Friday, July 07, 2006

Georgian Puzzle

I'm puzzled by the reaction of so many American pundits to President Saakashvili's visit.

The message seems to be this: anchoring Georgia firmly in the Euro-Atlantic community is a priority national interest; Georgia is a key strategic anchor to provide some balance against a resurgent Russia; and U.S. objectives can be met by putting increased pressure on Russia to open its markets to Georgian goods and to be more accommodating to Georgian interests.

Something doesn't compute.

Georgia is already the third single largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, after Israel and Egypt. The United States could certainly do a lot more--it could open up hundreds of thousands of visas for work and study (and begin to reorient the Georgian diaspora away from Russia and perhaps create some of the synergies that have fueled the booms in India and Ireland). It could give Georgia special free trade status such as Taiwan once enjoyed and that Israel still does.

This could have been done with Ukraine, too. And no reason the EU couldn't have reached some special arrangements, either.

But they didn't.

My words of warning--and I say this as someone who has met President Saakashvili and who admires his efforts to get his country on track--DC pundits talk much and deliver little. As I said before and say again, we don't control a dime of investment. It was a great performance at AEI--but it is getting New York financiers and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs enthusiastic, not paid lobbyists and pundits--that is going to seriously reorient Georgia's geo-economic orientations.

[One final note on energy. I sometimes read articles that suggest that because Georgia is a key transit point for energy this creates incentives for the U.S. to stabilize the whole country. Take a look at Africa. For decades now oil and other natural resources have continued to flow unimpeded from conflict-ridden countries. A civil war that is fought 100 miles away from a pipeline is not going to worry oil companies if the pipeline itself isn't threatened. Energy security is important, but it is not an omnipotent talisman.]

Loved how Bush equivocated. Sure we want Georgia in NATO, but, ah, you need to follow out the long path to membership. Can't see Georgia getting in anytime soon.
How is this for a deal? We'll start importing Georgian wines again when you start buying Cuban cigars.
Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia are best left alone to find their own equilibrium among Russia, Iran, and Turkey.

They are indeed ill-advised to take sides with US and against Russia, Turkey, or Iran. US cannot do anything for them.

Giving them a false sense of their own geostrategic importance to US could cause them to make un-realistic political decisions that are un-sustainable.
Nick, your mistake is your belief that we really care how, or even whether, Georgians live. And this goes double for Ukrainians. We don't want Russia to have them, and are willing to fight for Georgian and Ukrainian independence... to the last Georgian or Ukrainian.

And considering the present rate of population decline in Ukraine, it won't be long.
The problem here is trying to formulate policy toward the small countries apart from policy toward their larger neighbors. If relations with Russia were on track, relations with Georgia would take care of themselves.

The need to which this all points is for a long-term Western vision of Russia's place in the world. Does Russia eventually belong in NATO? Is NATO the nucleus of a wider Eurasian security system or just a club of North Atlantic nations?

Current trends in Russia reflect domestic circumstances and traditions, and also historic conceptions of Russia's place in the larger world. But all of these are in a sense default positions too, responses to the absence of a long-term vision in the NATO countries of where they themselves want to go.
Russia must belong in NATO eventually, if the alternative is a NATO membership roll comprising every European state except Russia. The long road that Russia is on -- perilously long -- is only just shorter for Georgia, which is easier to pry away from Moscow than Ukraine and perhaps even more valuable to the West. This is because Georgia is the most southeasterly Christian nation except Armenia, which is, geostrategically, a hopeless case.

Slow entry -- even indefinitely slow -- is already the EU watchphrase for Turke , and all to the best. When it comes to the European multinational organizations -- the EU as well as NATO -- process trumps outcome because often the best outcome is process itself: orderly, dialectic, increasingly formal and ritual. The realist argument for international law deploys persuasively in favor of deliberate but undeadlined Westward orientation.

It does so particularly in the case of Georgia, which exists at the absolute frontier of the West. (I refer to the corner of the West's eastern and southern frontiers, deliberately ruling out Israel.) The enduring affirmative reasons to admit Georgia to the West -- via affirmative action -- are all, from the point of view of grand strategy, cultural-geographical ones. The negative reasons are clear: Georgia is unmatched as a forward base of operations for disruptive practitioners of corruption and terrorism and their opportunistic facilitators. Georgia is unmatched as a future failed state -- in terms of maximum fragmentation. It is Yugoslavia on the Black Sea, and it has taken Europe a thousand years to try and fail to solve the problems of race, religion, ethnicity and culture there.

For all these reasons, Americans should make a real effort to consolidate and bolster Georgia. This ought to include independence for Abkhazia as part of a deal to keep Russia from meddling in internal Georgian affairs. The Balkan peninsula has shown itself quite open to the successful establishment of peace through mediated and regulated microstates, and the pattern should be reproduced to the extent possible. Critics will say Georgia cannot stand for it. But Georgia may have little choice, and needs, for the most practical of reasons, one patron or another.
James Poulos: Your solution for Georgia is similar to the one proposed by Tim Potier--essentially a "draw"--the Georgian core integrated into the West, its Abkhaz and Ossetian peripheries allowed to move into the Russian oribt. A sensible compromise which means it won't be adopted.
Anonymous 7:31 & James G. Poulos:

Georgia is neither a Western country nor the absolute frontier of West.

And who is West? NATO? US? EU?

You are living in a dream-world of strategy. Georgia is irrelevant to US, to NATO, and to EU.
I would like to offer the case of the Cedar Revolution in Lebeanon as a cautionary tale.

US helped create that change in the government but after the attack by Israel; wrote it off.

Same could happen to Georgia.
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