Today's Papers

Midnight Plane to Georgia

The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox lead with President Bush announcing that U.S. military ships and planes would be sent to Georgia to help deliver humanitarian aid to the war-torn country. Bush also announced that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would travel to Georgia and “convey America’s unwavering support for Georgia’s democratic government.” The moves came as Bush criticized Russia for failing to abide by the cease-fire agreement and continuing its military campaign into Georgia, where it has taken control of the city of Gori. “Russia must keep its word and act to end this crisis,” Bush said.

The Washington Postleads with news that Mark Warner, the former governor of Virginia, will deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. The paper sees this as a sign that the current governor, Timothy Kaine, is unlikely to be selected as Barack Obama’s running mate because it would mean that two Virginians would have prime-time speaking slots on two successive days. USA Todayleads with the head of the House Homeland Security Committee saying that a program designed to find problems in the airport screening process is “a waste of money” because undercover agents fail to record why they were allowed to go through with forbidden items. The Transportation Security Administration disputes the assessment and says the tests have resulted in new technology and the implementation of better screening practices.

Bush’s words in the Rose Garden amounted to the strongest warning to Russia that its actions could have consequences, and many saw it as an answer to conservative critics who say the administration’s initial response was lukewarm at best. The LAT notes that many within the administration “were dismayed” that Bush first sent only a mid-level State Department official to Georgia because “Russia watches such signals closely.” Before touching down in Tbilisi, Rice will travel to France and meet with President Nicolas Sarkozy to lend a hand to the negotiations between Russia and Georgia. The WP notes inside that Bush’s mix of “strong rhetoric with modest action,” along with his administration’s failure to outline what would be the consequences for Russia if it doesn’t stop its campaign, highlights just how few options the United States has to deal with the current conflict.

The NYT points out that although Georgia’s president at first said the announcement meant that U.S. troops would help protect the country’s airports and ports, the Pentagon quickly said that was not the case. Military officials have taken pains to emphasize that the U.S. service members would be there only to oversee the delivery of aid. But a Pentagon official tells the NYT their goals are more than altruistic, as the relief effort is meant “to show to Russia that we can come to the aid of a European ally, and that we can do it at will, whenever and wherever we want.”

Cold War imagery was everywhere yesterday, as U.S. and Georgian officials repeatedly mentioned the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. (“This is not 1968 … where Russia can invade its neighbor, occupy a capital, overthrow a government and get away with it,” Rice said. “Things have changed.”) Even if the American service members will only be helping to deliver humanitarian aid, it still means that it will “put U.S. and Russian military forces in close proximity amid an ongoing conflict,” notes the WSJ, which specifies that this is “a rare event even in the decades when the U.S. faced off against the Soviet Union around the world.”

The LAT and WSJ both front separate dispatches from Gori, where Georgians said that bandits and militias from South Ossetia entered the city with Russian troops and proceeded to roam the streets, loot homes, and rob anyone who crossed their path. No one is clear on what Russia’s goal was with the incursion into Gori, but like so much of this conflict, some think it was all symbolic. “Wednesday may have been one last swipe of humiliation for a defeated Georgia, a final reminder of Russia’s military superiority,” says the LAT. The WP also notes that Human Rights Watch says ”numerous houses” in ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia were looted and burnt down. The NYT’s dispatch from Gori focuses on the Russian soldiers who had a “strong sense of satisfaction” yesterday after easily occupying the city. Russia’s military suffered much humiliation after the Soviet Union collapsed, but the conflict in Georgia “seems to have restored a sense of confidence among its officers.”

The NYT’s Andrew Kramer received a copy of the six-point cease-fire deal that Sarkozy negotiated with the Russians that included handwritten changes that the Georgians had asked for but did not receive (available here). The NYT says that the deal not only failed to stop the Russian troops but, in fact, “also allowed Russia to claim that it could push deeper into Georgia as part of so-called additional security measures it was granted in the agreement.” When negotiating with Sarkozy, Russia demanded that a point be included to grant the country’s military the right to act as peacekeepers even outside the separatist regions until a system of international monitors could be implemented. Georgia wanted a clear timeline to establish when these “peacekeeping” operations would end, but Russia refused.

The WP’s Charles Krauthammer writes that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s “real objective” in the conflict “is the Finlandization of Georgia” by replacing the current president with “a Russian puppet.” Krauthammer argues that one point that has been ignored about the cease-fire deal is that it leaves most of the important decisions for the future and would require negotiations between Russia and Georgia. The problem is that Russia refuses to talk to Saakashvili, which means that “regime change becomes the first requirement” before any progress can be achieved.

Speaking of Putin, the WP notes inside that the conflict with Georgia has made it clear who is really in charge of the Russian government. Although this was widely known before, “the events of the past five days wiped away any pretense that President Dmitry Medvedev runs the country.”

Even as the WP says that Kaine’s chances of being selected as Obama’s vice president appeared to dim, the NYT goes inside with a profile of the Virginia governor and says the campaign is eyeing him as a potential choice for the No. 2 slot. The NYT and WP note that the problem with Kaine is that he seems to mirror Obama too much, since he’s an inexperienced, charismatic, Ivy League lawyer who sees himself as someone who can unite members of different parties.

The LAT fronts word that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi might give in to pressure from fellow Democrats and put forward legislation that would allow new offshore drilling as part of a broader energy package. Pelosi has long opposed offshore drilling, but several Democrats who face a steep battle for re-election in November have been asking her to reconsider and allow the issue to come up for a vote. One measure currently under consideration would allow states to decide whether they want drilling off their coasts while also keeping the ban in place for the Pacific Coast. But this offshore drilling measure would likely be included only if some Democratic priorities, such as a repeal of tax breaks for oil companies, are also added to the mix, which makes it less likely that Republicans would support the legislation.

In the WP’s op-ed page, Saakashvili writes that the events of the last few days showed that the “Russian leadership cannot be trusted” and “[o]nly Western peacekeepers can end the war.” After Russia invaded with such strong force, Georgia’s government tried to negotiate a deal with Moscow, but Russian officials ignored their pleas for a cease-fire. “I have staked my country’s fate on the West’s rhetoric about democracy and liberty,” writes Saakashvili. “We cannot allow Georgia to become the first victim of a new world order as imagined by Moscow.”

John McCain writes an opinion piece for the WSJ titled “We Are All Georgians,” in which he advocates for the creation of an international peacekeeping force in the separatist regions. But it’s difficult to get past the first sentence: “For anyone who thought that stark international aggression was a thing of the past, the last week must have come as a startling wake-up call.”