On December 9 my good friend Ed Lozansky, President of the American University in Moscow, will show a documentary at the National Press Club. The film purports to vindicate Russia in its recent war with Georgia. While quickly winning military battles with Georgia, Russia lost the propaganda war with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. His excellent English skills and Western public relations consultants portrayed Georgia as a helpless and blameless victim of unprovoked Russian aggression, with the Russians out to destroy Georgian democracy.
The very Western media which bought Saakashvili's side of the story now is challenging the way in which he successfully rallied Western support for his regime. Recent reports from the Caucasus question Georgia's account of the origins of the war. Two veteran Western correspondents say they found that shelling of civilian areas in Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, began far earlier than Georgian authorities contended. A BBC documentary exposed the rampages of Georgian forces in South Ossetia's capital. A Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International report accused Georgian forces of deliberately targeting civilians and using cluster bombs in populated areas.
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) military monitors, comprised of veteran British military officers, told Western media outlets that Russian forces entered South Ossetia eight to ten hours after Georgian forces began shelling Tskhinvali. The allegation is that Georgian forces attacked Russian peacekeepers. At this point Saakashvili successfully exploited America's statements that Georgia's path toward consolidated democracy and NATO membership was guaranteed. Mixed messages from the United States, especially from Vice President Richard B. Cheney's office, contributed to the Georgian Government's sense that a successful war would receive US approval.
In view of the OSCE reports, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called the Georgian Government "reckless" for its military actions. The European Union has formed a commission to investigate Saakashvili's behavior to determine if international laws were violated.
So now, as Lozansky wonders, has Russia truly been vindicated? He further asks if Saakashvili has been exposed as an aggressor and even a reckless gambler who for his political gain exploited the goodwill of his Western allies and tried to set them up for a confrontation with Russia. Lozansky wants to know if the US and EU will withdraw their support for Saakashvili, which might allow Georgian opposition forces to remove him from power. He asks how the West will view Russia now that its claim that it was responding to Georgian aggression conflicts with Georgia's earlier accounts. Will Russia be more respected as a responsible world power, Lozansky asks, or will it continue to be viewed with suspicion and fear as an aggressive and unpredictable power? That is the correct question.
In any war there probably is no 100%-0% situation. If this documentary is correct, and if Georgia is now on the defensive, won't there be a huge lesson for President-elect Barack H. Obama about jumping to conclusions in foreign policy?