In August 2008, as the world's leaders gathered in Beijing for the Olympic games, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, hot-headed and erratic, made his gamble for greatness.
It began with a stunning artillery barrage on Tskhinvali, capital of tiny South Ossetia, a province that had broken free of Tbilisi when Tbilisi broke free of Russia. As Ossetians and Russian peacekeepers fell under the Georgian guns, terrified Ossetians fled into Russia.
Saakashvili's blitzkrieg appeared to have triumphed.
Until, that is, Russian armor, on Vladimir Putin's orders, came thundering down the Roki Tunnel into Ossetia, sending Saakashvili's army reeling. The Georgians were driven out of Ossetia and expelled from a second province that had broken free of Tbilisi: Abkhazia.
The Russians then proceeded to bomb Tbilisi, capture Gori, birthplace of Joseph Stalin, and bomb Georgian airfields rumored to be the forward bases for the Israelis in any pre-emptive strike on Iran.
The humiliation of Saakashvili was total, and brought an enraged and frustrated John McCain running to the microphones.
"Today, we're all Georgians," bawled McCain.
Well, not exactly.
President Bush called Putin's response "disproportionate" and "brutal," but did nothing. Small nations that sucker-punch big powers do not get to dictate when the fisticuffs stop.
What made this war of interest to Americans, however, was that Bush had long sought to bring Georgia into NATO. Only the resistance of Old Europe had prevented it.
And had Georgia been a member of NATO when Saakashvili began his war, U.S. Marines and Special Forces might have been on the way to the Caucasus to confront Russian troops in a part of the world where there is no vital U.S. interest and never has been any U.S. strategic interest whatsoever.
A U.S war with Russia -- over Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- would have been an act of national criminal insanity.
Days later, there came another startling discovery.
McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann had been paid $290,000 by the Saakashvili regime, from January 2007 to March 2008, to get Georgia into NATO, and thus acquire a priceless U.S. war guarantee to fight on Georgia's side in any clash with Russia.
What makes this history relevant today?
Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio, rising star of the Republican right, on everyone's short list for VP, called for a unanimous vote, without debate, on a resolution directing President Obama to accept Georgia's plan for membership in NATO at the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago.
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