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Column: Georgia Helped US In Iraq, But We Can't Return Favor

This story was written by Michael Baumann, The Daily Gamecock

Barack Obama and I have five things incommon: gender, country of birth, religion, the fact that we have once played basketball and our position on the invasion of Iraq in 2003: we were both against it and neither of us was in a place to vote on it at the time.

But that doesn't matter now; the fact of the matter is that five years later, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cost of the war will be in the trillions of dollars. More importantly, more than 4,000 coalition soldiers have lost their lives, including five Georgians.

Why should we care if Georgians have lost their lives in Iraq? After all, these are guys with names like Vladimir from Tbilisi, not guys with names like Jake from Atlanta. The reason is that after they put themselves in harm's way for American interests, Russian tanks have been rolling through the streets in Georgia, and the United States, because of its expenditures in terms of lives, money and material in Iraq, is in no position to return the favor.

For a time, the cordial relationship that President Bush and former Russian President Vladimir Putin shared seemed to signal a sea change in Russo-American relations. This past month, Russia, in its eagerness to re-establish itself as a regional superpower, has thrown that goodwill away by invading Georgia and bringing the most democratic and pro-Western government in the region to its knees.

Does this constitute a direct threat to American national security? Not really, but it's troubling from a perspective of precedent. If Russia is going to bully the Caucasus nations, what are they going to do about Ukraine, which has spent the past five years following Georgia's lead from a political standpoint?

Make no mistake, Russia has had a long-standing beef with Georgia over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in which there is no clear-cut good guy, and President Dmitri Medvedev hasn't gassed any Kurds, but an emboldened and militarized Russian state is every inch as dangerous to democracy now as a sanctioned and inward-looking Iraqi state was in 2003.

NATO has said in the past that Georgia will become a member sometime soon. Think about what might have happened if Georgia were a member of NATO - if Russia - were to invade. The United States would be obligated by treaty to come to Georgia's aid, and even with the recent gains made in Iraq, the U.S. is in no position to do so.

Regardless of how you feel about the invasion and occupation of Iraq, one thing is for certain: with so much invested there, the U.S. is ill-equipped to deal with another, arguably more dangerous foe in Europe.

And that is a frightening thought indeed.