Russia extends its assault on Georgia and bombs Tbilisi.

Russia extends its assault on Georgia and bombs Tbilisi.

Russia extends its assault on Georgia and bombs Tbilisi.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 11 2008 6:22 AM

Deep Impact

The New York Times, the  Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with Russia extending its assault on Georgia to cities beyond the breakaway region of South Ossetia. As Georgia pulled back its own troops and called for a cease-fire, Russia bombed sites in the capital, Tbilisi, and in Abkhazia, another breakaway region. Meanwhile, Russia's Black Sea fleet apparently imposed a blockade on Georgia's main port. The NYT highlights that Georgian officials also said Russian ground troops are advancing toward the city of Gori, which is a short drive away from Tbilisi. The United States and other countries continued to condemn Russia's "disproportionate response," as President Bush put it. But the WSJ notes up high that Russia's biggest international use of force since the collapse of the Soviet Union has made it clear that the United States and Europe have little influence in the region.

USA Todaydevotes much of its front-page real estate to the conflict in Georgia but leads with word that the Transportation Security Administration is planning to impose new security regulations on private planes. Some are worried that new security guidelines would take away from the convenience of eschewing commercial air travel, but some administration officials have voiced concerns that terrorists could get around security measures through private planes.

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As Georgia claimed to be withdrawing its troops from South Ossetia, Russian officials said they didn't buy it and accused Georgia of merely taking the time to regroup and plan a counterattack. The LAT files its dispatch from Gori and says that this morning, "[d]ozens of Georgian tanks and vehicles carrying troops passed through Gori, heading north toward South Ossetia." Russian officials also dismissed claims that a proper cease-fire was offered and said peace negotiations won't begin until after Georgia unconditionally withdraws all its troops from South Ossetia and vows never again to attack the region.

At the United Nations, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad of the United States accused Moscow of seeking to depose Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili after noting that Russia's foreign minister told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Saakashvili "must go." "This raises serious questions about Russia's objectives," Khalilzad said at the Security Council. "This is completely unacceptable." Bush spoke in person with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Beijing and urged him to end the offensive. Underscoring the Bush administration's concern over Russia's offensive against a strong ally, Vice President Dick Cheney apparently told Saakashvili yesterday that "Russian aggression must not go unanswered." The White House said it would seek a U.N. resolution condemning Russia's actions, but, as the WP points out, "U.S. options may be limited, given Washington's need for help on a wide range of issues."

The NYT fronts a separate dispatch from Gori and says that as civilians trying to flee the violence encountered Western journalists, "they all said the same thing: Where is the United States? When is NATO coming?" Georgians, who are known for being staunchly pro-American, "Were beginning to feel betrayed," says the NYT.

The LAT talks to a Russia scholar who says Russia's strong response is meant to send a message not only to Georgia but to other former Soviet republics and the United States. "This is a signal to everyone that Russia is back—and Russia is going to try and dominate this region of the world," Michael McFaul of Stanford University said. "They are calling our bluff." USAT also says that the conflict may be Russia's way of testing what the United States and Europe are willing to do in order to defend Georgia. "This is the beginning of the re-emergence of the Russian sphere of influence in what was the former Soviet Union," an analyst tells USAT.

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In a news analysis that provides some helpful background information for those trying to understand the conflict, the NYT says that while the intense Russian attack took many by surprise and didn't appear to be premeditated, "there had been signs for years that Georgia and Russia had methodically, if quietly, prepared for conflict." Some think that by training Georgian soldiers to fight in Iraq, the United States may have inadvertently emboldened Georgia "to enter a fight it could not win," says the Times. Many analysts had long warned that Saakashvili's strong alliance with the Bush administration would force the United States to get involved in regional arguments.

The WP's op-ed page has two pieces that say the conflict is full of historical significance and marks an important step in Moscow's attempt to impose its dominance in the region. "Historians will come to view Aug. 8, 2008, as a turning point no less significant than Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell," writes Robert Kagan. In a separate piece, Ronald Asmus and Richard Holbrooke say Russia clearly wants "regime change in Georgia" in order to replace Saakashvili "with a president who would be more subject to Moscow's influence." More than anything, Moscow is trying to send a message to neighboring countries: "Being close to Washington and the West does not pay." Although military intervention in Georgia "is out of the question," the United States and the European Union "must make clear that this kind of aggression will affect our relations and Russia's standing in the West."

The WSJ takes a look at how the Russia-Georgia conflict quickly brought foreign-policy issues back to the forefront of the U.S. presidential campaigns. This gives John McCain a golden opportunity to contrast his experience with that of Barack Obama since foreign policy is one of the few areas where, according to polls, voters trust the presumptive Republican nominee more than his opponent. McCain will also no doubt take advantage of the fact that he'll have the campaign trail to himself as Obama enjoys his Hawaii vacation.

In a separate story, the WSJ notes that this might be one of those few times where McCain's close connection with lobbyists may actually help him. McCain's top foreign-policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, was a lobbyist for Georgia until earlier this year. Obama's campaign quickly seized on this fact to say that it represented a conflict of interest, but now that Georgia is being widely seen as the victim of Russian aggression the connection could actually be seen as a strength. "In a major international crisis, what is their response?" Scheunemann said of the Obama campaign. "To take a cheap shot at me, as if helping a struggling democracy is somehow wrong."

The WP fronts a look at how money from the Commander's Emergency Response Program in Iraq that is supposed to hand out quick cash on an emergency basis is increasingly being used to fund large-scale projects without the usual government rules and little, if any, oversight. Of the $2.8 billion in U.S. funds spent so far on the program, about $1 billion has been devoted to fund projects that don't even fit the Army's definition of "small scale." Pentagon officials say that besides being a way to win over the hearts and minds of Iraqis, the emergency money should also be seen as a reconstruction program that is particularly concerned with creating local jobs.

On that employment front, the NYT takes a look at how the absence of a large private sector in Iraq means that the government has been trying to sustain the economy by adding more government jobs. Since 2005, the number of government employees nearly doubled. Government figures predict that by the end of this year, 35 percent of Iraq's labor force will be working in the public sector. This number may not be "atypical for the region, but it hardly indicates the free market state initially envisioned by the United States-led Coalition Provisional Authority," says the NYT.

The LAT fronts, and everyone mentions, news that singer and songwriter Isaac Hayes died yesterday. Hayes "changed the shape of pop music" (LAT) and in the late '60s and early '70s laid the groundwork for the disco and rap movements. "In recent years, you could hear his influence in the productions of Dr. Dre and in the music of fellow pianist/songwriter Alicia Keys," says USAT. He was most famous for his soundtrack to the 1971 film Shaft, which earned him an Oscar and two Grammys. Younger fans probably knew Hayes more through his work on South Park, where he was the voice of Chef until he quit the animated series after an episode that made fun of Scientology. Hayes was as surprised as anyone that he regained star power through a cartoon. "You work all your life, struggle for artistic excellence, and then some wack cartoon happens and you're hotter than you've ever been." He was 65.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.