July 07, 2004

TPM Pile-On Watch

Josh Marshall has a long post up today which I fear contains certain inaccuracies.

TPM approvingly and uncritically links to this Dave Ignatius op-ed.


The column describes a conversation Ignatius had with new Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, in which the president describes his guidelines for peaceful overthrows of autocratic regimes.

That, though, is not what I want to discuss, not specifically at least.

What interests me is the last line of the column: "The Bush administration talks about democratic change. But it's the Saakashvilis, armed with their homegrown how-to manuals, who actually make it happen."

First Ignatius got fooled; and then Marshall swallowed Saakashvili's spin hook, line and sinker.

Of course Saakashvili is going to make the Velvet Revolution sound all 'home-grown'.

He doesn't want to be painted as some U.S. stooge by Russian interests active in Georgia.

And revolutionaries (if we can call a former Manhattan attorney that) are often romantic, larger-than-life characters.

So why debunk the myth of the noble world-historical figure--acting solo to save the Nation?

But as anyone who follows the Caucasus is aware, the U.S. had a major role in helping Saakashvili obtain power.

Why would we care?

This brings us to another problem with Marshall's piece (indulge me a brief digression, to address another beef I've got with Marshall, and then back to Georgia!).

In Josh's world, there is a neat dichotomy between the dreamy, dangerous neo-Wilsonians (read: neo-cons) who have hijacked the apparatus of statecraft from a cretinous Crawfordian, on the one hand, and now the "Realist" camp led by newly re-packaged uber-Realist John Kerry.

What claptrap.

Kerry the sober-headed, cynical realist?

Sorry Mr. Kerry, but, er, I know Henry Kissinger, and you're no Henry Kissinger (well, not really, but you get my point).

Recall Kerry's vote against Gulf War I--a prime example helping showcase that he occupies more of an isolationist, 'war as last resort', 'don't be too speedy', Vietnam-syndrome, 'we've got lotsa problems at home', etc etc. world view that is more Jimmy Carter/Ted Kennedy than Mearsheimer/Kissinger.

But back to all the Tblisi intrigues.

Recall Georgia was deemed near critical to the U.S. on (mostly) realist grounds. Washington increasingly viewed Georgia as, you know, a 'big deal' because a) the Pankisi Gorge was viewed as an al-Qaeda sanctuary, b) Georgia, as a result of former President Eduard Shevardnadze's impotence, was on the cusp of becoming a failed state as separatist enclaves became increasingly emboldened to increasingly ignore central authority (Adjaria, Abkhazia, Ossetia etc), and c) the Russians were getting too influential carving out a Muscovite sphere of influence and the U.S. wanted to start laying more of a NATO footprint in country.

So, believe me when I tell you the U.S., as one of Dan Drezner's commenter's points out, was very much interested and supportive vis-a-vis moving Shevardnadze out.

Don't believe me?

Go check this out (er, check out the opening quote while you're at it):

In support of the U.S. strategy, U.S. officials regularly highlight publicly the need for improvements in human rights conditions. The Ambassador and other embassy officers work privately with Georgian officials, NGOs and other domestic and international organizations to identify and highlight areas of particular concern and encourage reform. Secretary of State Powell, former Secretary of State James Baker, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Beth Jones, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lynn Pascoe, Members of Congress and Congressional staff reinforced support for U.S. objectives in Georgia in 2003 and early 2004.

To promote democracy and increase participation and transparency in the November parliamentary elections, the United States provided funding for campaign and coalition-building training for political parties, training for election commission members, training and deployment of domestic election monitors; computerization of the voters list, voter marking; and a parallel vote tabulation (PVT). At the request of the United States, former Secretary of State Baker brokered a deal between the Government and the opposition on election commission composition to increase opposition representation. The Ambassador maintained public and private pressure on the Government to meet democratic standards throughout the election process, to include protesting against violence and the incarceration of NGO election activists. U.S. assistance, especially the PVT, was instrumental in proving that the official results had been manipulated and did not reflect the will of the people. During the subsequent peaceful popular demonstrations, the Ambassador publicly and privately urged the Government and the opposition to avoid violence and to guarantee citizens' rights of assembly and expression. The demonstrations remained peaceful and eventually led to President Shevardnadze's resignation. Following the election, the Embassy secured the release of a domestic election observer arrested on Election Day for allegedly interfering in the voting process an arrest that many NGOs considered to be politically motivated.

Christ, State all but wants to tell you they helped pull off the Revolution of the Roses! But they can't, of course.

Allow me a personal vignette. A couple years back I checked into the Marriot in Tblisi. The first person I bumped into in the lobby was an African-American female G.I. in Army uniform.

My point?

Look, we had U.S. GI's helping train and equip Georgian forces to go into the Pakinsi Gorge. U.S. military personnel were crawling around Tblisi.

We had an Embassy that was getting pretty big for that part of the world. The U.S. Ambassador was likely one of the five most powerful people in the country--a John Negroponte of the Transcaucasus!

James Baker was flying in. Other envoys were arriving hither dither.

You know, something was up. Let's just say a certain U.S. assisted libertine whiff was in the Tblisi air.

Put simply, the 'Revolution of the Roses' wasn't just a 'homegrown' thang.

So, pace Marshall, do you really believe the Georgia example provides fair fodder for critics "of the Bush administration's role as an advocate and force for democratization on the international stage"?

Methinks not.

And, of course, Marshall swallowed this analysis of the Georgia going-ons and it served as the premise for his entire post.

So you then get wildly hyperbolic statements like this from Marshall:

And I cannot think of a single case whether in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Russia or China or Uzbekistan or anywhere where that has happened.
[emphasis added]

C'mon, folks, let's get serious here.

Dan Drezner puts the lie to Marshall's contention regarding Egypt.

And Tagorda blogs Tunisia.

And I could show you Russia and China 'counter-factuals' (or a "single" example from "anywhere") up the wazoo.

All this said, of course, the Bush Administration is gauging its relationship with nation-states, in good measure, by the cooperation they do or don't provide with regard to the war on terror.

That's called a realist foreign policy.

Of course we can't beat up Putin re: Chechnya as we might like to.

Is there a little wink wink going on re: 'you've got your Islamic radicals, I got mine..."?

Well, sure.

(Incidentally, that's a real shame because the conduct of the Chechnya war is a profound stain on Russia--just as the U.S. and other major powers mostly ignoring the carnage, over the years, has become a stain on the 'international community.')

Would we be more robust in our discussions with Karimov of Uzbekistan on, say, his track record on torture (Abu Ghraib aside) if we didn't need U.S. bases there?

Doubtless, yeah.

And so on.

But here's the dirty little secret Josh doesn't clue you into.

A Kerry-Edwards administration would not really change any of this.

In states vital to U.S. national interest like Uzbekistan and Pakistan (especially the latter), there will be some talk of improving human rights records and such. But no real action, much like the Bushies.

These issues will likely barely be on a Kerry Secretary of State's to-do agenda (though Richard Holbrooke might find a way to pull off staunch human right advocacy with simultaneous hard-headed realist pursuit of our national interest) [ed. note: Yes, I'm a big Holbrooke fan].

So what's the difference between a Kerry team and the Bushies?

Kerry/Edwards are more likely to drop the ball on the 'realist' end of all this too.

For instance, since Josh raises it, take the Pakistan chronicles.

It bears mentioning, it wasn't a no-brainer that Musharraf was going to stake his career and life to side with the U.S. to facilitate the Afghanistan war effort.

Recall, Powell had his famous 'general to general' talk with him.

That, to a fashion, is realism too.

Is Joe Biden gonna be the go-to guy on that for Kerry?


UPDATE: Yes, I know this begs the question of how I'd feel if Kerry fielded Holbrooke as his Secretary of State. I'll have more on that another day--perhaps including direct feedback from the man himself!

MORE: A blog specializing in Central Asia and the Caucasus jumps into the fray.

Posted by Gregory Djerejian at July 7, 2004 11:52 PM
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