The reality is that the United States has only limited leverage in this conflict. True, Washington could, for example, block Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization, which would deny the country some important economic opportunities. But Russia has some counterleverage at its disposal. Most notably, as a major energy exporter in a world hungry for energy supplies, Russia is not likely to be “isolated,” as some overwrought American hawks demand.
One passage in the president’s statement is cause for alarm, however. He announced that he was directing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to execute a “humanitarian mission to the people of Georgia, headed by the United States military.” Bush stated that a C-17 transport plane loaded with humanitarian supplies was already on its way, and that in the days ahead U.S. military aircraft and naval forces would be tasked with delivering aid.
That is a reckless move. The supposed cease‐fire that was proclaimed on Tuesday seems largely ineffectual. Without a reliable truce in place, U.S. military forces would be entering a volatile war zone. Moreover, there was no indication that Bush was asking the Russians for permission. Indeed, his statement had all the characteristics of a demand — or a dare. “We expect Russia to ensure that all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, airports, roads, and airspace remain open for the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”
The arrogance of that position is breathtaking. When a major cyclone created widespread devastation in Burma earlier this year, some proponents of humanitarian aid urged the U.S. military to compel delivery even in the teeth of opposition from the Burmese junta. American leaders rejected their pleas, however, deeming such an operation to be too dangerous. Apparently that situation was considered more dangerous than barging into a war zone where the military forces of a nuclear‐armed power are conducting military operations.