The White House has announced that vice-president Dick Cheney will meet with Georgian President Mikhail Shaakashvili next week. The trip is sure to further stoke tensions with Russia and is a further sign of the influence that Cheney wields--the neoconservatives clustered around Cheney continue to have the upper hand in the Bush administration. If John McCain, whose chief foreign policy advisor Randy Schenuemann is a veteran neocon and has also been a lobbyist for Georgia, is elected president, he will continue further down the path that set by Cheney in the next few weeks. Though Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice briefly tried to reassert herself in foreign affairs in pushing for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement and an agreement with Iran, the conflict between Russia and Georgia means that the neocons are resurgent
The fact is that Cheney and the neocons have long had Georgia on their minds, and the war itself has been a very convenient one for them. It would likely not have occurred absent their stalwart backing of the Shaakashvili. Indeed, the administration's unremitting efforts to portray Georgia, which, by the way, has a rather shaky human rights record, as a flourishing democracy have boomeranged. The result has been a war that will probably cost Georgia for decades, if not longer, as Russian troops linger on its territory, intent on demonstrating the price of trying to defy the oil-rich and thuggish Kremlin. The costs of the administration's so-called freedom agenda keep mounting.
But lousy relations with Russia suit Cheney & Co. well. For one thing, it means that any Russian cooperation in containing Iran's nuclear ambitions is probably null and void. Another war with Iran would serve as the capstone to the Bush presidency, allowing Cheney to engage in the kind of regime change he was intent upon from the outset. It will be interesting to see how far Cheney is willing to go in antagonizing Russia during his upcoming visit. It will give a very good indication of where the administration -- and John McCain -- is headed as well in coming months.