Friday, August 15, 2008

Unfit for Command?

The situation in Georgia would be a comedy of errors if death and destruction weren't involved. Saakashvilli apparently thought US troops would fall out of the clouds from hovering secret and invisible bases and repel Russian tanks, rather than take weeks to arrive, set up, establish supply lines, and otherwise be ready to conduct a military operation.

You know, the way it works in the real world, rather than in the movies.

But before you look too harshly at the President of Georgia, consider the President of the United States:

President Bush Wednesday promised that U.S. naval forces would deliver humanitarian aid to war-torn Georgia before his administration had received approval from Turkey, which controls naval access to the Black Sea, or the Pentagon had planned a seaborne operation, U.S. officials said Thursday.

As of late Thursday, Ankara, a NATO ally, hadn't cleared any U.S. naval vessels to steam to Georgia through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, the narrow straits that connect the Mediterranean and the Black Seas, the officials said. Under the 1936 Montreaux Convention, countries must notify Turkey before sending warships through the straits.

Pentagon officials told McClatchy that they were increasingly dubious that any U.S. Navy vessels would join the aid operation, in large part because the U.S.-based hospital ships likely to go, the USNS Comfort and the USNS Mercy, would take weeks to arrive.

"The president was writing checks to the Georgians without knowing what he had in the bank," said a senior administration official.

"The president got out in front of the planning when he talked publicly about using naval forces," said a second senior administration official. "At that point we need to look at treaty obligations, our bilateral relations with the Turks and others, waterway restrictions and what kind of ships might be appropriate and usable — something like the Comfort or something already in the Med (Mediterranean)."
Yeah, it seems our ships can't magically appear just where we want them to, either. Apparently delivering humanitarian aid is just as much of a physical undertaking as delivering military power and personnel. And both involve the cooperation of other countries, which involves, well, diplomacy 'n' stuff:

"We think about Turkey when we realize we need them for something," said Mark Parris of The Brookings Institution, who served as U.S. ambassador to Turkey between 1997 and 2000. "This could very well be a case of that."

Bush on Wednesday said he was launching a "vigorous and ongoing" humanitarian mission in which U.S. military aircraft and ships would bring aid to beleaguered Georgia.


U.S. officials said the Turks hadn't cleared U.S. naval vessels to transit the Bosporus and the Dardanelles.

"The Turks haven't been helpful," said a State Department official. "They are being sluggish and unresponsive."
And, of course, there's a reason for that:

The Russian invasion of Georgia has almost certainly unnerved Turkey because it has huge energy and trade interests in adjacent Central Asia.

Turkey also may be reluctant to jeopardize the $24 billion in annual trade it does with Russia, which provides around 70 percent of its natural gas supplies. The Turkish Navy also shares the Black Sea with Russia's powerful Black Sea Fleet, which in part has prompted Ankara in recent years to restrict U.S. and NATO naval operations and exercises there.
Saakashvilli is more than a bit of a fool, apparently:

Bush's pledge to send aid-carrying naval ships prompted Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to proclaim that U.S. warships would break what he claimed — inaccurately — was a Russian naval blockade of Georgia's Black Sea coast, and that U.S. forces would take control of his country's ports. He seems to be in good company.
Lucky us.

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