U.S. limited in Georgia crisis
American effort to spread democracy wanes in post-Iraq era.
(Page 2 of 2)
Saakashvili and Bush seem to share a good personal chemistry. Bush visited Georgia in 2005; during Saakashvili's return visits to the White House, the two joshed about folk dancing and their wives' luncheon plans.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In March, at a White House appearance, Saakashvili thanked Bush for supporting Georgia's aspirations to join NATO and for "protecting Georgia's borders."
"I think this is a very unequivocal support we're getting from you," the Georgian leader told the US president, for the cameras.
The US has long publicly stated that it is in favor of a peaceful settlement of Georgia's disputes with its breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Yet Saakashvili decided to send troops into South Ossetia, anyway. That appears to have been the spark that set off the crisis – or the provocation that Russia was waiting for.
Perhaps the Georgian leader thought the US would come to his aid if he got in trouble. If so, he did not take into account the drain that Iraq has been on US forces and the US standing in the world – or the American need to work with Russia on other important geopolitical issues, such as the effort to curb Iran's nuclear program.
"In many respects, Saakashvili got too close to the US, and the US got too close to Saakashvili.... Perhaps that made him overreach," says Charles Kupchan, senior fellow for Europe Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Ukraine, among other nations, will surely watch the outcome of this crisis closely, according to Mr. Kupchan. US hopes of girdling Russia with Western-oriented governments now appear in question, as Moscow reasserts influence over its "near abroad."
US hopes that Russia would be essentially a benign economic partner may also have been dashed when Russian tanks rolled into Georgian territory.
"Victory in this war with no consequences for Russia will reinforce antidemocratic forces in Russia, increase the militarization of its foreign policy, and encourage Russia to take more risks elsewhere on its borders," says Stephen Jones, professor of Russian and Eurasian studies at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass.
With the US far from the area of conflict, European attitudes will be crucial. Yet on Georgia and Russia, different European countries take different positions, and they have serious internal disagreements as well.
The European position tends to skew along lines of interest and history. Older European states, such as France and Germany, have strong economic and energy ties to Russia and see themselves as necessarily working with Moscow. Former Warsaw Pact states like Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic nations view Moscow with real suspicion based on bitter recent history as involuntary allies of the Soviet Union.
Britain, increasingly wary of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's Russia, takes a dim view of Moscow after a season of tensions and spats. East German-born Angela Merkel, Germany's chancellor, regards Prime Minister Putin at least as a question mark, but she has been skillful at pragmatic moves that have kept Berlin-Moscow relations strong.
"Nothing meaningful can be done as a matter of American policy if there is no consensus among European states that this represents something deeply shocking," says Mr. Sestanovich of the Council on Foreign Relations.