Mrs. Clinton Goes to Georgia

Source: Getty
Op-Ed National Interest
Summary
If Washington believes in supporting a process in Georgia—and not just a team of individuals—the Georgian public has to hear the new U.S. messages too, clear and unfiltered.
Related Media and Tools
 

U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton visits Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan this week. It is an important trip for all three countries but especially so for Georgia. The country is now entering its most critical political season since a disputed 2003 election that triggered the Rose Revolution and the fall of former president Eduard Shevardnadze.

For twenty years, post-Soviet Georgia has tied its fate closely to the United States. This is in part a result of the personal connections of its two most recent presidents. In the spring of 1992 Shevardnadze, then a beloved figure in Washington for his actions as Soviet foreign minister, returned to a country that had collapsed into civil war. He pulled it out of the mire in large part by cashing in his chips with Washington and Berlin and securing large transfers of foreign aid.

But support was not unconditional. Parliamentary elections held in 2003 were widely seen as a litmus test of Shevardnadze’s authority. In July of that year, the U.S. government sent Shevardnadze’s friend James Baker to negotiate the terms of a deal over conduct of the elections. The deal later fell apart, but the Georgian public was able to see that it was Shevardnadze who was mostly responsible. The perceived lack of U.S. support was a key element in Shevardnadze’s decision to resign in November 2003, after the elections were decried as illegitimate.

When U.S.-educated Mikheil Saakashvili took office in 2004, he again turned to Washington and found a willing patron in President George W. Bush. The relationship became too personalized and too close. When President Bush told crowds on Tbilisi’s Freedom Square in 2005, “The path of freedom you have chosen is not easy but you will not travel it alone,” too many Georgians took him literally.

On the same trip, Bush privately told Saakashvili in his pithy Texan language that if he went to war over Abkhazia or South Ossetia “the U.S. cavalry won’t be coming over the horizon.” This was consistently the U.S. message in private meetings up to and including Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Tbilisi in July 2008 one month before war broke out.

But it seems that the public language of support was so strong that Saakashvili and his team believed they might be granted some indulgence if they made a military move on one of the breakaway territories. Saakashvili more or less admitted this in the recent BBC documentary about the war when asked about the decision to attack South Ossetia on August 7, 2008, “We thought that, you know, at least we could, we would win some time, hold back Russians for some time, and hopefully the international community would wake up and see—we concentrate efforts, we get some kind of reversal.”

A Land of Drama

The Obama administration has worked hard to make the relationship with Georgia less personalized and more professional and institutionalized. Saakashvili has received less attention and when he finally got his meeting with the U.S. president in January this year, Obama conspicuously alluded to the “the formal transfer of power that will be taking place in Georgia, which I think will solidify many of these reforms that have already taken place.”

But Georgia is unfailingly a land of drama, spectacle and larger-than-life personalities—and the political scene now has two of the latter, not one. The second titan is the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, whose debut into politics last fall suddenly reenergized the Georgian opposition.

Ivanishvili is waging a vigorous fight not just in Georgia but, almost inevitably, in the second arena of Georgian politics—Washington. He has hired a string of lobbying firms to represent him and his Georgian Dream movement. In what must be an unprecedented contest for a small, poor country of four million people, Washington’s Podesta Group (representing the Georgian government) is now dueling it out with Patton Boggs (representing Ivanishvili).

Sadly, Georgian political culture remains that of the blood feud. The other side is not merely an opponent but a mortal enemy. Both sides already are predicting victory in the October elections and saying that the country has to be rid of the other.

Addressing a new session of parliament on May 26, Saakashvili said of Ivanishvili, “the dark forces of the past, whatever money they are armed with, whatever lies they are telling . . . they will not be able to stop Georgian people’s accelerated drive towards progress.”

Saakashvili’s seductive message to Western interlocutors is that his government of thirty-something English speakers is an indispensable partner, while an Ivanishvili victory would throw Georgia off course and back on a path toward Russia.

For his part, Ivanishvili told a mass rally of supporters in Tbilisi on May 27 that Saakashvili was “separated from traditions and reality” and made a strong pitch for the voters of those segments of society that feel alienated by Saakashvili’s policies, from the rural poor to the pious Orthodox to the urban intelligentsia. His message to Westerners is that foreign policy will continue as before, but Georgia needs a more predictable and representative government—led by him.

Today’s U.S. Role

Now, it is Hillary Clinton’s turn to give Washington’s latest message. She may not want the role of arbiter, but recent history suggests she has no choice: Georgians want to hear what their U.S. patron has to say about the coming election.

The key elements of a good message are fairly easy to devise: praise for the positive reforms the government has done; a reminder to Saakashvili that Georgia is more than just him; an emphasis on the need for a level playing field in the election, not just on polling day itself but in the months before; friendly encouragement to the opposition that if the election is more or less fair, they should accept the result. (Few observers expect them to win a majority, the best they can plausibly hope for is a good showing of seats in parliament).

Crucially, the experiences of James Baker and Condoleezza Rice suggests that the audience is at least as important as the message itself. If Washington believes in supporting a process in Georgia—and not just a team of individuals—the Georgian public has to hear the new U.S. messages too, clear and unfiltered.

 This article originally appeared in The National Interest.

End of document

About the Russia and Eurasia Program

The Carnegie Russia and Eurasia Program has, since the end of the Cold War, led the field of Eurasian security, including strategic nuclear weapons and nonproliferation, development, economic and social issues, governance, and the rule of law.

 

Comments (1)

 
 
  • anonymous
    1 Recommend
     
    Dear Mr. De Waal,
    I always find your Georgia analysis so condescending and one dimensional. "A land of drama?" Really? You're willing to chalk up the current election climate to the fact that Georgia is a land of drama with "larger-than-life personalities?"

    All politics are dramatic and most politicians have larger-than-life personalities. This is true the world over. Read "Game Change," if you'd like to see current examples of both from our own U.S. political scene.

    If you really think Saakashvili was silly enough to think that the US would "save" Georgia during the 2008 war, it's further proof that you need to add some dimensions and nuance to your analyses. Saakashvili is many things -- but stupid is not one of them. I thought you knew this region better?

    Lastly, an Ivanishvili presidency likely would take this country backwards. In a recent statement, Ivanishvili said that, if he becomes president, he would make the former police chief of Kakheti (under Shevardnadze, when the police were corrupt endemically) his new minister of internal affairs. Talk about a return to Georgia's dark ages.

    Ivanishvili is also going around the country, specifically in small rural villages, and promising the population new washing machines if he becomes president. Starting off one's political career with bribery doesn't bode well, either, for Georgia.

    The "blood feud" comment is also really annoying. Can we stop with the overblown cultural generalizations, please? It's like saying everyone from Mexico wears a sombrero. Georgian political culture does not involve blood feuds, ok? Yes, Saakashvili and Ivanishvili really, really don't like each other. At all. But you know what?, the political climate is VERY SIMILAR in our own US between Republicans and Democrats. And no one feels the need to compare that dysfunctional relationship to a blood feud.

    I am glad you write about Georgia. More people in the world need to know what is going here. But please stop the over-the-top cultural generalizations. It's actually pretty harmful -- these are serious times in Georgia. The election cannot be reduced to a cultural caricature.
     
     
    Reply to this post

     
    Close Panel
Source http://carnegieendowment.org/2012/06/04/mrs.-clinton-goes-to-georgia/b4sw

More from The Global Think Tank

In Fact

 

45%

of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.

30%

of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.

140

charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.

2.5–5

thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.

92%

of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.

$2.34

trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.

37%

of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.

72%

of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.

90%

of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.

13%

of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.

17

U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.

40%

of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.

120

million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.

60–70%

of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.

58%

of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.

67%

of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.

50%

of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.

18%

of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.

81%

of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.

32

million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3

Syrians

now needs urgent assistance.

370

political parties

contested India’s last national elections.

70%

of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.

70%

of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.

20%

of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.

58%

of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.

$536

billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.

$100

billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.

4700%

increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.

$11

billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.

2%

of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.

78

journalists

were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

Stay in the Know

Enter your email address in the field below to receive the latest Carnegie analysis in your inbox!

Personal Information
 
 
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
 
1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20036-2103 Phone: 202 483 7600 Fax: 202 483 1840
Please note...

You are leaving the website for the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and entering a website for another of Carnegie's global centers.

请注意...

你将离开清华—卡内基中心网站,进入卡内基其他全球中心的网站。