The notion of hundreds of thousands of Georgians protesting an election falsified by an authoritarian leader with strong backing from the U.S. a few short weeks before the U.S. election cannot possibly be comforting to an Obama administration anxious to avoid any unnecessary pre-election drama. A stolen election in Georgia followed by protests that, judging by the size and nature of campaign events by the opposition Georgian Dream block, could be enormous and will leave the administration with few good options.
If the administration does not intervene at that time, the demonstrations will likely continue, but could take a tone critical of western, and American, inaction in response to the administration's tacit endorsement of Saakashvili's election fraud. This would not be good for Obama and will remind voters of his administration's reluctance to take an early and strong position in support of peaceful demonstrators in Egypt and elsewhere in North Africa in early 2011. Continued protests in Georgia could even destabilize the country, creating immediate security problems for the U.S. in a region where the possibility of conflict between and within states is already very real.
Attempting to resolve the political crisis after the election would likely be the better approach for the Obama administration, but leaves the president vulnerable to charges from Romney and the Republican Party that he has betrayed a key ally. Saakashvili remains a darling of the right, where he, despite years of evidence to the contrary, is still viewed as a radical reformer and democrat. If Obama distances himself from Saakashvili on the eve of the U.S. election, Romney would likely redouble his critique of Obama as not being sufficiently supportive of America's friends.
It is possible that the Georgian election will go smoothly and will not be news in the U.S., but that is becoming less likely every day as fines, harassment and efforts to prevent the opposition from campaigning become even more frequent in Georgia. It is, therefore, likely that the Obama administration will be faced with this all-too-foreseeable October Surprise from Georgia. A year ago, there was much the U.S. could have done to make elections better in Georgia. The window for doing that is rapidly closing, but in the next few weeks the U.S. should do whatever it can to effect at least some change for the better.
Right now, the Georgian elections look like a minor event far away from the presidential campaign in the U.S., but if President Obama wants to keep it that way, he needs to act immediately.