Thursday, January 18, 2007
Message from Georgia
Several things struck me when listening to him.
The first is how across the board, in both "pro-Russian" and "pro-American" countries in the Eurasian space, we are witnessing the emergence of strong presidential systems of governance and instead of having clear distinctions the Eurasian space appears to be headed toward some sort of democratic-authoritarian convergence.
Second was a real sense of how realpolitik governs the world. Several years ago we had Natelashvili's Azeri counterparts speaking at the Center, with a similar message about how public space for the opposition was being squeezed away and why the United States should care--but the reality in Georgia, as it appears to be in places like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Russia, is that support for the opposition remains limited because the vast majority of people prefer stability--and when a government is then pro-American, there is little incentive for wanting to encourage the opposition in thinking that they will gain support for their political efforts.
But a third point that I think should resonate--for Washington never to overpersonalize the relationship. Natelashvili said that the overall orientation of Georgia is toward the West and the United States in particular, so there is no need to engage in a policy that sees the political survival of any particular politician as a vital interest. He also related anecdotes as to how, when his party was in opposition to Eduard Shevardnadze, key figures in the West constantly stressed the need to support Shevardnadze--until the time of the Rose Revolution, when then Shevardnadze became a symbol of the bad old order and Saakashvili was elevated to power. His point was that in the past he was criticized for his criticisms of Shevardnadze--until they became part of the accepted narrative here in Washington.
It raises the question--will at some point Saakashvili share the fate of Shevardnadze-lionized and praised in the West for years but then, at the end, the story will change? That was my final thought when I left the luncheon.
Saakashvili of course has to deliver on some measures of "progress" for reform but he can always blame Russia. He also needs to prevent the emergence of the next Saakashvili.
The problem with US is not too much cynicism - it is rather the inability to define the national interests in a graduated manner which is comprehensible to both the domestics and foreign stake-holders.
For example (and in my opinion) it is much more important for the security and propseperity of the United States to have in place a national health care system (I am NOT a Democract) since without it there will be no manufacturing left in US. It is more important than Georgia, Iraq, Iran, Ukraine, Israel, Kosovo or any other of these places.
But, I might be a minority of one.