US Watched as a Squabble Turned Into a Showdown





The story of how a 16-year, low-grade conflict over who should rule two small, mountainous regions in the Caucasus erupted into the most serious post-cold-war showdown between the United States and Russia is one of miscalculation, missed signals and overreaching, according to interviews with diplomats and senior officials in the United States, the European Union, Russia and Georgia. In many cases, the officials would speak only on the condition of anonymity.

It is also the story of how both Democrats and Republicans have misread Russia's determination to dominate its traditional sphere of influence.

As with many foreign policy issues, this one highlighted a continuing fight within the administration. Vice President Dick Cheney and his aides and allies, who saw Georgia as a role model for their democracy promotion campaign, pushed to sell Georgia more arms, including Stinger antiaircraft missiles, so that it could defend itself against possible Russian aggression.

On the other side, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and William J. Burns, the new under secretary of state for political affairs, argued that such a sale would provoke Russia, which would see it as arrogant meddling in its turf, the officials and diplomats said.


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