President-elect Obama is reportedly considering retaining Robert Gates as the secretary of defense. (Photo: Real Clear Politics)
So, Vladimir Putin was right: It was Georgia that started the war with Russia, and once again it was President Bush who got caught in a lie. As The New York Times reported last week, "Newly available accounts by independent military observers of the beginning of the war between Georgia and Russia this summer call into question the long-standing Georgian assertion that it was acting defensively against separatist and Russian aggression."
The Bush White House knew - but kept from the American public - facts concerning provocation by Georgia's U.S.-trained forces, which killed civilians in the capital of South Ossetia before Russian troops crossed the border. The provocation has also been documented in a BBC investigative report and by a growing consensus of other reliable sources.
No surprise, but it is a reminder of just how eager some are for a new Cold War and how indifferent they are to the truth of the matter. The career hawks are influential in both political parties, as was evidenced by the knee-jerk response of both presidential candidates, who claimed that the Russians had launched a totally unprovoked attack.
Sen. John McCain, whose top foreign policy adviser had been a paid lobbyist for Georgia, was most eager to confront the Russians, while Sen. Barack Obama was a bit more cautious. But as recently as in his Oct. 29 infomercial, Obama promised to "curb Russian aggression," which hardly suggests the change we need from the unilateral belligerence of the Bush foreign policy.
The result of that policy has been increased estrangement from the one country whose cooperation is totally indispensable in the effort to control the spread of nuclear weapons, given that Russia possesses roughly half of the world's nuclear arsenal and the ready means to build more nuclear arms. Yet instead of putting up a common front against nuclear proliferation, and even before the Georgia fracas, the Bush administration insisted on placing missiles on Russia's borders in a deal-breaker with Putin, whom President George W. Bush had previously embraced.
Improved relations with Russia are critical to the change toward a more peaceful world that Obama has promised, but it is disquieting in the extreme that some of his closest advisers are inveterate hawks with a history of needlessly provoking tension with the Russians during the Cold War days. Key among them is Zbigniew Brzezinski, who, as President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, engineered the U.S. involvement on the side of Islamic fanatics in Afghanistan.
Of course, the official story line at the time was that the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan to support their ally, which happened to be the governing power in Kabul, against the fanatic mujahedeen rebels, whom President Ronald Reagan would later officially embrace as "freedom fighters." Those freedom fighters came to be united by our CIA with the likes of Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks.
It was decades later that the truth came out that the Soviets invaded only after being deliberately provoked by U.S. hawks. One of them was Robert Gates, who worked for Brzezinski in the Carter administration and who is currently the secretary of defense; President-elect Obama is now reported to be considering retaining Gates in that position. A 1996 press release promoting Gates' memoir promised the revelation of "Carter's never-before-revealed covert support to Afghan mujahedeen - six months before the Soviets invaded."
The Gates revelation prompted an interviewer for the French publication, Le Nouvel Observateur, to ask Brzezinski in a 1998 interview whether he regretted "having given arms and advice to future terrorists," and Brzezinski replied: "Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? ... What is most important to the history of the world? … Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?"
That was three years before those "stirred-up Muslims" attacked us on 9/11, but Brzezinski has not lost his nerve for escalating wars. While advising Obama, he gave interviews hyping the Russian "invasion" of Georgia as the occasion for a new global conflict, telling journalist Nathan Gardels that Putin's action "was ominously similar to Stalin's and Hitler's in the late 1930s."
I know, Obama is not yet in office. I voted for him with enthusiasm in part because he does seem to have transcended the preoccupations of the Cold War. But as a buyer, I have to beware of those unrepentant Democratic hawks now hovering.
Robert Scheer is author of a new book, "The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America."