Thursday, January 18, 2007

Message from Georgia

Shalva Natelashvili, chairman of the Georgian Labor Party, spoke at the Nixon Center earlier this week. (No need for me to reinvent the wheel, as Marisa Morrison has written on the event.)

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.

Are people still saying good things about Saakashvili?
Nick, the cynicism in Washington is astounding. Lukashenka was a tyrant and little Hitler six months ago and now he is a hero for standing up to Moscow.

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 courage of his convictions enables him to make that leap of faith to the promised land. The realities of the transition trips him up, but he keeps barging ahead, until he runs out of options.

President... Saakashvili.
Cynicism is part and parcel of any essenially realistic proces for the formulation of foreign or domestic policy. We really need to absorb the lessons of "The Prince". Without cycnicism we cannot discuss various policy options dispasionaltely- every alternative policy will become a "religion".

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.
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