A superficial glance at on-line references can't really tell me how well Ossetians and Georgians have gotten along in the centuries since the former moved in. Relying on the Internet for objective information is risky, especially if one goes to Wikipedia, where partisans of both groups, not to mention Russians and Americans, have no doubt attempted biased editing. In addition, we should take care to appraise the claims of Ossetians independent of our opinions of their Georgian antagonists or their Russian sponsors. It shouldn't matter whether or not Georgia is an aspiring ally of the United States or if Russia benefits in some way from South Ossetian autonomy. Russia looks like the bad guy now, but how do their actions differ from those taken by the U.S. against Yugoslavia (aka "Serbia") in the interests of Bosnia or Kosovo? Making that equation, however, shouldn't force us into a simplistic equation of Ossetian aspirations with those of Bosniaks and Kosovars. To be honest, I'm just beginning to learn about this region, so I'm not going to offer a neat answer to the present crisis. The most I can do right now is try to set the parameters for an objective discussion, for all the good that will do. Its relevance to American readers really doesn't extend beyond our concern that the Bush administration, not to mention Senators McCain and Obama, don't do or say anything irresponsible for geopolitical, ideological or self-interested reasons.
The Ossetian question has already become a campaign issue thanks to Governor Richardson's accusation that McCain is biased toward Georgia because one of the Republican's advisers was once a lobbyist for that country. Richardson had perhaps missed the fact that his candidate, Obama, has been denouncing the Russian incursion through the weekend in language very similar to McCain's. Richardson would be right to say that American foreign policy generally tends to be biased against Russia, but he should speak for himself on that point before implying that McCain is biased in a way that Obama is not. That having been said, McCain has usually used harsher language for the Putin regime than I can recall hearing from Obama, and his "League of Democracies" notion is almost inherently anti-Russian in character. Obama would win a debate on how to handle Russia almost by default unless he proves himself a Russophobe during the campaign. That remains a possibility, since the Ossetian crisis makes a Russian question more likely part of the coming foreign-policy debate.
Personally, I sympathize with Americans who choose to have no opinion on the matter, but I urge them to look out for politicians who want to make it our business, who'll talk about the Georgian democracy of the "rose revolution" and the debt we owe them for helping us in the war on terror. Skepticism toward American propaganda isn't the same as skepticism toward Georgia's interests in the conflict, but as Americans, we have an obligation to the first before the second.
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