One of the most striking features of the crisis in Georgia has been the role played by John McCain. While President Bush was enjoying the Olympics and Barack Obama was on vacation in Hawaii, McCain became the leading international spokesman on behalf of Georgia. While Obama initially parroted the Russian line, so that he was soon required to flip-flop–what a surprise!–McCain saw the crisis from the beginning as a clear case of Russian aggression, and understood the strategic implications of that aggression.
Today, in a speech in York, Pennsylvania, McCain continued his role as the strongest advocate for Georgian independence. His remarks were so cogent and so eloquent that I will quote them almost in full:
Georgia itself, my friends, has a long and remarkable history. It was a fourth-century convert to Christianity, one of the first nations on Earth to convert to Christianity — if you go to Georgia, as I have several times, you’ll see churches that go back to the fourth- and fifth-century — and it’s been a part of the grand sweep that comprises Western civilization. But because of their location, their history hasn’t been easy. Through the centuries, they have seen invasions and attacks from Mongols, Russians, Turks and Persians. And through it all, they maintain their language, their cultural identity, and their national pride. And as you know, they were part of the Soviet Union and were able to achieve their independence when the Soviet Union disintegrated. And they’re facing terrible trials today, but they’ll get through this, too.
And, my friends, and I’ll talk about this more in a minute — but they’re at a strategic crossroads. There’s a pipeline, an oil pipeline, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan, which brings oil from the Caspian to points west and traverses Georgia — that’s the very pipeline that the Russians tried to bomb. And I don’t have to tell you about the price of oil and disruption of oil supplies.
In this country — it’s that little country, a country whose territorial integrity, independence and sovereignty NATO countries reaffirmed at their summit in April — terrible violence has occurred. Now let me just remind you exactly what has taken place here.
On Friday, Russian tanks and troops moved through the Roki Tunnel, across an internationally-recognized border, and into the Georgian province of South Ossetia. Two years ago, I traveled to South Ossetia, my friends, and we went through this barricade, and as soon as we got into this place, which the Russians are maintaining hundreds and now thousands of troops, there’s this huge billboard and it said, ‘Vladimir Putin, Our President.’ Have no doubt about Russian ambitions in this area.
The Russian government stated it was acting only to protect Ossetians, and yet, on Saturday, its bombing campaign encompassed the whole of Georgia. Hundreds of innocent civilians have been wounded and killed — possibly thousands. Military bases, apartment buildings, and other infrastructure all came under Russian fire. And the Russian Black Sea Fleet began concentrating off of the Georgian coast.
Before the weekend ended, Russian troops drove the Georgians out of South Ossetia and stepped up their offensive in the region of Abkhazia — Abkhazia is another area that the Russians have controlled in violation of Georgian territorial integrity. And Georgia asked for a ceasefire, and Russia responded by bombing the Tbilisi Airport.
Yesterday, Russian troops advanced on one city after another. Gori, Senaki, Poti, and other cities were attacked. In 2006, I visited Senaki and reviewed the Georgian troops who had served with honor beside American soldiers in Iraq — 2,000 of them served beside American soldiers in Iraq, and we’re proud of that.
President Medvedev stated that he has halted the offensive, but reports indicate that Russian military forces have continued attacks in some areas and the situation remains fluid and dangerous. Foreign Minister [Lavrov] announced that Russia seeks regime change in Georgia, and that it’s democratically-elected president ‘better go.’
In the face of this threat, the leaders of Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Latvia — you know there’s a common thread there amongst them, they all suffered under Soviet domination — they’ve all announced that they’ll travel to the region, and the French president is in Moscow in an attempt to help resolve the crisis. They understand that it’s a responsibility of the leading nations of the world to ensure that history continues to record reform and make progress toward respecting the values and security of all free people.
This is the situation in Georgia as we meet here this morning. The impact of Russian actions goes beyond their threat to a democratic Georgia. Russia has used violence against Georgia to send a signal to any country that chooses to associate with the West and aspire to our shared political and economic values.
My friends, we learned at great cost the price of allowing aggression against free nations to go unchecked. With our allies, we must stand in united purpose to persuade the Russian government to withdraw its troops from Georgia. There must be an independent, international peacekeeping force in the separatist regions. And we should ensure that humanitarian aid can be airlifted to Georgia’s capital, and stand ready to help our Georgian partners put their country back together. And we must make clear to Russia’s leaders that the benefits they enjoy from being part of the civilized world require their respect for the values, stability, and piece of that world.
My friends, today the killing goes on and aggression goes on. Yet, I know from speaking this morning to the President of Georgia, Misha Saakashvili, who I’ve known for many years, that he knows that the thoughts and the prayers and support of the American people are with that brave little nation as they struggle today for their freedom and independence. And he wanted me to say thank you to you, to give you his heartfelt thanks for the support of the American people for this tiny little democracy far away from the United States of America. And I told him that I know I speak for every American when I say to him, today, we are all Georgians.
You can watch McCain’s speech here.
Georgia’s President, Mikheil Saakashvili, addressed a rally in Tbilisi today. He, too, talked about his conversation with McCain earlier in the day:
Today, John McCain said that Americans are supporting Georgia. McCain said, we are Georgians today, everybody are Georgians today.
It has been an extraordinary moment, in which John McCain has seemed almost more the leader of the free world than the President. You can be sure that in November, Saakashvili and Vladimir Putin will be following our election results with equal attention.
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