Olbermann Claims US 'Provoked' Russia, Sees 'Troubling Neocon Echoes'

On Monday's Countdown show, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann blamed the Bush administration for the fighting between Russia and Georgia, charging that "the U.S. knowingly provoked Moscow for years by building up Georgia's military," and asked if "the administration essentially stoked the fires of this conflict by the way we contributed to the building up of Georgia and sort of encourage its president to do something like this." The MSNBC host was also distressed at the words of "neoconservatives" who favor a firm response against Russia, and referred to "troubling neocon echoes." Guest Flynt Leverett expressed his concern that "a very powerful group of neoconservative fellow travelers in the Democratic Party" would undermine Barack Obama's "more nuanced approach" to dealing with the situation as these neoconservative "elements" move into the Obama campaign. (Transcript follows)

Olbermann teased the show charging that John McCain is "trying to turn death near the Black Sea into political points at home." He also took exception with McCain for employing an advisor, Randy Scheunemann, who lobbies on behalf of Georgia.

After relaying that Barack Obama rejected McCain's "geopolitical simplicity" by placing some of the blame on Georgia, Olbermann took on neoconservatives: "McCain's language, meanwhile, was echoed by the architects of the Iraq war. Vice President Cheney saying, quote, 'Russian aggression must not go unanswered.' Fellow neocon William Kristol arguing that Georgia's participation in Iraq means, quote, 'We owe Georgia a serious effort to defend its sovereignty. Surely, we cannot simply stand by.' And troubling as the neocon echoes are, perhaps more embarrassing two elements of McCain's speech -- one, this report from CQPolitics.com wherein a Wikipedia editor pointing out at least three passages from the McCain's speech today, that it says most people would consider to have been derived directly from Wikipedia."

Olbermann soon brought aboard former NSC Senior Director Flynt Leverett, who expressed his concern that Obama's "more nuanced approach" to the situation may be undermined by "neoconservative fellow travelers in the Democratic Party" relocating from the Hillary Clinton campaign onto the Obama campaign: "There's a very powerful group of, what I would call, neoconservative fellow travelers in the Democratic Party, and a lot of these people were attached to the Hillary Clinton campaign. Now, the Obama campaign is trying to figure out how to take some of these people in. And I think there's a risk that Senator Obama could, in the end, end up ceding control or shaping the direction of his policy on important issues to some of these elements."

After agreeing with Leverett that the situation "requires a very nuanced approach," Olbermann asked if President Bush was to blame for "stoking the fires." Olbermann: "At the same time that Russia was mishandled, did we not, essentially, did the administration not essentially stoke the fires of this conflict by the way we have contributed to the building up of Georgia and sort of encourage its president to do something like this?"

In an op ed in the New York Times, titled "Blaming the Victim in Georgia," Svante Cornell of Johns Hopkins University takes an alternative view:

But the truth is that for the past several months, Russia, not Georgia, has been stoking tensions in South Ossetia and another of Georgia’s breakaway areas, Abkhazia. After NATO held a summit in Bucharest, Romania, in April — at which Georgia and Ukraine received positive signs of potential membership — then-President Vladimir Putin of Russia signed a decree effectively treating Abkhazia and South Ossetia as parts of the Russian Federation. This was a direct violation of Georgia’s territorial integrity.

It came after years of growing Russian efforts to assert control over these regions, for example, by distributing Russian passports to citizens and arranging the appointment of Russians to the territories’ governments. Mr. Putin, who is now Russia’s prime minister, oversaw a build-up of Russian “peacekeeping” forces in Abkhazia, which was clearly intended to provoke Georgia into a military response.

While speaking with his second guest, Rachel Maddow of Air America, Olbermann claimed that America's military has been "rendered impotent" by President Bush and contended that some American voters "assume we can win anything provided we chant, 'USA, USA, USA,' loudly enough":

OLBERMANN: Like it or not, a lot of voters assume we can win anything provided we chant, "USA, USA, USA," loudly enough. When your foreign policy positions reinforce that as McCain's do, throughout, not just Russia and Georgia, but throughout the world, when it's that way versus the message of nuance and complexity that Obama touched on today, how does Obama get that message through in a world in which everybody just breaks in to cheers at the idea, "Okay, we're going to go, we're going to fight," even though there are no troops to fight with, and we're not going to take on Russia, and more than what we could do to them, the Russians could shut off the oil spigot tomorrow and we'd be at $7 gasoline?

Maddow then mocked the neoconservative view on war policy, with Olbermann expressing agreement:

MADDOW: "Honestly, the neoconservative position is that, 'You know, look what we did in Gulf War I, look at those smart bombs, that only took five minutes when we toppled, we did what we wanted to do there.' Ever since then, the neocon position has been, that using military force is something that is precise-

OLBERMANN: Right.

MADDOW: -that has predictable consequences that always gets us what we want and no Americans die. And they've got this magical idea of American military omnipotence that we can use our military anywhere to accomplish any sort of objective and there'll never be any blowback. Americans just don't believe it anymore. It's a fairytale.

On the same show, Olbermann also continued to push conspiracy theories regarding the Anthrax attack case from 2001. During the show's regular "Bushed" segment, Olbermann advanced the theory of a Bush administration "coverup":

OLBERMANN: Anthrax-gate. The idea that the FBI and the Bush administration are somehow covering up what really happened by blaming it on the late Dr. Bruce Ivins creeps more and more total plausibility. The "Murdoch Street Journal" reported that the flask containing the so-called "Ivins Anthrax" could have been accessed not by 10 people at Fort Detrick in Maryland, but by more than 100. Now, the Washington Post reports that the supposed exact genetic match between the "Ivins Anthrax" and the Anthrax that showed up in the victims, that same genetic match shows up in the Anthrax in 15 other labs.

On the bright side, at least Olbermann did not theorize that President Bush intentionally arranged for a Russia-Georgia war to happen to distract attention away from the upcoming Democratic Convention, which would be in line with his past conspiracy theories. At least he hasn't advanced that theory yet.

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Monday, August 11, Countdown show on MSNBC:

KEITH OLBERMANN, IN OPENING TEASER: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? The presumptive nominee gets a little presumptuous. He trots out the flag props and delivers the grave policy warning about the conflict in Georgia, while he's dismissive of Obama's international trip as "too presidential too soon" still echoes.

JOHN MCCAIN: Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin must understand the severe, long-term negative consequences that their government's actions will have for Russia's relationship with the United States and Europe.

OLBERMANN: Trying to turn death near the Black Sea into political points at home. Oh, and some of the rest of the speech sounds a lot like what's written in the Georgia entry in Wikipedia.
...

OLBERMANN: Good evening. This is Monday, August 11th, 85 days until the 2008 presidential election.

With hundreds of Americans in harm's way, with a Russian invasion today, bringing all-out war to the soil of a strategic U.S. ally, with Russia blasting America for helping that ally, with thousands dead in just the past five days, we now have our first real-time test of how the presidential candidates would respond to a serious global crisis.

Our fifth story tonight: After suggesting his opponent was acting "too presidential too soon," John McCain has done some acting of his own, while letting his top foreign policy advisor continue to act as a lobbyist for one of the countries at war.

In supposedly swing state Pennsylvania today, McCain adopted presidential imagery and gave a presidential speech in appearance if not delivery, about today's invasion of Georgia, a much smaller neighbor that broke away from Moscow in the '90s and has been moving away politically further for several years.

But McCain did not address questions such as: Why did the U.S. permit Georgia to march last week into the capital of South Ossetia, one of Georgia's two breakaway regions, both with strong ties to Moscow, which claimed Georgia's move threatened thousands of Russian citizens there? Why did the U.S. knowingly provoke Moscow for years by building up Georgia's military?

Why did the Vice President talk about making sure Russia was not unanswered when we have no intention to go to war with them to say nothing of having no troops? And why is McCain's top foreign policy advisor still Randy Scheunemann, while his company is still paid to lobby for Georgia? Instead, McCain rattled sabers as if voters had already said they were his to rattle.

MCCAIN: This would be unacceptable to all the Democratic countries of the world and should draw us together in universal condemnation of Russian aggression. Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin must understand the severe, long-term negative consequences that their government's actions will have for Russia's relationship with the United States and Europe.

OLBERMANN: By contrast, in calling for a return to the status quo before Georgia marched in to South Ossetia, Obama used language rejecting McCain's geopolitical simplicity, suggesting that Georgia also stepped out of line.

BARACK OBAMA: Russian peacekeeping troops should be replaced by a genuine international peacekeeping force. Georgia should refrain from using force in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and a political settlement must be reached that addresses the status of these disputed regions.

OLBERMANN: McCain's language, meanwhile, was echoed by the architects of the Iraq war. Vice President Cheney saying, quote, "Russian aggression must not go unanswered."

Fellow neocon William Kristol arguing that Georgia's participation in Iraq means, quote, "We owe Georgia a serious effort to defend its sovereignty. Surely, we cannot simply stand by."

And troubling as the neocon echoes are, perhaps more embarrassing two elements of McCain's speech -- one, this report from CQPolitics.com wherein a Wikipedia editor pointing out at least three passages from the McCain's speech today, that it says most people would consider to have been derived directly from Wikipedia. Maybe he can use the Internets.

And point two about the speech and its echoes of Iraq, offered without comment at this moment of candor.

MCCAIN: We have other important interests, strategic interests at stake in Georgia, especially the continued flow of oil through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, which Russia attempted to bomb in recent days.

OLBERMANN: More drilling off the coast of Georgia. Following Mr. Bush's lead on Georgia may be difficult for Mr. McCain. The President began the day disengaged from the crisis, literally. He was in China and in his comments during an exclusive interview with Bob Costas at the Olympics for NBC Sports.

GEORGE W. BUSH: It was just interesting to me that here we are, you know, trying to promote peace and harmony and we`re witnessing a conflict take place.

BOB COSTAS: Right, no Olympic truce in this case.

BUSH: There wasn't. And I was very firm with Vladimir Putin -- he and I got a good relationship -- just like I was firm with the Russian president.

OLBERMANN: Despite his Olympic chat with Putin, Putin invaded today anyway, and tonight the President sounded much more like McCain, making demands without backing them up.

BUSH: Russia's government must respect Georgia`s territorial integrity and sovereignty. The Russian government must reverse the course it appears to be on, and accept this peace agreement as a first step toward resolving this conflict.

OLBERMANN: Those demands possibly undercut by Mr. Bush's own inability to keep clear which country was invaded today.

BUSH: It now appears that an effort may be under way to depose Russia's duly elected government.

OLBERMANN: Let's bring in a former senior director at the National Security Council, Flynt Leverett, now a senior fellow at the New America's Foundation. Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

FLYNT LEVERETT, FORMER NSC SENIOR DIRECTOR: Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN: What can we interpret from what we heard? How exactly would a President McCain defend Georgia in this?

LEVERETT: Well, Senator McCain has made clear in his presidential campaign that he would continue and, I would say, even exaggerate the failed and counterproductive approach of the Bush administration to Russia. Senator McCain says he wants to kick Russia out of the G8. He wants to provide military assistance to Georgia. As your setup noted, his chief foreign policy advisor has been a paid lobbyist for the Georgian government for several years.

As bad as U.S.-Russian relations are right now under the Bush administration's approach, if you project forward a year from now, 18 months from now under a McCain administration, U.S.-Russian relations could get significantly worse.

OLBERMANN: Obama in his statement calling for Georgia to disavow force. Obviously, you can count on McCain punching on that. What can you say about it?

LEVERETT: Well, this is a problem that Senator Obama faces on a number of issues, not just this one to the extent that he wants to try and take a more nuanced approach, appreciate all of the complexities of a difficult issue because he doesn't reflexively want to resort to force or to draw lines that the U.S. wouldn't be able to defend anyway. He's always open to the charge of being weak. Certainly, Senator McCain would try to make that point.

What's sad is that there are many within Senator Obama's own Democratic Party who would also want to take this bellicose hot air approach to Russia over this issue. You just look at the senior figure in the party like Richard Holbrooke and the editorial that he had in today's Washington Post. It's basically, you know, there's a very powerful group of, what I would call, neoconservative fellow travelers in the Democratic Party, and a lot of these people were attached to the Hillary Clinton campaign. Now, the Obama campaign is trying to figure out how to take some of these people in. And I think there's a risk that Senator Obama could, in the end, end up ceding control or shaping the direction of his policy on important issues to some of these elements.

OLBERMANN: And, as you say, this requires a very nuanced response because we've slapped the back of both of these countries, apparently, both of them at the wrong time. President Bush's famous expression of his naivete about looking into Putin's eyes early on and getting that sense of his soul, and then basically neglecting Russia when it didn't do exactly what we want it to for five years, and then this is supposed to be Condi Rice's area of expertise.

At the same time that Russia was mishandled, did we not, essentially, did the administration not essentially stoke the fires of this conflict by the way we have contributed to the building up of Georgia and sort of encourage its president to do something like this?

LEVERETT: Absolutely. We are where we are in this situation, in no small part, because the Bush administration, Senator McCain, and sadly, a lot of very senior Democrats willfully ignored an important reality, namely that Russia has become a much richer, much more powerful country, a country that can act autonomously to defend what it sees as important interests even when those actions don`t please the United States. And, at this point, there's very little that the United States has to respond. Are we not going to buy, will Europe not buy Russian gas? Is the United States not going to let Russia help fund its current account deficit?

OLBERMANN: It's more than complex. Flynt Leverett of the New America's Foundation, formerly a senior director at the NSC. As ever, sir, thank you for your time.

LEVERETT: Thanks very much.

OLBERMANN: Russia's invasion of Georgia raises huge political questions here at home, especially in this presidential race. Let's turn now to MSNBC political analyst, Rachel Maddow, who, of course, has her own show weeknights on Air America Radio. Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW: Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN: All right. Both McCain and Obama made statements today. Obama coming off that, what is now, a semi-vacation I suppose. Apart from the policy particulars, what was the difference in the approach? What do we hear about the, see about these two men just based on how they took to their podiums today?

MADDOW: What was striking is how consistent McCain is being toward Russia. He's taken every opportunity on foreign policy in this campaign to take a confrontational stance toward Russia. And so, as this war has erupted, and as the international community and Senator Obama are reacting by saying this war needs to be brought to a very swift end, this needs to be worked out in ways other than through force, the international community needs to be united to stop this and to solve these problems in ways other than they're being addressed right now; McCain, instead, is plowing ahead with this "Confront Russia, confront Russia, confront Russia." This is an extension of him wanting to throw Russia out of the G8 and the other sort of belligerent statements he's made there. I don't exactly know how he plans to back up these threats, but he's sticking with this confrontation plan.

OLBERMANN: Well, to that point, though, when it becomes obvious that there's nothing with which to back these threats up, given how, essentially impotent we have been rendered, militarily, put on politically by President Bush, what sense does saber rattling by McCain actually make if it is given a second thought by a voter or just a citizen?

MADDOW: Yes, well, it sounds good at first pass, which I think is what he's counting on. I think he's counting on Americans not being totally clear on the idea that Georgia's a country and not just a state. I think he's counting on the idea that when America wants to be tough, that we would use our military in every instance.

Honestly, what I think this brings into very sharp relief is how scary the prospect of a continued Bush foreign policy is -- because right now, we could be doing something if the idea of American diplomacy and American international leadership, and American moral authority were something other than a punch line. Then, we really could be doing something here. But because we don't have any of those assets at our disposable anymore after eight years of what the Bush administration has done to them, we're left with this empty, "We'll find a combat brigade somewhere" rattling that everybody knows is bluster.

OLBERMANN: Right. It's the line from King Lear. "I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to avenge myself on you, but I'll think of something really mean."

MADDOW: Yeah.

OLBERMANN: I'm paraphrasing Shakespeare obviously there. But the other point about this, and this is, I guess you just sort of touched on this, but like it or not, a lot of voters assume we can win anything-

MADDOW: Yeah.

OLBERMANN: -provided we chant, "USA, USA," loudly enough. When your foreign policy positions reinforce that as McCain's do, throughout, not just Russia and Georgia, but throughout the world, when it's that way versus the message of nuance and complexity that Obama touched on today. How does Obama get that message through in a world in which everybody just breaks in to cheers at the idea, "Okay, we're going to go, we're going to fight," even though there are no troops to fight with, and we're not going to take on Russia, and more than what we could do to them, the Russians could shut off the oil spigot tomorrow and we'd be at $7 gasoline?

MADDOW: Yeah, and there's a reason why Russia is right now bombing oil infrastructure in Georgia that has nothing to do with military strategy. I think that because it is 2008 and because of what we've been through for the past seven years in Afghanistan and six years, going on six years in Iraq, I think that Obama's message is much less risky than it would have been before.

Honestly, the neoconservative position is that, "You know, look what we did in Gulf War I, look at those smart bombs, that only took five minutes when we toppled, we did what we wanted to do there." Ever since then, the neocon position has been, that using military force is something that is precise-

OLBERMANN: Right.

MADDOW: -that has predictable consequences that always gets us what we want and no Americans die. And they've got this magical idea of American military omnipotence that we can use our military anywhere to accomplish any sort of objective and there'll never be any blowback. Americans just don't believe it anymore. It's a fairytale.

OLBERMANN: Yes, and because it's been perceived correctly. That strategy works in the game called darts.

MADDOW: Yeah.

OLBERMANN: But not in the real world in the game called life. Rachel Maddow of Air America and MSNBC, as always, thanks for coming in, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you, Keith.
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OLBERMANN, AT ABOUT 8:25 P.M.: But first, the headlines breaking in the administration`s 50 running scandals, "Bushed."
...

OLBERMANN: Number two: Anthrax-gate. The idea that the FBI and the Bush administration are somehow covering up what really happened by blaming it on the late Dr. Bruce Ivins creeps more and more total plausibility. The "Murdoch Street Journal" reported that the flask containing the so-called "Ivins Anthrax" could have been accessed not by 10 people at Fort Detrick in Maryland, but by more than 100. Now, the Washington Post reports that the supposed exact genetic match between the "Ivins Anthrax" and the Anthrax that showed up in the victims, that same genetic match shows up in the Anthrax in 15 other labs.