Sen. McCain's response was more muscular. He condemned Russia and urged her to "immediately and unconditionally cease ... military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory ... The consequences of Euro-Atlantic stability and security are grave." McCain urged the U.N. Security Council to meet on the matter, but strengthened the point by adding that the "US should immediately work with the E.U. and the OSCE to put diplomatic pressure on Russia to reverse this perilous course that it has chosen," and, "We should immediately call a meeting of the North Atlantic Council to assess Georgia's security and review measures NATO can take to contribute to stabilizing this very dangerous situation." Later, McCain also urged that the U.S. convene "an emergency meeting of the G-7 foreign ministers" and offered the view that Russia was seeking more than the independence of South Ossetia, but was instead looking to overthrow the democratically elected government of Mikheil Saakashvili. His use of the term G-7 was significant, since it presaged his later call to throw Russia out of the group that has become the G-8. Noting that Georgia is home to the only oil pipeline that feeds Caspian oil to the west outside of Russian territory or control, he warned, "We must remind Russia's leaders that the benefits they enjoy from being part of the civilized world require their respect for the values, stability and peace of that world."
President Bush was slow off the mark. The image of him chatting up Vladimir Putin in Beijing while Russian tanks were crashing into Georgia (population 4.5 million) was not helpful. Perhaps President Bush has a slow fuse. It required a day or two for him to get his footing after Sept. 11. But now, finally, he has decided to send Condoleezza Rice to confer with Nicolas Sarkozy and then on to Tbilisi to show the flag. The humanitarian airlift, with its clear echoes of the Berlin airlift of 1948, is a bracing substantive and public relations move.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Russians are permitting their Ossetian allies to burn villages, loot, and rob. The Russian soldiers are helping themselves as well. "The whole city is full of marauders," said one eyewitness who fled Gori. "Who in the world is going to help us?" wailed one distraught woman, who then answered her own question by sobbing, "Nobody cares."
Americans had already expressed misgivings about Barack Obama's preparedness for the harsh world we inhabit. This laboratory test can only increase that anxiety.