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Published: Tuesday, 9/9/2008

Why aid for Georgia?

AS VICE President Dick Cheney traveled to Georgia this week, President Bush announced that the United States will be providing that nation with $1 billion in additional aid to help it recover from its war with Russia last month.

The aid package will, of course, only serve to further enrage Russia and imperil relations with a former ally. So, why is Mr. Bush taking what could turn out to be a dangerous step?

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin has suggested that the administration put up Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili to sending troops into South Ossetia, with the goal of creating a crisis to strengthen the political marketability of Republican presidential candidate John McCain as stronger on national security than his Democrat opponent, Barack Obama.

If Mr. Saakashvili thought that America would ride to the rescue when Russia predictably responded with very strong military action, he was either very mistaken or duped by U.S. officials.

Now he may feel that the administration now owes him something for the beating his country took.

The United States has provided Georgia with $1.8 billion in aid since it became independent. It is hard to imagine that Mr. Bush would wish to further poison U.S.-Russian relations, but in an election year anything is possible.

The President says the $1 billion is for economic and humanitarian purposes, but such aid is fungible. What the United States gives Georgia for nonmilitary purposes replaces money that Georgia can then use for military purposes. U.S. military aid to Georgia is estimated to have amounted to $21 million in equipment and training last year.

And what about the interests of the American taxpayer? Why, exactly, should the United States be borrowing another $1 billion in deficit spending to make up to Georgia for the damage it suffered when it provoked its huge, dangerous neighbor? That question has not been answered.

Fortunately, some $430 million of the aid won't go to Georgia unless Congress approves. That body acts slowly on foreign aid requests in the best of times, which doesn't include the last months before a presidential election. It's unlikely that Congress's Democratic majority would look favorably on what is essentially a payoff to Georgia for its futile arson attempt in the Caucasus.

This last-minute exercise in questionable-dollar diplomacy should be shelved. It probably will be, unless Mr. McCain wins on Nov. 4. His chief foreign affairs adviser, Randy Scheunemann, has worked as a lobbyist for Georgia for years.



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