A new book suggests Vice President Dick Cheney pushed for the US to engage militarily with Russia when Russia invaded the US-allied Georgian republic in 2008.
Ronald Asmus’ A Little War that Shook the World, published last month, says that in August 2008, as the South Ossetia War between Russia and Georgia was raging, the White House looked at the possibility of taking military action to prevent Georgian forces from being routed by Russian troops.
Georgia’s leader, Mikheil Saakashvili, was seen as an ally of Washington and had pushed for NATO membership for his country.
“The sheer scale of the Russian attack did lead several senior White House staffers to push for at least some consideration of limited military options to stem the Russian advance,” Asmus wrote. “The menu of options under discussion foresaw the possibility of bombardment and sealing of the Roki Tunnel as well as other surgical strikes to reduce Russian military pressure on the Georgian government.”
Asmus paints a scenario in which Cheney appears to be the most vocal proponent of the idea of engaging in the South Ossetia conflict, even as other members of the administration, including the national security adviser and the president, resisted the idea.
Asmus writes that there was disagreement on the issue between Bush administration National Security Adviser Steve Hadley and Cheney. Hadley “thought Russia was focused only on Georgia,” while “Cheney had a different and harder-edged view of Moscow’s goals. Both Hadley’s and Cheney’s staffs had also raised the question of considering limited military options.”
Asmus suggests Hadley argued against the idea that the US should intervene militarily. “Hadley had pushed them to think hard about the consequences of any proposed military steps and where they could lead. He was convinced they would lead quickly to a US-Russian military confrontation.”
The book indicates that President Bush was told of the suggestion that the US should interfere militarily in Georgia, and rejected it.
“At a meeting of the Principals Committee on Monday, August 11 , Hadley … put the military option on the table to see whether there was any support for such steps to help the Georgians repel the Russians. There was not.”
Asmus added: “There was a clear sense around the table that almost any military steps could lead to a confrontation with Moscow, the outcome of which no one could predict, and which was not in the US interest.”
Reporting on the book’s revelations, Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times notes that the book doesn’t explicitly come out and say Cheney wanted a war with Russia — “but that seems to be the implication to me.”
Rachman reports that Georgian President Saakashvili told him “that is also how he read the account of the White House’s deliberations.”
The pro-Western Saakashvili came to power in 2004 when then-Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze resigned, in what came to be known as the “Rose Revolution.” Saakashvili had strong relations with the West until 2008, when many Western leaders quietly blamed him for the conflict with Russia.
The South Ossetia war of 2008 had to do with two disputed provinces of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, whose inhabitants are generally either ethnically Russian or pro-Russian in their politics. Both provinces had had de facto independence from Georgia for years, though their governments, while backed by Russia, were not internationally recognized.
On August 7, 2008, Georgia launched a military campaign to reclaim parts of the breakaway territories. Russia responded with an air assault and ground invasion. Over the next week, Russian forces penetrated deep into Georgia. After a ceasefire was signed on August 12, Russia withdrew from Georgia proper but kept troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and set up buffer zones between those territories and Georgian forces. The military campaign was generally seen as a significant success for Russia.
(You can find the relevant part of Asmus’ book if you’ve bought from Amazon.com, by going to the “search this page” option on the book’s page and typing in “Cheney.”)