Stephanopoulos Suggests Georgia Provoked Russia

On Sunday’s This Week on ABC, host George Stephanopoulos seemed to buy into the idea that Georgia provoked war with Russia as he asked guest Mitt Romney, "Didn’t President Saakashvili of Georgia bring some of this on himself by going into South Ossetia?" After Romney informed viewers that Georgian troops were deployed in response to violent attacks by South Ossetians, the ABC host followed up by asking Romney to respond to charges that the push, presumably by the United States, to expand NATO and build a missile defense system was perceived by Vladimir Putin as "belligerent and aggressive." Stephanopoulos: "How do you respond to the argument that by pushing for Georgia to be in NATO, by pushing for Ukraine to be in NATO, by putting a missile defense system in Czechoslovakia, this was seen as belligerent and aggressive by Putin and kind of brought him in?"

The exchange came as the ABC host interviewed Romney and former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle. While Stephanopoulos focused on the subject of the policy differences between John McCain and Barack Obama on Georgia, the ABC host asked of Romney: "Governor Romney, Senator McCain said this week, ‘We are all Georgians now,’ but didn’t President Saakashvili of Georgia bring some of this on himself by going into South Ossetia?"

After Romney credited President Saakashvili with Georgia "becoming a democracy and standing up for the principles of freedom," Stephanopoulos clarified: "But what about his military action in South Ossetia?"

Romney conveyed to viewers that the Georgian president was responding to violent attacks from separatists in South Ossetia: "Well, certainly when his truckload of policemen is attacked by South Ossetians and blown up, you have a responsibility as a government to protect citizens, as he had communities being attacked with rockets that were coming from South Ossetia, and so he, of course, took action to protect his nation. The Russians have been looking for an excuse to be able to punish either the Ukraine or Georgia or to flex their muscles in the Caucasus, and this is something they’ve been anticipating for some time."

Stephanopoulos followed up: "How do you respond to the argument that by pushing for Georgia to be in NATO, by pushing for Ukraine to be in NATO, by putting a missile defense system in Czechoslovakia, this was seen as belligerent and aggressive by Putin and kind of brought him in?"

Below is a transcript of the relevant exchange from the Sunday, August 17, This Week with George Stephanopoulos on ABC:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Romney, Senator McCain said this week, "We are all Georgians now," but didn’t President Saakashvili of Georgia bring some of this on himself by going into South Ossetia?

MITT ROMNEY: If you mean by becoming a democracy and standing up for the principles of freedom, did he bring it on himself? I would have certainly hoped that that not have been considered a-

STEPHANOPOULOS: But what about his military action in South Ossetia?

ROMNEY: Well, certainly when his truckload of policemen is attacked by South Ossetians and blown up, you have a responsibility as a government to protect citizens, as he had communities being attacked with rockets that were coming from South Ossetia, and so he, of course, took action to protect his nation. The Russians have been looking for an excuse to be able to punish either the Ukraine or Georgia or to flex their muscles in the Caucasus, and this is something they’ve been anticipating for some time. And that’s why I think it’s been so important that, frankly, President Clinton listened to John McCain and changed his course back in the 90s and said, "You know what, we are going to let the former Soviet satellite states become part of NATO." This is something John McCain has fought for. He’s been in, not only in South Ossetia, John McCain has, but also in Georgia time and again. This shows one more time that, in a dangerous and troubled world, it’s helpful to have a leader of your nation that knows these places, knows the people, understands the setting, and John McCain didn’t have to search around to figure out what to say what was going on. He knew what it was.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you respond to the argument that by pushing for Georgia to be in NATO, by pushing for Ukraine to be in NATO, by putting a missile defense system in Czechoslovakia, this was seen as belligerent and aggressive by Putin and kind of brought him in?

ROMNEY: Well, there’s no question that Putin, with his authoritarian bent, everything from what he’s done to the business community in Russia to what he’s done to the media in Russia, and former employees in Russia, that he has the ambitions of the old Soviet Union, to a certain degree. He’s certainly more in that direction than Gorbachev or leaders that are looking for a more democratic state.