August 21, 2008
Lobbying for War
Comment by Andrei Tsygankov
Special to Russia Profile

The Anti-Russian Lobby in the United States Pushes for NATO’s Expansion Despite Russia’s Objections

Although the principal responsibility for Georgia’s recent attack on South Ossetia lies with Tbilisi, the United States shares the blame for the resulting violence in the region. Because of American political support, economic assistance and training of the Georgian military, Tbilisi felt emboldened in its adventurism. Now that Georgia is defeated and its powerful patron humiliated, it is important to ask what actions and statements by the United States sustained the level of support that Tbilisi read as sufficient to launch a military campaign in Russia’s backyard.

In addition to the support coming from the U.S. government, one must not overlook the role played by anti-Russian groups within the American establishment. Unlike the George Bush administration, anti-Russian groups did not pretend that they considered Russia a partner in security relationships, and they presented Russia’s behavior as incompatible with American values and interests. These groups never concealed that enlargement of NATO was crucial for controlling the Eurasian region with its vast resources and potentially powerful geopolitical challenges to American domination. The anti-Russian lobbyists and sympathetic politicians, such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John McCain, always saw the alliance’s original purpose as that of containing Russia. While comparing the growing Russia with Hitler’s Germany, the lobby in fact pushed for an expansionist revolutionary policy for the United States, thereby provoking the Kremlin.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, the former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld argued for expanding NATO’s mission by inviting and training new members, including Georgia and Ukraine, in order to deter a threatening Russia that “recently suggested it might turn its nuclear arsenal on Ukraine or incite civil disorder in Georgia.” Postponement of MAPs for the new alliance aspirants, he continued, would amount to appeasement serving as a “green light to Russia to continue the tired rhetoric of the Cold War.” The deterrence and appeasement arguments were, of course, well-tested rhetorical tools that Rumsfeld and others had successfully applied before for rallying American support against the Soviet Union, as well as Yugoslavia and Iraq.

The power-based arguments were substantiated by culturally essentialist ones that presented Russia as incompatible with a civilization of European and Western origins. The Jamestown’s Eurasia Daily Monitor and a number of other outlets are covering the issue of NATO expansion from the perspective of buttressing the traditional unity of the Euro-Atlantic civilization against Russia. In Georgia, members of the political class also tend to view their pro-NATO choice in terms of their “democratic” opposition to the “anti-Western” civilization values of Russia. Finally, liberal Russophobes, while not necessarily sharing the belief in geopolitical and cultural preponderance of the United States and other Western nations, provided their own rationale for expanding NATO. To them, the expansion was mainly about democracy and Western-style political freedoms. As The Washington Post wrote, because of “Moscow’s ambition to destroy those countries’ [Ukraine and Georgia’s] freedom and independence” the United States should continue to push for the alliance’s expansion without fearing to offend Russia.

The anti-Russian lobby worked directly with potential new NATO members in Eastern Europe and sought to mobilize support for the alliance’s expansion at home. From the lobby’s perspective, it was a two-way street: the United States was providing Eastern European governments with security guarantees against Russia in exchange for obtaining their full political support of America’s foreign policy.

A case in point is the U.S. intervention in Iraq. Members of the lobby, such as Bruce Jackson, successfully lobbied Eastern European countries to support U.S. policy in Iraq. A former military intelligence officer who worked under Richard Pearle, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney in the Ronald Reagan and George Bush Senior administrations, Jackson was also a vice president for the world’s biggest weapons-making company Lockheed Martin. Under the Bush junior administration, he emerged as president of both the Project on Transitional Democracies and the U.S. Committee on NATO. Actively involved in promoting NATO expansion before the Iraq invasion, Jackson was mobilizing the so-called Vilnius Ten countries to rebuke France’s position in February 2003. He convinced the governing elites of the Vilnius Ten countries to sign the declaration of support for the Iraq war – often against the will of their own societies – linking it to winning the U.S. Senate’s approval of their membership into NATO. Soon after the war, Jackson was back arguing virtues of admitting Georgia and Ukraine to the alliance, supported in this by Eastern European governments.

It was a two-way street indeed: the tiny Georgia sent the third largest military contingent to Iraq and paid anti-Russian lobbyists in Washington. In exchange, Jackson and others lobbied to get Georgia into NATO. For example, over the recent years, Sen. John McCain’s advisor Randy Scheunemann and his partner Mike Mitchell were paid more than $2 million by Georgia, Latvia, Romania and Macedonia for advocating their membership in NATO.

Around October 2004, Saakashvili turned down Russia’s offer of a good neighbor treaty and aimed to solve territorial disputes by relying on political support from the United States. Washington has provided Tbilisi with $1.2 billion in aid in the past decade, and it had deployed military advisors in Georgia, officially to train and equip forces to eradicate terrorism from the lawless Pankisi Gorge. In early 2005, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Hilary Clinton “rewarded” Saakashvili for his strategic choice by suggesting that he, along with Viktor Yushchenko, be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for “leading freedom movements in their respective countries” and winning "popular support for the universal values of democracy, individual liberty, and civil rights." Emboldened, Georgia’s Saakashvili became even more anti-Russian in his actions.

That the lobby was able to enlist the support of high-profile politicians in the United States is also evident in members of the House of Representatives’ testimonies that made their case for ignoring Russia’s concerns about NATO enlargement. For example, all witnesses to the hearing on “NATO Enlargement and the Bucharest Summit” organized by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on March 4, 2008, supported continued expansion of the alliance and endorsed MAPs for Georgia and Ukraine. In addition to Sen. John McCain and Sen. Joe Biden, a prominent voice of support was the influential Republican Senator Richard Lugar, who initiated a bill in the U.S. Senate in favor of Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO, arguing that it “will enable Europe, the United States, and NATO to expand the zone of freedom and security.” The bill provided $10 million in assistance in the fiscal year of 2008 for Georgia’s membership preparations. On March 6, a similar bill was passed by the House of Representatives.

Today, the United States continues to prop up Saakashvili’s regime without addressing Russia’s interests. Washington is bent on bringing Georgia to NATO and isolating Russia from the energy infrastructure in the region. The lobby has succeeded in influencing the official perception of the Kremlin’s policies and articulating a highly distorted image of Russia in the American media: as a power that is relentlessly autocratic, has no regard for civilian lives and is only interested in restoring its domination in the Caucasus. Russia should draw the necessary conclusions by pressing for a strategic presence in the region and greater international recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia