Saturday, August 09, 2008

McCain lobbyist connected with Republic of Georgia, as fighting in Georgia and Russia near all-out war

Two days ago, fighting broke out between Russia and the Republic of Georgia over control of the South Ossetia region of Georgia. The South Ossetia region is a part of Georgia where Russian separatists have been trying to regain their own autonomy from the Georgian government. Russia has been backing the separatists. The South Ossetia region had enjoyed a de facto autonomy from Georgia since the early 1990s until Georgia launched a military attack, Friday, to regain control of the South Ossetia from the separatists. Russian airplanes and tanks rolled into Georgia to back the separatists. Now the entire region could break out into an all-out war between Russia and Georgia. President Bush is "deeply concerned" about the fighting in Georgia and has urged "an immediate halt to the violence and a stand-down by all troops." The Bush administration is working with European allies "to launch international mediation, and working with all sides in the conflict to restart their dialogue...." Secretary of State Condi Rice is making plans to send a U.S. envoy to the region. In short, the Bush administration is trying to find some diplomatic means to end this war and bring Russia and Georgia to the negotiating table.

Now the situation in South Ossetia is complex with neither party showing any inclination to back down. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama issued a statement condemning the violence, and urging "an immediate end" to the conflict. Obama also called for direct talks from all sides, and said that the U.S., the U.N. Security Council and other parties should help bring about a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The Obama campaign is pretty much reiterating the same statement that the Bush administration gave, calling for both the end of the war between Russia and Georgia, and for both nations to begin negotiations. There really isn't much the U.S. can do here regarding this conflict, without angering either Georgia, who is a staunch U.S. ally, or Russia, who is a major nuclear power.

But now let us look at how the McCain campaign responded to the conflict. Here is the press statement John McCain's own website:

Today news reports indicate that Russian military forces crossed an internationally-recognized border into the sovereign territory of Georgia. Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory. What is most critical now is to avoid further confrontation between Russian and Georgian military forces. The consequences for Euro-Atlantic stability and security are grave.

The government of Georgia has called for a cease-fire and for a resumption of direct talks on South Ossetia with international mediators. The U.S. should immediately convene an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council to call on Russia to reverse course. The US should immediately work with the EU and the OSCE to put diplomatic pressure on Russia to reverse this perilous course it has chosen. We should immediately call a meeting of the North Atlantic Council to assess Georgia’s security and review measures NATO can take to contribute to stabilizing this very dangerous situation. Finally, the international community needs to establish a truly independent and neutral peacekeeping force in South Ossetia.

What especially bothers me here is the McCain campaign's confrontational stance against Russia in this conflict. McCain demands that Russia "immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory." He demands that the U.S. should work with the European Union and The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to put diplomatic pressure on Russia, even going to the point of sending NATO troops into Georgia for peacekeeping. Georgia is not a member of NATO, but rather a partner in the organization. Russia is also a partner of NATO.

The McCain campaign has taken a hard-lined statement against Russia, both in its press release and in demanding punishment against Russia for entering into this war. According to The Los Angeles Times:

In a briefing with reporters, McCain responded to the Russian military incursion into the Georgian republic of South Ossetia by reiterating his call for Russia to be expelled from the Group of 8 leading industrialized nations. "Russia should not be in the G-8. And, by the way, continued Russian behavior . . . indicates that Russia is moving further and further from the principles and values and ideals of the G-8."

So because of Russia's incursion into Georgia over this war, McCain is demanding that Russia should be kicked out of the G-8 summit, a position McCain has reiterated before. And remember that McCain also wants to send NATO forces into Georgia--something that Russia will never allow. The big question to ask here is why is the McCain campaign taking this hard-lined stance against Russia.

The answer is lobbyists--or more specifically, McCain's top foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann served as a lobbyist for the Georgian government. According to ABC News:

Now, comes news that the Russian military has crossed a border into Georgia. "Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory," McCain said. "What is most critical now is to avoid further confrontation between Russian and Georgian military forces. The consequences for Euro-Atlantic stability and security are grave."

You may already know that McCain foreign policy director Randy Scheunemann represented the former Soviet republic of Georgia as a lobbyist between 2004 and 2006. (His lobbyist disclosure information can be accessed HERE, HERE, and HERE.

As of March 2008, Scheunemann no longer works as a lobbyist for foreign entities, but he remains a principal at his lobbying firm, which still has Georgia as a client.

This is just disturbing. What we have here is a lobbyist dictating the McCain campaign's response to a crisis situation between Russia and Georgia, where one of the combatants was a client to the lobbyist. And Georgia paid handsomely for Scheunemann's work. According to

Until early this year, Scheunemann was simultaneously working for the McCain campaign and as a lobbyist for a shifting menu of Eastern European and former Soviet Bloc countries with NATO aspirations. Some, including Georgia, have chilly relations with Russia. At various times from 2001 through early this year, Georgia, Latvia, Romania and Macedonia paid Scheunemann and his partner, Mike Mitchell, more than $2 million. Much of Scheunemann's work focused on paving the way into the NATO fold. Two of Scheunemann's clients, Latvia and Romania, were admitted to full NATO member status in 2004, after which they ceased paying him.

What is even more disturbing is that Scheunemann has been involved with the McCain campaign between 2001 and 2008. Lobbying disclosure records show that Scheunemann's two-person company, Orion Strategies, made dozens of phone calls and meetings with McCain between 2001 and 2008. Regular contributions to McCain's campaign and political action committee were provided by Scheunemann at that time. In 2006, McCain co-sponsored legislation in the Senate endorsing an expansion of NATO which included Georgia, Macedonia, Albania and Croatia. The legislation passed the Senate. Late in 2007, McCain wrote a national security treatise in Foreign Affairs, warning of Russian efforts to "bully democratic neighbors, such as Georgia, and attempts to manipulate European dependence on Russian oil and gas." And Scheunemann was still on Georgia's payroll at that time.

So what we now have is the question of whether the McCain campaign's hard-line policy against Russia came from McCain himself, or from Scheunemann's lobbying ties with Georgia. According to, McCain may be taking his hard-lined stance "because it plays well with some of the GOP base." McCain may be using the hard-lined talk to court Republican voters who may harbor nostalgia for the Cold War rhetoric. McCain may also believe his tough talk against Russia will force Russia to back down. But the Salon article also questions whether Scheunemann may have influenced McCain's policies on behalf of his clients. From

There is no way to tell if Scheunemann has influenced his boss on behalf of his clients, or if McCain and Scheunemann simply share a common get-tough-on-Russia philosophy. But when there are lobbyists on a candidate's campaign staff, it's hard to distinguish chicken from egg when it comes to policy.

"The whole point of lobbyists is to influence how politicians think," said Dmitry Gorenburg, executive director of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies and a lecturer at Harvard. "If these people have had an association for a long time, how do you tell if it is because they think alike, or one has told the other how to think because he is getting paid?" he asked. "Any time you've got a guy who has been lobbying for somebody as opposed to a regular observer, it sort of makes you wonder," said Gorenburg, who also thinks the hard-line approach with Russia is the wrong way to go. "My guess is that you cannot completely disentangle the influence."

That has been a huge problem for the McCain campaign. The lobbyists are running John McCain's campaign. And one part of running the campaign is crafting the policy positions for John McCain's White House bid. Those same lobbyists are certainly crafting policy positions that will benefit their clients, and how much money these lobbying firms will make from their clients. The problem with this latest conflict is that Scheunemann is not a policy expert, who understands the complexities of this conflict between Russia and Georgia, or perhaps even the history and culture of the South Ossetia region. Scheunemann is a lobbyist for the government of Georgia, and he is crafting John McCain's response to this conflict to the interest of his own greed of his firm's making more money from the Georgian government. Scheunemann is crafting a McCain policy position for outright greed. And if McCain is elected, Scheunemann is willing to take the world into a greater war simply for that greed of money.

No comments: