Leave aside the fact that it's hard to imagine how to invest $1 billion in aid to the tiny rogue nation of Georgia. Dick Cheney, scowl and bluster on display, is cruising through the FSU [former Soviet Union] looking for oil, promising to push NATO up against Russia's southern and southwestern border, and otherwise making aggressive mischief.
As USA Today reported, Russia is already accusing Cheney of trying to bully his way into security oil and gas riches:
Russia was watching the trip with suspicion, and a top Russian security official accused Cheney of an ulterior motive: seeking to secure energy supplies in the South Caucasus in exchange for U.S. support.
No wonder. During his visit to Baku, Azerbaijan, yesterday, Cheney's first meeting was with representatives of BP Azerbaijan and Chevron, the two big oil companies representing Western interests in Caspian Sea and Central Asia oil and gas. Said Dick:
"The United States strongly believes that, together with the nations of Europe, including Turkey, we must work with Azerbaijan and other countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia on additional routes for energy exports that ensure the free flow of resources. Energy security is essential to us all, and the matter is becoming increasingly urgent."
So much for all that democracy stuff. Cheney thundered against Russia's brilliant coup de main in Georgia, and he said that he was conveying President Bush's determination. "President Bush has sent me here with a clear and simple message to the people of Azerbaijan and the entire region: The United States has deep and abiding interests in your well-being and security." Umm, and your oil.
After lumbering through Azerbaijan, Cheney hoofed it into Georgia, where he met President Saakashvili, whom the Russians call a nonperson. The walking-corpse Saakashvili was no doubt gratified to hear Cheney's promise of $1 billion in US aid, but he shouldn't count the money just yet. (Much of it isn't even appropriated by Congress yet, and I don't think Congress is going to do any appropriating before the election.) Of course, if Saakashvili needs someone to lobby Congress on his behalf, there's always Randy Scheunemann, John McCain's top foreign policy adviser, the rabid neocon and Iraq War promoter who until earlier this year was a lobbyist for Saakashvili.
Nowhere was it reported that Cheney told Saakashvili that his provocative, rogue attack on the pro-Russian breakaway republic of South Ossetia -- the action that sparked the crisis -- was a reckless, bad idea. Instead, Cheney seemed intent on encouraging Saakashvili in his adventurism. Instead, reports the Wall Street Journal:
Vice President Dick Cheney sought to rally the international community behind embattled Georgia and its president, Mikheil Saakashvili, in a brief visit aimed at underscoring U.S. support for its ally in the strategically important Caucasus.
Adds the Journal:
He planned to meet over lunch with Georgian military officials to get an assessment of the vulnerability of the situation, and was widely expected to take back recommendations for hardening Georgia's weakened defenses in the wake of last month's destructive Russian incursion.
Mr. Cheney also said the U.S. is "fully committed" to a NATO membership action plan and eventual membership for Georgia. "Georgia will be in our alliance," he said, citing a promise by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization earlier this year, before fighting broke out between Georgia and Russia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
By the way, the road from the airport into town in Georgia is called "George W. Bush Street."
Arnaud de Borchgrave, the ultra-conservative, realist-minded pundit, wrote a column reminding us that Georgia is attached at the hip to the Israeli military establishment, too:
Georgia also had a special relationship with Israel that was mostly under the radar. Georgia's Defense Minister Davit Kezerashvili is a former Israeli who moved things along by facilitating Israeli arms sales with U.S. aid. ...
The Jerusalem Post on Aug. 12 reported, "Georgian Prime Minister Vladimir Gurgenidze made a special call to Israel Tuesday morning to receive a blessing from one of the Haredi community's most important rabbis and spiritual leaders, Rabbi Aaron Leib Steinman. "I want him to pray for us and our state," he was quoted.
Israel began selling arms to Georgia seven years ago. U.S. grants facilitated these purchases. From Israel came former minister and former mayor of Tel Aviv Roni Milo, representing Elbit Systems, and his brother Shlomo, former director-general of Military Industries. Israeli UAV spy drones, made by Elbit Maarahot Systems, conducted recon flights over southern Russia, as well as into nearby Iran.
In a secret agreement between Israel and Georgia, two military airfields in southern Georgia had been earmarked for the use of Israeli fighter bombers in the event of preemptive attacks against Iranian nuclear installations. This would sharply reduce the distance Israeli fighter bombers would have to fly to hit targets in Iran. And to reach Georgian airstrips, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) would fly over Turkey.
Cheney then flew to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine (the country formerly known as The Ukraine). As he arrived, the Ukraine government (former known as the Orange Revolution) began collapsing into itself, as the president and the prime minister were bitterly engaged in a tiff that could collapse the regime. The prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, has apparently thrown her lot in with the powerful, pro-Russian opposition bloc:
On Thursday, the independent daily Gazeta 24, quoting unnamed lawmakers in Tymoshenko's parliamentary bloc, said the prime minister and the leader of the pro-Moscow Regions Party had already agreed to form a new coalition.
For Republicans, having Cheney bumbling through the Caucasus is probably better than having him sitting on top of the GOP convention in St. Paul. But his heavy-handed tour of the region won't do anything to reverse the nearly complete change in the political climate there since the Russian invasion of Georgia and Moscow's recognition of the breakway states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Like iron filings, the realists in that region, and throughout much of Central Asia and the Middle East, will start slowly gravitating toward a new center of gravity. Sorry, Dick.