WaPo columnist Jackson Diehl is a quintessential liberal hawk. So when he expresses open criticism of Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, as he did today, that means there are serious cracks in the coalition of supporters that Saak had hoped to protect himself with, in Washington.
Diehl’s column was titled “The Trouble with Saakashvili.”
- The irony is that, beneath that overweening campaign [I think he means ‘overarching’ not overweening? ~HC] to contain Russian belligerence, American officials are still seething at Saakashvili. His impulsive and militarily foolhardy attack on the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 8 opened the way for Putin’s aggression. True, provocations by Russian-controlled Ossetian militias preceded the Georgian move, and Russian troops’ subsequent takeover of much of Georgia was clearly planned and prepared well in advance. But the mercurial Saakashvili disregarded direct American warnings that he not fall into Putin’s trap. He embarrassed his staunchest defenders in Washington and plunged both his country and the United States into what has been a costly — and so far losing — battle.
I actually want to write a lot more, as soon as I can, about the nature and size of the costs that Saak’s adventurism inflicted on the United States’ posture of military ‘deterrence’ all round the world.
(Teaser for that: Saak’s bear-baiting ended up revealing for all to see the degree to which the US military has become completely overstretched, and therefore seriously dented– or perhaps even destroyed completely– the “credibility” of the US’s long-sustained posture of conventional-force “deterrence”. Is it just an accident, after all, that one of the developments that followed the Ossetian war was Kim Jong-il’s announcement that he’s about to resume his nuclear weapons program??)
Back to Jackson “Always gung-ho for liberal wars” Diehl. He writes pretty well about the political nuance of the situation Saak has placed the US in:
- The truth is that it would be considerably easier for the United States to defend Georgia and its democracy if it did not have to defend — and depend on — Saakashvili himself. Yet the media-savvy president easily won reelection earlier this year and is due to serve until 2013. And a Russian victory in forcing his departure would destroy the country’s political system. The crude public attacks on him by Putin and sidekick Dmitry Medvedev, who publicly called him a “lunatic” and “bastard,” have only served to strengthen Saakashvili both in Washington and Tblisi.
Still, if Georgian democracy needs Saakashvili to survive, it also needs, eventually, to reckon with him. If and when the Russian occupation can be ended and the imminent threat to the country overcome, the test for Georgians will become whether they can use democratic institutions to investigate and challenge their president’s behavior and hold him accountable for the huge reversal he has inflicted on the country.
An interesting side-note to that, of course, is the fact that this month, just two years after the end of Israel’s 2006 war of choice against Lebanon, the prime minister who made that extremely ill-considered choice is finally being forced out of office… Though the charges Ehud Olmert is getting forced out over have nothing directly in common with the charges that were raised vociferously at an earlier date, about his mishandling of that war, his mishandling of the certainly weakened his internal political situation considerably. To a large extent, he’s been just ‘hanging on’ in office ever since August 2006…
Here in the US, sadly, we have never till now held accountable the author of the very worst and most damaging war of choice of recent times: George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. (And I haven’t heard Jackson Diehl calling for any such accountability here at home, either. Jackson?? )
But back to Georgia.
Diehl had the good luck and the good sense to meet last week with Nino Burjanadze, an impressive Georgian politician and jurist who has much stronger democratic credentials than Saak. After helping Saak lead the so-called ‘Rose Revolution’ of 2003, she was Speaker of the parliament and briefly head of state before the two fell out in June.
- Like all Georgian politicians, Burjanadze feels constrained from criticizing Saakashvili while Russian troops are still blockading the country’s roads and ports. Nevertheless, she says, “the way for us to resolve this crisis is to act like a real democracy. People who have questions about what has happened need to be able to raise them. The government should answer, and then the people should decide.”
The Bush administration, too, needs to figure out how to separate its support for Georgia as a country and a democracy from its defense of Saakashvili. The new aid package doesn’t do that — a large part of the money will be channeled directly into the government budget. All of the funds are earmarked for economic support and reconstruction; none are aimed at strengthening democratic institutions or civil society. Perhaps that’s necessary to deny Putin his victory. But it won’t help solve Georgia’s leadership problem.
Most of this is excellent good sense. I am not sure at all, however, about Diehl’s argument that it is “necessary” to provide zero funds to strengthening Georgia’s “democratic institutions or civil society” in order to “deny Putin his victory.” Excuse me, Jackson, can you explain how that argument goes exactly?
By the way, Reuters had what looks like a very important interview with Burjanadze while she was in New York. You can read it here. Here’s the nub of it:
- Nino Burjanadze, the former parliamentary speaker, said it was too early to say if the war with Russia could have been avoided.
“I need serious analysis. I need answers to the questions,” she said in an interview with Reuters on September 5 after speaking at Columbia University in New York.
When asked what would happen if it does turn out to have been avoidable, she said: “In this case, I wouldn’t wish to be in the government’s place.”
“I can say it’s very difficult to imagine a good position for the president of a country that has such big problems,” Burjanadze said. “I don’t think that he feels himself comfortable and well or stronger than he was before.”
“However, we, the Georgian people, do not consider the government as victims only and, of course, the time will come for a sober assessment of what went wrong in Georgia.”