until recently.

But what do you think? Who has the better argument on the Russia-Georgia conflict McCain or Obama?

Making the question a political hot potato is the question of U.S. foreign policy. The Washington Note clearly blames the U.S. for the events in motion today.

When Kosovo declared independence and the US and other European states recognized it — thus sidestepping Russia's veto in the United Nations Security Council — many of us believed that the price for Russian cooperation in other major global problems just went much higher and that the chance of a clash over Georgia's breakaway border provinces increased dramatically.


It is possible that Condoleezza Rice's July 10th visit to Tbilisi and joint press conference with Saakashvili was interpreted by him that American power and resolve were firmly behind Georgia and its intention to reassert control over the autonomous provinces. The Georgian president miscalculated about American power in the world today and our resolve to take on Russia directly — no matter how much the Washington Post's Fred Hiatt and Anne Applebaum would like to see the situation differently.

While the seeds of this conflict between Georgia and Russia had been planted long ago, the U.S. helped engineer events that are now undermining its own interests and the global perception of American power.

Other bloggers are also starting to comment on the positions of the two U.S. presidential candidates. The Carpetbagger Report says that McCain's position is alarming.

Obama, calling for restraint and condemning the “outbreak of violence,” also criticized Russia for having “invaded Georgia’s sovereign” and having “encroached on Georgia’s sovereignty.” Obama’s line was largely consistent with that of the Bush White House, the European Union, NATO, and a series of European powers.

John McCain took a different line, which, as Smith noted, “put him more closely in line with the moral clarity and American exceptionalism projected by President Bush’s first term.”


Wait, would-be presidents should appreciate nuance when dealing with an international crisis? Credible candidates should be able to recognize gray areas in complex parts of Eastern Europe? Thoughtful would-be leaders need not to rush to view the world as a series of good guys and bad guys?


Let’s be clear: if McCain the Candidate is a reliable indicator of what we can expect from McCain the President, the presumptive Republican nominee would apparently be anxious to exacerbate the burgeoning war, and antagonize Russia.

There’s a lot going on right now, but this is a very important development in the presidential campaign. Ben Smith characterized this as a “true ‘3 a.m. moment’” for the presidential candidates. And at this point, McCain is once again looking pretty scary.

Donklephant also sides with Obama.

Obama sides with Georgia, but takes a more diplomatic stance and is carefully to not vilify Russia…


McCain is much more pointed and has no problem making Russia the bad guy…


Personally, I’m in favor of the Obama approach, because Georgia’s hands certain aren’t clean in all of this, and even the Bush administration has stated as much…


Long story short, Obama’s approach gives us more flexibility to negotiate with Russia, while McCain’s draws a line in the sand with empty threats that Russia could easily ignore. Why? Because there’s virtually no chance we’ll stick our necks out for a country like Georgia…not when they tried to capture the capital of South Ossetia, but have since been pushed back by Russia’s overwhelming military might. This is a VERY local skirmish, and I can guarantee you that Americans want absolutely NO part of it.

Blogger Interrupted also uses the crisis in Georgia to argue the case for an Obama presidency.

[…] Georgia could become a microcosm of the foreign policy debate this year – a Bush-McCain policy, dominated by knee jerk platitudes, vs. the diplomatic seriousness of Barack Obama, dominated by an increasingly obvious instinct to negotiate. The consequences in the Caucasus could be far reaching, and be yet another repeat of cowboy diplomacy spinning out of American control.


Did I mention that both Armenia and Azerbaijan border Iran? And oh yeah, the main pipeline moving Azeri oil to market goes through Georgia.

Dominoes could fall in the Caucasus rapidly, and with a lot of blood, and inflationary effects on the price of oil, if the US plays the cards it is dealt the way John McCain seeks to play them. Even the Bush administration, in weary lame-duck status, sees this differently than John McCain, their statement being similar to Obama’s.

Bottom line, this situation requires clear-eyed and urgent diplomacy to make it stop. If it doesn’t stop soon, no one can predict where the end game lies. John McCain may need to shore up his base by pandering to the Instapundit democracy-as-tonic wannabes, but it will not save anyone’s democracy, and may imperil democracy in places other than Georgia.

And Republican spawned, unpredictable end games sure have gotten us far, haven’t they?

The Elephant Bar disagrees and says that conflict between Russia and Georgia exposes Obama's weakness at times of international crisis.

Seize the moment. Expose to the American people the incredible shrinking stature of the man who would be POTUS in times of war. He has nothing to say and knows nothing of how we find ourselves in this situation. […]

Do not get me wrong. McCain is no novice to the region and has not always been right in his decisions. […] Now, I find myself in the awkward position presented by the binary world of American politics in having to choose between a man that does not have a clue and one who has made decisions where I disagreed.

We have committed the United States to supporting freedom and democracy in parts of the world where there has been little of either. Georgia is where that decision has led us. We have trained them, armed them and encouraged their movement into Nato. Russia is now striking back. Georgia is the new Kosovo. What happens in Georgia will have unknown consequences to Europe and the United States for a generation. […]

Prairie Pundit simply says that South Ossetia exposes Obama's “wimpy side.”

I know Obama is following he same posture as the Bush administration. But isn't he the guy that says we need change?

Meanwhile, The Russia Blog simply says that “McCain's Wrong on Russia… And So Is Obama.”


  • Gary

    In politics only fairness will prevail.
    Each country shows the news the way they want to see.
    We can not to force even our children to live with us, how the Georgians (after all of these) expect now to see Ossetia in one joint family? Forget about third countries, they are always after their interests. Killing over 2,000 civilians it’s almost 5% of their 70,000 population

  • BBob

    Obama – see how fast we can run, just like NATO and the UN.
    Georgia is our ally? Where all the help? Taiwan is watching!
    Are the Russian bear bombers still buzzing US carriers in the Gulf. SHoot the scum down!

  • Berge

    Russia is putting the US on notice that she is playing in Russia’s backyard (sphere of influence)and is claiming it back. Other former USSR countries are also being put on notice that Russia is their protector, not the USA. Russia has powerful card that she has not been playing to its fullest extent … that is arming Iran and encouraging Iran to attack American interests in the Middle East.

  • paul

    Russia is cynically exploiting the South Ossettians. They have no intention of allowing them to become an independant republic. By controlling South Ossetia they can place weaponry on high ground directly overlooking the energy corridor to the West. Georgia also has billions of barrels of oil – two companies in particular, Frontera and Canargo are in the process of developing deep oil deposits from the cretaceous.

  • Maconald

    I must agree South Ossettia is only smoking gun. Russia have not even spent 3 weeks or even 3 days of study to conclude “genocide” charges against Georgia. Russia simply take it as granted.

    Russia/Soviet have long history on manipulating referendum of nearby “republic”. They are playing trick again to manufacture the case that South Ossettia is another Kosova. South Ossettia is not another Kosova, instead Georgian popultation rate in South Ossettia in decreasing within recent 50 years! If there is genocide it is Georgian being genocide.

  • anonymouse

    why the hell everybody is looking at it from the american/eu point of view. Do you really think that anybody in Georgia gives a shit about the american bloggers oh-so-careful analysis of american electoral politics.
    There are children gettiong killed in Georgia and you people can only think of US or European politics.
    And anyway Europe should do something about it, it is cloeser to georgia, but as usual EU can talk and complain about USA but on its own can do nothing…or….appeasing Russia.

  • anonymous

    I have seen movies taken by Georgians moving around Zchinwali which are showing that the Russian artillery is shelling public buildings (here, a school). A friend of mine who was a journalist in Chechnyja reported that the Russians shelled Grosny with megabombs, obviously killing hundreds of civilians. Later the Russian propaganda blamed it on the Chechnyans. In Georgia, the Russians are blaming the major destructions on the Georgians. Remember, Hitler was blaming the raid on the Gleiwitz radio stations on the Polish… It’s an old trick.

  • Kelvin Klein

    In my opinion, you are manipulating here and now distributing your fakes.

    Where the facts? that…

    Russia performs peackeping operation!!!, since 10 years!!!, having UN mandate!!! in South Osetia. Is it good or bad does not matter, its a duty supported by the World.

    The city of Tskhinvali (Osetia) destroyed by Georgian forces using heavy artelery, thousand of people from South Osetia escaped, a lot of killed…

    I see the fotos, video about people from Tskhinvali (Osetia)… where are they on your TV? Only few fakes from Reuters about 3 people from Gori (Georgia).

    So …where Osetians from Tskhinvali?

    Why headlines speak sometimes about Russia vs Georgia? Why not South Osetia vs Georgia, which is the subj? Media Trick n2?

    In my opinion, the goal of Georgian President involve Russia in the conflict and make its bigger as possible with support of your “free” Press.

    Who can explain me, why Georgian president speaks with EU flag behind in the news? He has nothing to do with EU, get out, leave us alone.

    Remeber US blaimed Iraq for some weapons which never been found. Hundred thousand people killed for “democratic” reasons. However there is no Chechnyja, there is no Iraq, there is no Kosovo and Serbia in the subj.
    Just you are manipulating here and now distributing your propoganda with media tricks.

  • Serge

    How long USA and so called “democratic countries” will cover the truth about this war?Around 1000 USA marines and military instructors use to train georgian`s troops before this war.USA,ISRAEL,UKRAINE, sold weapon to Georgia in huge volume.At this days african -americans military instructors were found dead in South Ossetia.New Hitler,Saakashvili who killed 2000 people mostly kids,elderly people has protection from USA,ISRAEL,UKRAINE,GB and some “friends countries”.Genocide by Saakashvili rewarded by countries who sold weapon to this dictator.Newspapers,tv,radio telling the same story about Russian invasion,but nobody says,that this war was planned event,long time before by good paid dictator Saakashvili. This is moment of truth and sooner or later people and countries who did it will be punished by God.

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