War in the south caucasus: what did the pentagon know?

The American media criticize the U.S. government for encouraging Georgia in its plans.

At least they practiced together: U.S. soldiers and Georgian military at a bilateral maneuver near Tbilisi in July 2008 Image: dpa

Pentagon efficiency raises eyebrows: The U.S. Defense Department’s website says it began repatriating 2,000 Georgian soldiers from Iraq as early as last Friday. So little time elapsed between the first reports of the invasion of South Ossetia and the action taken by U.S. forces in Iraq on behalf of their ally in Tbilisi that the question arises: What did the U.S. know in advance and from whom?

Georgian President Saakashvili had not informed the Bush administration in advance of his plans, spokesmen for the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon stressed in unison on Tuesday. Certainly Tbilisi had not asked for military help. "The Georgians probably thought it was better to ask for forgiveness afterwards rather than permission beforehand. It was their decision," an insider told the New York Times.

A month ago, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had visited Tbilisi. A travel companion reported that she clearly warned Saakashvili against getting involved in a military conflict with Russia. "She told him in no uncertain terms that Georgia must give a commitment not to use military force."

Even shortly before Saakashvili ordered the military action, Washington’s top diplomat for the region, Daniel Fried, had urged Georgia not to be provoked by Moscow, the New York Times reports. Then, on Friday night, Fried reportedly received a call from Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeschelashvili that her country was under attack. The American response, she says, was, "We told you, be smart, don’t go in there, don’t fall for Russian provocations. Don’t do it!"

U.S. media are now asking, "How can it be that our closest ally in this region is not informing the United States? Critically, they say the administration has given Georgia too mixed signals. The U.S., on the other hand, stresses that it has always made it clear that it will in no way support Georgia militarily in a fight with Russia. KARIN DECKENBACH