Tag Archives: foreign policy

When You Call Georgia, Who Picks Up the Phone?


Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, courtesy of wikicommons

As Europe increasingly began integrating the European Union and becoming more of a bloc than a constellation of self-interested nations, Henry Kissinger once famously retorted, “When you call Europe, who picks up the phone?”

Georgia, which is now going through its first experience with divided government, faces a similar problem with its foreign policy.

Although the Georgian Dream government, which won parliamentary elections last fall, has formed its own cabinet and staffed the Foreign Ministry itself, that hasn’t kept officials from the previous government from representing its own foreign policy vision on trips abroad and in public statements.

After all, the United National Movement party still holds the executive branch and a sizable minority in the parliament. But, after presidential elections this October, a new Constitution will take effect and transition the country into a parliament-centric system where the president is largely a figurehead. Until then, however, the country is still run by a system with a powerful executive president.

So who’s in charge?

Technically both parties are, but they have been unsuccessful thus far in coordinating their new foreign policy together, so each side has been making foreign visits, each espousing very different viewpoints on where the country should be headed. Foreign leaders and outside observers can be forgiven for being confused by the display.

The focal point of the schizophrenic statements is, of course, Russia. Since his initial election in 2004, President Mikheil Saakashvili has styled himself as an anti-Russian, pro-Western crusader. Prime Minister Ivanishvili, who took power in October, meanwhile, campaigned on a pledge to improve ties with Russia. The open disagreement has already made it awkward for a number of Georgia’s partners, who also straddle the balance between Russian and Western interests.

Azerbaijan is a perfect example. Last December, Ivanishvili began his tour of Georgia’s neighbors in Azerbaijan with a delegation from the new government. In late February, President Mikheil Saakashvili did the same, this time taking with him members of the minority. No Foreign Ministry officials accompanied him. Continue reading

Why we believe in propaganda and other news

Settling into my third busy week back in Tbilisi after a two-week stint in the States, I’m back in the swing of things — translating, reporting and blogging.

While none of my articles have gone public yet, many articles written by other people have caught my eye.

A fabulous piece in Foreign Policy entitled “Call off the Great Game“ by Thomas de Waal has been emailed and posted around the clique of foreign journalists in Tbilisi. In it, he debunks some of lingering counterproductive misconceptions about the Caucasus and how the outside world could help stabilize this traditionally turbulent region.

Continue reading

McCain vs. the World

With the beginning of the Democratic National Convention, the general election is now in its official full swing. As such, in order to detract from the DNC fanfare, Republican Presidential candidate John McCain is going on the offensive against Obama.

That is to be expected, but it is the grounds on which McCain is attacking Obama that worries me.

The Washington Post:

McCain said Obama has not challenged criticism from other countries about America’s greatness, and he ridiculed the Democrat’s call for “a world that stands as one” in his Berlin speech last month.

First of all, what does any of that mean? I understand that the McCain campaign is going back to the “Obama hates America” message, but what is he actually suggesting?

Let’s pull this apart. “Obama has not challenged criticism from other countries about America’s greatness.” So McCain is telling us that we should demand that all countries of the world bow before our infinite wisdom, and if they do question us? We isolate, sanction and/or invade them. Yes, we truly are the righteous and moral superpower.

Next, he “ridicules” Obama for saying that “there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one.” What exactly does he take issue with in that quote? Facing challenges, multilateralism, unity?

In his address to the veterans, McCain said that Obama was “the picture of confidence” in Berlin, but that “confidence itself and confidence in one’s country are not the same.”

What does any of that mean? Regardless, after that comment, McCain’s speech took a frightening turn.

McCain said oppressed nations look to the United States for leadership and hope. “When they talk about our country, it is not with distrust or disdain, but with respect and affection. They do not resent or resist America’s democratic influence in the world — they thank God for it.”

All Hail the Emperor.

I’m not sure which countries McCain considers oppressed, but I would assume that list includes China, Iran and Russia. During the Olympics the Chinese clearly showed their pride for the state, balking at any and all criticism of their internal practices. And while I don’t claim intimate knowledge of Iran’s world view, I sincerely doubt many Iranians wake up and thank Allah for the America. What I do know is Russia, and although Russians are enticed by our clothes, movies and music, they are all Russian first. And when they see imperialist American policies working against the interest of their country, you’d better believe they curse “America’s democratic influence” attempting to weaken and isolate their popular government.

The statements made in McCain’s VA speech are terrifying. They not only represent a harder line on foreign policy than even George W. Bush espoused, they are blatantly nationalistic. The idea that it is in the best interest of the world to impose American influence absolutely everywhere is the same tyrannical ideology championed by historical villians like Hitler, Stalin, Togo, and Mussolini.

Furthermore, to make the case that attempting to approach world problems through multilateralism is un-American is historically false and damagingly jingoistic.

I hope that this is hackery. I hope this is part of the continuing Republican smear aimed at making Obama out to be scary liberal Black man that hates America. I hope McCain does not actually believe what he is saying. Otherwise, given the most recent polls, America now has a 50-50 chance of being the newest in a string of greedy empires set on world domination — or at least subjugation — and perhaps the instigator of a world conflict from which humanity would not recover.

NATO gives flaccid response to Russia at the emergency meeting

While there was much disagreement at the emergency meeting of NATO members, they were finally able to agree on one means of punishing Russia for the Georgian conflict — syntax.

[I]n the end, all NATO could muster was the establishment of a NATO-Georgia council (which American officials billed as a slap in the face of Russia because it contained the words “NATO” and “Georgia” simultaneously). It also warned that until Russian troops pull out of Georgia, it would not convene another meeting of the NATO-Russia council, which was already a pretty vague joint venture.

Ouch. The Russians lost no time in mocking the gesture; Russia’s representative to NATO, Dmitri Rogozin reacted by saying “the mountain has given birth to a mouse.”

Indeed, the NATO powers have almost nothing they can do in response to the Georgian conflict. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the alliance, originally intended to defend Western Europe from Soviet agression, has operated on the assumption that Russia would never dare attack a NATO member or one of NATO’s prospects for future enlargement. Vladimir Putin called their bluff.

Now that NATO encorperates 27 countries it is unclear if the “an attack on one is an attack on all” policy would even still stand.

“If Georgia was in NATO now, would we be defending them? I don’t know,” said Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations. “The alliance needs to make sure that when it takes on pledges of collective defense, it is prepared to stand by them.”

Europe has made it clear they have no intention of going to war with Russia over Georgia, but the United States before and after the conflict has pushed vehemently for Georgia’s entry to the alliance. To do that now would be beyond belligerent — looking at one of the key causes of the conflict and pushing on pretending nothing happened.

The Bush administration has already shown its affinity for juggling foreign policy hand grenades (Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, now Georgia) but it is clear they have now taken on one too many, and this new one is perhaps the most explosive of all. All the combined threats of rogue states with a handful of nuclear weapons and spotty missile technology are trumped by the potential for war with Russia.

Furthermore, just as the risks are huge, the benefits are tiny. What could Georgia really contribute to NATO? It’s 33,000 man army? It’s mediocre wine industry? True, a pipeline does run through the country, and they do have a semi-democratic goverment, but that’s a pretty small bite of cheese in a rather large mousetrap.

McCain adviser lobbied for Republic of Georgia

Republican Presidential nominee John McCain has long been critical if not overtly hostile towards Russia in speeches, and there’s now some indication as to why.

According to a Talking Points Memo, McCain campaign adviser Randy Sheunemann has and possibly continues to lobby for Georgia.

Randy Scheunemann is a foreign policy adviser to John McCain. Scheunemann has served as a lobbyist with Orion Strategies and Scheunemann & Associates for foreign governments such as Georgia, Macedonia and Taiwan. He has also lobbied for the National Rifle Association and a group called the Caspian Alliance.

He has reportedly lobbied for the Republic of Georgia while working for the campaign. This year he was registered to lobby for the NRA.

Scheunemann was a board member for the neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century, in addition to creating The Committee for the Liberation of Iraq in late 2002 and serving as its executive director.

McCain has come out with some of the sharpest rhetoric against Russia since the outbreak of hostilities in South Ossetia. McCain also supports kicking Russia out of the G8 and establishing the Missile Shield in order to “hedge against potential threats from possible strategic competitors like Russia and China.”