National Security Network

NSN Daily Update: Conflict Between Russia and Georgia Exposes Twin Failures of Bush’s Russia, Democratization Agendas

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Report 11 August 2008

Russia Russia bush Georgia

When the Bush administration came to office, it pledged a renewed focus on Russia, led by Condoleezza Rice. When the President began his second term, he pledged support for democracy everywhere in sweeping, absolute terms. Eight years later, the conflict between Georgia and Russia shows starkly the failure of the Bush administration’s approach. While the administration’s approach toward Russia centered solely on establishing a good personal relationship between President Bush and Putin and on missile defense, other essential issues, namely Russia’s creeping authoritarianism and increasing hostility toward democratic governments along its borders, went unaddressed. At the same time, the manner of Administration support for democratization in Georgia – and the ideological rhetoric both from Washington and Tbilisi -- effectively brought Georgia closer to confrontation with Russia. Support for ideologies and personalities, however, proves to be no substitute for the kind of attentive diplomacy which might have prevented or eased this conflict.

The Bush administration failed to properly address the worsening situation between Georgia and Russia, despite clear dangers. The New York Times notes that the “exuberant support of the United States for President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, a figure loathed by the Kremlin on both personal and political terms,” contributed to the possibility of war. “Other diplomats worried that both Mr. Saakashvili’s persona and his platforms presented an implicit challenge to the Kremlin, and that Mr. Saakashvili made himself a symbol of something else: Russia’s suspicion about American intentions in the Kremlin’s old empire. They worried that he would draw the United States and Russia into arguments that the United States did not want. This feeling was especially true among Russian specialists, who said that, whatever the merits of Mr. Saakashvili’s positions, his impulsiveness and nationalism sometimes outstripped his common sense. The risks were intensified by the fact that the United States did not merely encourage Georgia’s young democracy, it helped militarize the weak Georgian state.” [NY Times, 8/10/08]

The Bush administration’s policy towards Russia has been defined by “eight years of self-delusion.” As Zbigniew Brzezinski observed, “The United States, particularly, shoulders the major burden of mobilizing [a] collective international response. This invasion of Georgia by Russia is a very sad commentary on eight years of self-delusion in the White House regarding Putin and his regime. Two memorable comments stand out. First, when Bush first met Putin and said he looked into his soul and could trust him. Second, not long ago, Condi Rice claimed that American relations with Russia have never been better in history…” [Huffington Post, 8/10/08]

McCain’s response to Russia – without waiting for the facts -- is reckless and dangerous, another example of how his foreign policy would be more “aggressive” than Bush. “McCain took a remarkably — and uniquely — more aggressive stance, siding clearly with Georgia’s pro-Western leaders and placing the blame for the conflict entirely on Russia.” McCain’s statement “put him more closely in line with the moral clarity and American exceptionalism projected by President Bush’s first term.” [Politico, 8/10/08]

Quick Hits

Iraq’s private sector has failed to develop since the 2003 invasion—remaining below pre-war levels
and forcing the public sector to be Iraq’s main economic engine.

A three-day battle in the tribal regions of Pakistan ended with Taliban fighters repelling the government offensive. Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai stated the importance of maintaining security for the region as a whole, alleging that Pakistan continues to support the Taliban while also blaming them for the ongoing fighting as well as insurgent attacks along the AfPak frontier.

A suicide car bomb in Algeria killed at least six
, a sign of the continuing unrest in the OPEC nation.

Bolivian President Evo Morales won a testy referendum in an overwhelming show of support for his leftist agenda over the capitalist program supported by governors in the east.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari stated that “there has to be a very clear timeline” for the withdrawal of U.S. troop
s in any upcoming agreement with America, which is expected to be finished shortly.

China is set to overtake the United States as the world’s largest manufacturer next year,
four years ahead of what had been predicted.

Talks over the disputed Zimbabwean political situation failed to produce a power-sharing deal yesterday, but hope remains as President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai are set to continue discussions today.

Nicholas Kristof in today’s New York Times writes about the staggering imbalance of military might over diplomatic resources in the Bush administration.