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 at July 7, 2004 11:52 PM

Great. Well said.

And I like Holbrooke too - but even he failed to get Clinton to move in Rwanda or earlier in the Balkans - so i fear - YES FEAR - that if Kerry is (G-d forbid) elected and even if he appoints a VG man like Holbrooke as Sec of State, that this will not change Kerry, who has been - since AT LEAST 1971, a skeptic when it comes to military force and who has OVERVALUED alliances.

What good is an alliance if it stops you from doing the right and necessary thing.

Sure NATO and the UN have been and may yet be helpful. But they do not trump everything/anything else.

Clinton "got this" in Kosovo -when he leap-frogged (pun intended) the UNSC and instead "used" NATO.

But that was a lesson learned TOO LATE for TOO many people elsewhere.

Bush 43 has restored something that Reagan had previously restored (and that Bush 41 and Clinton had subsequently re-eroded): the fear of the USA military.

It means NOTHING to be the strongest miltiary force in the world IF no one thinks you have the WILL or the courage to use it, and shed the blood of your own soldiers.

The world now knows that ush 43 has no fear. And that makes his diplomatic efforts more effective - as it helped Reagan's.

Our military won us the diplomatic victory over Qadafy, and is no doubt helping us in NOKO and elsewhere.

I am sure that NOKO realizes that we now have 24 stealth bombers practicing in SOKO and 7 naval battle groups exercising in the China Sea.

And should we move them to the Persian Gulf, Iran will take notice too. And if we moved them to the eastern Mediterranean - Syria would take notice.

In other words: Bush 43's courageous use of the military threat, and he courageous use of the military, make it LESS likely that we will have to go to war with a state in order to achieve or national security objectives.

NOW... if he could only make it clearer to the Axis of Evil that ANY attack against us ANYWHERE by surrogates/terrorists will result in a devastating military retaliation against ALL of them - then maybe they'd stop sponsoring terror and we could end WW4 without another major campaign.

Because ultimately, it is up to them: it is up to NOKO, Syria, and Iran - and their allies in the split regimes of Saudiland, Pakistan, and Arab Africa.

Peace through strength.

Appeasement only delays war and gives the enemy more time and the initiative.

Kerry would - in my opinion - cede both time and the initiative to the terrorists and their allies.
This would place us in greater danger - and that simply trumps better relations with nations that do not threaten us, like France and Germany.

Bush will not let that happen. Bush will continue on the offensive. Bush will continue to make real the threat of war against our enemies, and make that war - if necessary - on them at the time and place of our choosing.

That is better for us. NO?!

Posted by: dan at July 8, 2004 01:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sorry, your story has too many clowns dressed as pundits. Why do you pay attention to them?
For years I lived in Washington and read the WP. I never learn anything useful from D. Ignatius and other WP's pundits. And about Josh M., just give one reason to spend a minute reading his analysis.

Posted by: Edgardo at July 8, 2004 03:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Contrary to what campaign professionals will tell you, foreign policy only works if there is a large amount of continuity between administrations, even between administrations of different parties. American foreign policy has always sought to promote democracy; promoting democracy has never been its only objective, and has often taken a back seat to considerations directly bearing on American interests.

Ironically much of the impetus for the view that confronting tyranny and being a vocal champion of freedom should always be America's top priority came some thirty years ago from people who would now be called neoconservatives, as they battled to thwart the Nixon administration policy of detente with the Soviet Union. That the confrontation they favored was usually a matter of rhetoric and symbolic gestures suggests a number of things, one of the most important of which is that striking a pose in favor of democracy before domestic constituencies and effectually promoting it abroad are two different things.

Posted by: Zathras at July 8, 2004 04:29 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

My version of the Bush Doctrine: A World Without Dictators.

We can't get there from here in one step, but we CAN promote democracy & human rights in all countries, and as the US national interest goal -- and use the mighty US military to force regime change in one or two countries every one or two years.

Maybe the next one should be Sudan, not Iran. But if military force is the "last resort", it means coming after surrender; Western/Christian human rights oriented Civ needs military force, in Just War use, to save Civ.

Kerry's "success" in promoting Pol Pot, the real Cambodian alternative to the US, has been underreported. He would most likely promote other such successful leaders.

Posted by: Tom Grey at July 8, 2004 09:25 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I am not a Richard Holbrooke fan. His pandering to Kerry for the SOS seat is obvious and disgusting. No sense reviewing past history, Rwanda and the Balkans. What is disturbing with Richard is that ominious dark cloud that follows him overhead.

Seeing him on recent TV program interviews, Richard has nothing positive to say about what is transpiring today with foreign policy. According to Richard, we are unsupplied with troops in Iraq; the private handover bespeaks disaster; the litany is endless.

Speaking of realism, Richard could use an injection.

Posted by: Capt America at July 8, 2004 11:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

My guess would be that Kerry's overvaluation of the NATO alliance is a residual position from the 1980s, when the left recognized that NATO had become more of an obstacle to US power than an extension of same. If, for example, a future NATO pressed for more agressive action against IRAN, would "President" Kerry still value the alliance?

Posted by: Daniel at July 8, 2004 03:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As I blogged back in November, even the triumphant Georgian protesters were thanking America for its role in supporting the Rose Revolution.

A lot of my interest in Georgia since (God, you want to see amazing US diplomacy, look at how we hooked Russia into supporting us in Tbilisi and Batumi) is in how it provides a roadmap of how the US has a realistic chance of pulling off democratic transformations. I'm an Uzbekistan-follower and I'd like nothing more than to see my friends there live in a democratic and open society. All the yearning for being tough with Karimov isn't gonna make it happen.

I wish I had one good link or post that shows what the Bush administration has been able to pull off in Uzbekistan over the past few years, but most people don't focus on that and State has been fairly quiet about their accomplishments. They'd almost look silly to say things are better in the face of the hysterical lather many work themselves up into when talking about the country.

One of my co-bloggers recently went to the CSCE hearing on Uzbek human rights certification. There are a few snippets in there of the improvements the administration has secured. Even if one doesn't buy it, it backs up what you say about Kerry-Edwards not being all that different there. Of all those who testified, including exiled opposition leaders, only the Human Rights Watch rep called for decertification. There seems to be an elite consensus that the current course in Uzbekistan is the right one and it's irresponsible to suggest Kerry would be a departure from Bush's Central Asia & Caucasus policy.

Posted by: Nathan Hamm at July 8, 2004 03:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You don't see this advanced much, but a great advantage of promoting democracy is that, when nations cross the line, you can bomb them unmercifully without feeling guilty about killing innocent people.

After all, who would have advocated carpet bombing Iraq when the people there were virtually prisoners? But once they choose these maniacs who insist on tugging Superman's cape, why, there's no need to pursue the expensive and time-consuming strategy of pinpoint bombing and surgical strikes.

Like I said, you won't hear that from Colin Powell, but you know he's thinkin' it.

Posted by: spongeworthy at July 8, 2004 04:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Holbrooke? Come on. He didn't just "fail to get Clinton to act on Rwanda and the Balkans." By means of the Dayton Accords, he ENABLED Srebrenica. Among the many reasons not to vote for Kerry is the possiblility that this arrogant, self-important buffoon might again be gazing over genocide under his very nose.

Posted by: PRIM at July 8, 2004 04:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Is anyone suprised by the fact that Marshal has become nothing more than a Democrat shill? He accepts anything that favors the democrats as fact and anything that doesn't as completely suspect.

Posted by: Dave at July 8, 2004 04:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Having worked previously with Holbrooke, I'd never want to repeat the experience. He is one of those who always knows best and sidelines, if not out-and-out ignores, regional expertise. 'Cuz he knows better. We don't need a Sec. State who is secretive, who hold decision-making cards so close to his vest that no one, outside his four best buddies, knows what the hell he's thinking.

I'll excuse his showboating. It makes him happy and it doesn't get too much in his way. But the knowledge that he would have been Gore's pick as SecState ensured my vote for Bush (and Colin Powell).

Posted by: Hatcher at July 8, 2004 04:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Oh, spare me. George Bush, the "realist", bogus cowboy from Yale, born-again Holy Roller, alcoholic on a crazy dry drunk, say anything-do anything to be re-elected Bush, dazed and bewildered Bush, weakling manipulated by vice-Resident, don't read-can't talk right Bush.

Yeah, having brains, thought and planning in the Kerry White House is going to make it so un-realistic. Kerry will probably just declare "Mission Accomplished" and try to screw out of the hard part of International Affairs. Wake up.

Posted by: Old Guy in R.I. at July 9, 2004 05:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What is this obsession with "US power"? Don't you guys (is there a single female here) get laid?

Posted by: QNetter at July 10, 2004 08:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Of all those who testified, including exiled opposition leaders, only the Human Rights Watch rep called for decertification."

I find this surprising, the ICG, the one with Brzezinski and Clark on its board of directors, was calling for de-certification back in march:


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