Who's Number 1, Russia or Georgia?
Congressional trips abroad paid for by U.S. taxpayers have increased 50% since 2006 and tripled since 2001, according to The Wall Street Journal
Russia and Georgia are in the news again this week before President Obama's first visit to Moscow. But the rumors of war in the Caucasus being promoted by certain U.S. pundits should probably take a backseat to a report published by The Wall Street Journal on American Congressional trips to the two countries. Accordng to the WSJ, last year Russia was the 10th most popular foreign destination for Congressional delegations funded by the American taxpayer. Georgia trailed as the 13th most popular destination, but still didn't do too badly, considering that it is a small country in the Caucasus with barely four million people. Not surprisingly, France, Switzerland, Germany, and the United Kingdom were well ahead, with only Kuwait, China and Israel proving exceptions to the overall Euro-Atlantic (and perhaps taxpayer funded Alpine skiing and wine and cheese tasting) bias.
In August 2008 GOP presidential candidate John McCain came under criticism for having an aide (Randy Scheunemann, pictured above) who had previously worked as a lobbyist for Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. A recent report commissioned by the European Union alleging that Mr. Saakashvili ordered his troops to attack the Russian-backed separatist enclave of South Ossetia on August 7, 2008 has fueled more calls for his ouster by the Georgian opposition
Former McCain Advisor and Georgia Lobbyist Scheunemann Back in the News
One of the individuals in Washington who can claim the most credit for Georgia punching above its weight in the Congressional "delgos" stakes is Randy Scheunemann. Mr. Scheunemann is a former foreign policy advisor to Republican Senator and Presidential candidate John McCain who came under fire last August for his previous role as a lobbyist for the Georgian government. Critics of McCain and Scheunemann alleged last year that both figures had become too close to the Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who led his country into an unsuccessful war with Russia. Mr. Scheunemann's public relations firm Orion Strategies LLC received over $800,000 in recent years for lobbying Congressional leaders to support Georgia's admission into NATO, and also worked with the George Soros-funded Open Society Policy Center in Washington D.C.
Mr. Scheunemann was back in the news this week, defending former GOP Vice Presidential nominee and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin from an article in the August 2009 issue of Vanity Fair magazine that Palin supporters such as Weekly Standard publisher William Kristol have denounced as a "hit piece". Mr. Scheunemann has denied previous reports that he was one of the sources for negative rumors about Governor Palin that have been reported in the mainstream media allegedly originating from former McCain campaign staffers.
As for Governor Palin, yesterday she stunned pundits in Juneau and Washington by announcing that she would resign from the Alaska Governorship and would not complete her term of office through 2012. Palin's resignation has fueled speculation that she will seek the Republican nomination for President in 2012. When asked by reporters last year what her foreign policy qualifications were for the Vice Presidency, Palin listed her state's geographic proximity and close economic ties to Russia as one of her answers.