Love Thy Neighbor, Exploit Thine Ally. On Cruz’s Jacksonian Foreign Policy

 Ted Cruz. Photo by Gil Lavi. Courtesy of the artist

Ted Cruz. Photo by Gil Lavi. Courtesy of the artist

The Republican presidential primary debate in Des Moines, Iowa, on January 28 produced a mild surprise.

Donald Trump did not appear. Excusing himself, he claimed that popular host Megyn Kelly would be biased against him, Trump demanded her replacement. Fox News, the organizer of the debate, refused. And Trump, in a flawed calculation, missed the debate.

As a result, Ted Cruz became the sole addressee of attacks that night. And Marco Rubio managed to step into the spotlight. Whatever impact this showing of weakness by Trump may have had on the first voting, on February 1 in Iowa, Cruz unexpectedly won with 28%. Trump, despite a considerable lead in the polls, came in second with 24%, while Rubio, by a surprisingly small margin, finished in third place with 23%.

60% of Republican voters in Iowa are evangelical—“born-again” Christians. They oppose Obama’s liberal agenda first and foremost based on their Protestant values: sanctity of life­—rejection of abortion—protection of the traditional family, nonintervention of the state into religious life. Yet it turned out that Trump’s touting populism did not succeed against some 12,000 alleged volunteers who campaigned door-to-door for Senator Cruz.

After winning Iowa, the chances that Cruz will win the third primary—in South Carolina—increased. Yet Trump will most likely still gain the next primary, in New Hampshire on February 9. But the loss in Iowa blew away his air of inevitability.

The charges against Cruz are now being enlivened by mainstream Republicans, as they consolidate their support behind Marco Rubio. As candidates, Rubio and Cruz are distinct—most of all in their foreign policy approaches.  

Easily, all-too easily, Rubio can be subsumed under the neoconservative schema. Because Jeb Bush does not seem to have much of a chance at this point, Rubio attracts more and more followers of the traditional Republican foreign policy.

The neoconservatives bemoan that Cruz fully abandons that universal principle which has prevailed for much of the time since World War II. To aid democracy worldwide is considered the highest priority of U.S. national interest. Cruz, to the contrary, disagrees with long-term U.S. military presences in countries such as Iraq. He also refuses to seek the replacement of dictatorial regimes—while the neoconservatives make such endeavors contingent upon whether a specific society has a friendly or hostile relation with the U.S.

But such a brand of Jacksonian isolationism—christened after the sixth president of the United States, Andrew Jackson, and rooted in early-19th-century Anglo-Saxon nativism­—hardly allows one to throw Cruz in the same imaginary basket with Trump. It appears only that both favor the same air-strikes-only strategy against ISIS—just another common marker used to equate the two. Cruz’s foreign policy substantially differs, not to the least in that it exists at all. 

On December 10, 2015, in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, Cruz presented a vision that, according to him, renews the principles of Ronald Reagan and Jeane Kirkpatrick for contemporary conditions. Reagan’s comportment did not only embrace, he claims, the agile alliance with liberal-democratic states. Reagan also held cooperation with dictatorial regimes to be pragmatically desirable, insofar as this benefited the essential goals of the U.S.

The most recent negative example of the contrary is, for Cruz, Libya. Toppling the secular dictatorial regime of Muamar Qaddafi was not followed by the democratic upheaval hoped for. Instead, Libya gradually disintegrated. The state structures dissolved, and a number of infighting groups, including the radical Islamist terrorists of al-Qaida and ISIS, are destroying the nation-state’s internal sovereignty while striving to achieve dominance.

Another exemplar of the present, Syria, is doubtlessly the most devastating. Cruz opposes what John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Bush—and also Rubio—advocate: Bringing Bashar al-Assad’s regime down is unnecessary, he claims. Both wings of the Republican party, however, equally detest the lack of resolve with which Barack Obama—and his adherents Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders—are dealing with the civil war in Syria, which, in turn, contributed to the rise of ISIS.

Cruz maintains that by 2013 the conflict in Syria had reached a stage that rendered it impossible for the U.S. to pick a side. If the Assad regime is defeated, the eminent danger persists that forces linked to ISIS take control of the state, rather than the insignificant opposition groups sympathetic to the U.S. In Iraq, there is such an ally. It’s the Kurdish Peshmerga. Not so in Syria. There is no similar democracy-leaning partner, despite even the multimillion-dollar U.S. training programs for the opposition.

Cruz points out the position of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as his guiding principle. Israel does not support any side in the Syrian war, for none are its allies. The U.S. should do the same. Instead, all efforts need to be concentrated on the fight against ISIS—in whose case Cruz, indeed, demands “utter destruction.”

False also is the interpretation that Cruz would oppose the deployment of ground troops against ISIS. Time and again, he has clarified, too, that so-called “carpet-bombing” actually means the comprehensive, consequent, and continuous “precision strikes” of ISIS targets—indeed, its opposite. Cruz is also convinced that the involvement of troops on the ground is inevitable, firstly of the Kurdish units in Iraq, and also the Egyptian and Jordanian militaries. And he does not exclude the Americans from getting into the fight on land. Cruz’s approach differs from others in that he does not deem it reasonable to declare before the fact on which level U.S. soldiers are to enter such a campaign.

Demanding a strong leader, who will set a clear objective—that is, complete annihilation of ISIS—Cruz leaves the decision as to the specific steps to the recommendations by the military command. This response was already barely convincing from his fellow evangelical Dr. Ben Carson.

Cruz’s difference from Rubio is even more distinct with regard to American troops staying in a specific territory: They should not. Cruz opposes leaving army units to control the territory after defeating ISIS, as happened in the past in Iraq and Afghanistan, and earlier in Germany and Eastern Europe, South Korea, Japan, and other ally countries.

The neoconservative doctrine believes such measures to be the only way to maintain a stable influence in regions endangering American interests. According to Cruz, however, military intervention should be limited to the immediate eradication of such dangers. Nation-building post-factum is of no American concern. It’s questionable, then, indeed, whether with a Cruz-Trump upward spiral a new American foreign policy will emanate in the end.

It is questionable, too, how willing a president Cruz will be to engage U.S. military support, possibly troops, in Ukraine against Russian aggression. Respectively, in Georgia: How eager would he be to carry out the policy needed to counteract Russia’s and Iran’s growing influence in the South Caucasus?

Contrary to Trump, who explicitly opposes Ukraine’s and, by implication, Georgia’s NATO membership—Cruz has yet to elaborate on his specific policy towards Russia, and China; thus far, there has been only abstract talk, which may be in itself telling. It’s a fact, nevertheless, that interventionism for democratic development is of no essential value for Cruz—and this is yet another reason for the so-called establishment to mobilize against him, though everybody seems to be avoiding this label now.

In Israel itself, it is Cruz rather than Rubio or Trump who is endorsed by influential conservative commentators as Caroline Glick, a former advisor to Netanyahu. Glick argues that Cruz is the most effective defender of Israel of all candidates, in particular due to his vocal antagonism to the Iran deal. Rubio, as opposed to this, went along with the removal of Qaddafi in Libya and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt—an event that almost led to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Sharia-based dictatorship in that country.

For evangelical Christians like Cruz, support of Israel is contingent upon an eschatological view that the survival of the Jews, as God’s chosen people, is a precondition to the Second Coming. The continued existence of Israel, and of the Jews, despite the efforts to annihilate them in recent history, is a guarantor to redemption for all. Yet recently some “New Evangelicals” also show a more pro-Palestinian stance. Neglecting the anti-Semitism extant in the Arab population, they tend to one-sidedly blame Israel to be an aggressor.

Christian Zionism can hardly be held to be free of instrumentalism. Jewry is a theological means for it, not an end in itself. It is also beyond doubt, however, that against the backdrop of the varieties of Christian anti-Semitism throughout the Western history, this practical philo-Semitism entails a much friendlier stance toward the Jews.

Glick’s attitude is understandable as Israel’s pragmatism in response. By and large, Israel is left alone in the region today. The only state still effectively supporting it is the U.S. Yet even this patronage, diminishing for the last seven years, could receive a heavy blow in the final year of Obama’s presidency. It has been surmised that Obama may make an unprecedented step: to recognize the statehood of Palestine.

So far, the U.S. has always vetoed such a measure at the United Nations, because the Palestinian side fails to reciprocate by guaranteeing Israel’s right to exist. However, after the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius on the same January 28, during the Iowa debate, declared an ultimatum on Israel, threatening to recognize Palestine, it is conceivable that the Obama administration may use this move as a pretext to act unilaterally.

Cruz’s universal “Go in, win, and get the heck out!” stance appears to be acceptable only under the factually existing conditions. Throughout Obama’s administration, the U.S. has abandoned assistance to Israel against Iran, and failed to back efforts to neutralize Hamas and Hezbollah. In 2009, Obama let the chance to second the “Green Revolution” in Iran pass. And it is unthinkable to recognize Palestinian statehood, so long as the aforementioned terrorist groups on Palestinian territories are armed.

But if the emphasis shall shift again to “utter destruction” of ISIS, then both its defeat and engagement against Assad’s regime will need to be followed up by the American military staying involved in the conflict as long as it takes for a new coalition, friendly to democratic transition, to solidify state structures in Syria and Iraq.

The skepticism of Glick and others with regard to toppling dictatorial regimes has some rational footing in that the U.S. has retreated from Iraq and Afghanistan during Obama’s tenure. This did significantly worsen Israel’s security situation. Yet if such political relations were to turn around again, this, possibly, could be followed by some states, currently dominated by radical political Islam, changing course toward democracy in a sustainable way.

The defeat of the Soviet Union by Ronald Reagan is hardly an adequate precedent for this, however. A line dividing pro- and anti-Western predispositions indeed crosses through Georgia. By far not all former Soviet republics became democratic—least of all Russia. How such a democratization is possible—and in which particular societies that show tendencies towards radical political Islam—is question in its own right. First of all, though, an effort to destroy ISIS seems the most reasonable, and will require significant time and force. Such effort by itself, however, will already weaken Assad’s regime, and it is to be expected that Russia’s and Iran’s influence will shrink correspondingly.

In the New Hampshire primary, the competition is on for second place. Trump is significantly leading in the polls, yet again, since July 2015. After a noteworthy showing in Iowa, Rubio stumbled in the Manchester, New Hampshire, debate. Since winning in Iowa, Cruz is profiting from the exit of libertarian Rand Paul and the diminishing approval of Carson. The governors Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich, however, could advance as well.

 

Smells Like Machine-Gun Bacon, or Who Is Not Afraid of Ted Cruz?

Column for Netgazeti.ge, January 15, 2016

 Donald Trump. Photo by Gil Lavi. Courtesy of the artist

Donald Trump. Photo by Gil Lavi. Courtesy of the artist

The U.S. presidential election is approaching.

Who will be the most desirable president—for Georgia?

By no means is it apparent which party’s candidate will win on November 8, 2016. Among the Democrats, Hillary Clinton is the undisputed favorite for the nomination. Though Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont will likely win the first two primaries, in Iowa and, especially, in New Hampshire, it is still doubtful that the self-described democratic socialist will garner enough delegates in the aftermath, particularly in the Southern states.

Clinton engenders distrust even in her own party. The House Select Committee on Benghazi has long been trying to determine whether the then-Secretary of State neglected her responsibilities in 2012 in Libya, as the U.S. diplomatic compound was attacked by Islamic extremists. Four American citizens, including the ambassador to Libya, were killed. Questions of corruption surround the Clinton Foundation’s multimillion-dollar donations from foreign donors and governments alike in her years as Secretary of State. Another weighty scandal is the discovery that Clinton used a personal email address, located on a private server, to conduct the business of the highest official in the State Department. Thus she was putting classified communications in danger of getting into the hands of foreign secret services and hackers. Clinton has been caught red-handed on numerous lies in the process of the emails scandal. But this will only hinder her candidacy if the FBI presses charges against her, which is improbable. It’s at the Justice Department’s discretion to take such steps officially. And the Department is led by the officials put in charge by the current President.

Clinton, in comparison to Obama, entertains a more centrist campaign. However, since being painfully attacked by Sanders on the left, Clinton has intensified talk about a new 4-percent tax for the rich. In other regards she presents herself as an almost unchanged successor of Obama’s domestic policy. For Georgia’s future foreign relations, of course, her probable approach to foreign policy is more significant.

From this point of view, it is essential that Clinton co-authored the “reset” policy with Russia. It has not only stopped any notable confrontation with Russia after the 2008 war; it also contributed to the fact that an encouraged Vladimir Putin annexed the Crimea, and led a bloody campaign to subdue eastern Ukraine.

Clinton also supports Obama’s supposedly important achievement of a nuclear agreement with Iran. Its anticipated result, within the next several days, will be the return of 100 to 150 billion dollars of funds frozen by the sanctions previously imposed on Iran. At the same time, the mechanism to actually control Iran’s nuclear program externally has never been guaranteed. It is also uncertain how much more effective the steps a President Clinton would undertake to defeat ISIS actually would be. After the latest terrorist attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, and Istanbul—all carried out by the affiliates of this so-called caliphate—the only change in Obama’s passive policy was a slight increase of air strikes. Many military experts argue, however, that without ground troops in Iraq and Syria it is impossible to destroy ISIS.

The “Georgian Dream“ has an ostentatiously weak relationship with the United States. A large part of the Coalition is involved in spreading latently or manifestly anti-American and, moreover, anti-Western sentiments. The deepening of cooperation with NATO is not happening at the pace that would be necessary to develop adequate safeguards against possible threats from Russia or ISIS, because this is not in the interest of the Coalition informally lead by Bidzina Ivanishvili. On the contrary, they increasingly try to direct Georgia’s foreign policy towards Russia, as confirmed once again by the recent negotiations with “Gazprom.” It is probably in the interest of “Georgian Dream” for a U.S. presidential candidate who is not bent on the active promotion of democratic development in Georgia and the Caucasus region to succeed. Clinton is the best match for this. But on the Republican side things are not so clear, either.

Donald Trump, the failed “Batumi Trump Tower”-licensing billionaire from New York, is currently leading the polls with 30 to 35 percent among nearly a dozen Republican Party candidates. The primary system in the U.S. gives much weight to the first ballot castings—in Iowa on February 1, followed by New Hampshire, then South Carolina. In Iowa, Texas senator Ted Cruz is the frontrunner. Cruz, Trump, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina are considered the most influential outsiders, who in this election cycle present an unexpected challenge to Republican establishment candidates.

Cruz, along with establishment darling Marco Rubio—a senator from Florida—is a descendant of a Cuban immigrant. Behind Cruz are gathered a variety of evangelical Christian groups, a growing number of libertarians—as their candidate, Kentucky senator Rand Paul, falls in the polls—supporters of the Tea Party movement, and conservative voters referred to as “Reagan Democrats.”

If Rand Paul demonstrates a great propensity towards isolationism, due to which he supports neither Georgia’s nor Ukraine’s NATO membership, Trump, whose true political orientation is not easy to discern—despite his strong anti-immigration statements—doesn’t consider this a priority, either. Trump plays an ethnocentric card, requiring, unconstitutionally, that all Muslims be temporarily banned from entering the United States, “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” A candidate with a tangible pro-Georgian track record, backed by senator John McCain, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina already had to suspend his race. His support for the enhanced arming of Ukraine is well-known. Rubio also advocates a more active foreign and military policy, in the Middle East in particular. And Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida and brother of George W. Bush, will no doubt continue his brother’s foreign policy—the “Bush Doctrine.” Contrary to Obama’s liberal internationalism on the one hand, and to an indiscriminate interventionism on the other, it aims to promote democracy in countries bordering other democracies, including by overthrowing authoritarian regimes. However, the association with the Bush dynasty has so far only hurt Jeb.

This neoconservative credo is hardly of any interest to Trump. Ted Cruz promises, if elected president, to “tear up” the agreement with Iran on the first day in office, and to “carpet bomb” ISIS. What position Cruz will take towards the Caucasus region and Georgia remains to be seen. Clinton, like Obama, refuses to even use the term “radical Islamic terrorism.” Such formulations had already disappeared from the political dictionary of the Democrats, by a magical nominalist trick of sorts, about 2008. It is possible that Ted Cruz, in the case of Trump’s defeat in Iowa, will gain a crucial opportunity to strengthen his position in the next primaries. The coming weeks will show how the situation unfolds. It is no less possible that Georgia’s pro-NATO parties will have to deal with Cruz rather than a Marco Rubio or a Jeb Bush. And perhaps it is advisable that they already do so. Meeting with the Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, for instance, who displays similar positions, but has little influence, will hardly be enough.

The establishment’s two other candidates, Governors Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich from Ohio, do not seem to have much of a chance. All seems to come down to a decision between the hardly predictable real-estate tycoon, the Florida senator Rubio, and the charismatic Texan evangelical, who—according to a self-described tradition—cooks his bacon “a little differently,” by wrapping it around the barrel of a machine gun and firing rounds.

On Thursday, the next debate between the Republican candidates takes place in South Carolina. Which way the scales are tipped will become more apparent then. Yet the first palpable results will be brought by the Iowa primary caucuses on February 1. So will come the future, whatever it may be.

Source: http://netgazeti.ge/opinion/90020/

Making Georgia Great Again? Not Letting its Foreign Policy Fail

 Donald Trump. Photo by Gil Lavi. Courtesy of the artist

Donald Trump. Photo by Gil Lavi. Courtesy of the artist

“We believe that Georgia deserves it first of all, but at the same time we believe that NATO needs it even more than Georgia does for its own credibility and for keeping the promises that this organization has been making already for years. We hear arguments that further enlargement of NATO in Russia’s neighborhood might be a triggering factor for Russia to act; we tell to our friends that it is a perception, maybe a valid one, but it’s not a fact. The fact is different and the facts say that when NATO refused to enlarge in 2008 this is exactly when the war happened [in Georgia]. This refusal, no courage from the side of NATO to accept the challenge was understood by Russia as a green light to act in Georgia. Then in 2009 the world said ‘OK, let’s forget what happened’… and we had a ‘reset’ policy… Russia was considered as a partner again, but then Ukraine happened… After the war in Ukraine it has become absolutely clear that there is no partnership to be expected from Russia.”

– Georgian Defense Minister Tinatin Khidasheli at a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in Washington, D.C., on August 20, 2015[1]

 

In the quiet April of 2012, on the shore of the Black Sea resort of Batumi, Donald Trump – flanked by then-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili – announced to lease his luxury trademark for building a 250-million-dollar Batumi Trump Tower.[2] Three years later, in this disquieting summer, Trump continues to maintain a curious lead in the polls for the American Republican Party’s presidential nomination. The Batumi Tower never materialized; the project has been put on ice. Silk Road Group, its Georgian partner, opaquely cited a “lack of appropriate business environment.”[3] Yet it was one of Saakashvili’s cherished projects. Small wonder, then, that the Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia coalition revoked it, and many others. Any endeavor, as it happens, aimed at intensifying ties with the United States, be it economic, political, military, or social – contrary to all appearance – is diligently handled with negligence by this current government.

After its surprising defeat of Saakashvili’s United National Movement in October 2012, the motley coalition, put in place by the Georgian billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in turbulent post-Soviet Russia in metals and finances, more and more openly manifests its appeasement of Russia, veiled as political pragmatism. The coalition’s kernel is constituted by the billionaire’s former operatives, associates, and relatives, and Ivanishvili initially served as Prime Minister, only to step down a year later. He continues, however, to effectively lead state politics without serving in a public office, successfully avoiding political responsibility for its shortcomings.  

The coalition’s crawfishing foreign policies were heralded early on by Ivanishvili himself. On his first visit to foreign parts post-election, notably to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, he declared his “desire and dream” for Israel as Georgia’s “strategic partner.”[4] Ivanishvili was vowing to renew the friendship shattered by Saakashvili in the years after the Russian-Georgian War of 2008. It is worth mentioning here that he, as his associates, barely regard Israel as a representative of the West at all. For instance, they deem it a secondary question whether Israel is a democratic society or not. Contrary to this, for Georgian officials of virtually any party provenance – which arguably reflects a general sentiment in the public, hardly to expect otherwise in such a comprehensive form in party politics – Israel occupies a unique place: It appears as the collectively projected mirror-image of Georgia itself, hazily embodying a blurry amalgam of both Western and Eastern origins. Except that Israel, in a as it were subtle anti-Semitic way, which expresses itself in an ebullient philo-Semitism, is envied as the better – nay, even the best – gestalt of that Georgia which is disenchantingly failing to become reality back home, over and over again.[5]

As in a modern anti-Semitic cliché, to the quiet nurturing of which Georgia hardly poses an exception, the Jews are imagined as somehow standing over and above the global order – as the ultimate misfits, who, at the same time, supposedly control the fate of the whole world from the misty backstage; so does Georgia, zealously fantasized as the right Israel, perceive itself as the only nation capable of elevating itself over the West and the East, or being both at the same time, and even more. This is the particular Georgian ideology, which can be termed an inversive exceptionalism, first projected onto Israel, and then negated back onto one’s own nation, that Ivanishvili and his allies eagerly tap into. This ideology is what is expressed in the coalition’s double-hearted outward relations: on the one hand, to seemingly carry on the process of Western integration into NATO and the European Union, yet, on the other hand, to pursue the “normalization” of relations with Russia as well as, even before the looming nuclear deal is ratified, to vigorously broaden its ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran.[6]

 

Nothing Normal in ‘Normalization with Russia’

 

What this normalization amounts to, however, was demonstrated once again by Georgia’s demeanor toward the most recent Russian military advances. In July of this year, moving on with its “creeping annexation,”[7] Russia once again shifted the signposts that demarcate the border of the territory it occupies in central Georgia “by some 300 meters”[8]; in August, yet another 800 meters were added.[9] Ivanishvili acknowledged that he was somewhat troubled by such an act. Though he noted that “with 200 to 300 meters nobody will enrich themselves immensely,”[10] hedging by way of the land’s relatively small size. About a mile of the British Petroleum-operated Baku-Supsa oil pipeline, too, now falls under Russian control, endangering the functioning of this strategic asset. Despite even this haphazard fact, the official protest notes were as reserved as usual, even subservient[11], a position for which they have been duly praised by another visiting Donald – Tusk, President of the European Council. The “responsible reaction”[12] Tusk hailed though appears only a different name for the interest, prevailing in Europe, and willingly backed by Barack Obama’s administration in the U.S., that Georgia keep as quiet as possible vis-à-vis Russia.

Ivanishvili’s successor and his current crown prince, Irakli Garibashvili, rarely relinquishes the chance to deliver a mantra-esque self-adulation for the benefits Georgia presumably gains through the reopening of exports to its northern foe. However, the Russian export markets shrunk almost two-fold in the first half of 2015 in comparison to 2014. Commerce with CIS states, former Soviet republics, fell equally, by 45%; overall, Georgia’s foreign trade decreased by at least 12.6%.[13] Despite even economic losses, the blatant act of secunda occupatio of more sovereign territory by Russian troops stands without any retort. A handful of journalists and opposition politicians from the National Movement staged a televised protest by appearing at the border, as did Shalva Natelashvili, leader of the Labor Party. They angrily chastized the police forces stationed there for failing to act. To no avail. No government official dares to criticize Russian politics or diplomacy; except, perhaps, at times, the new Defense Minister Tinatin Khidasheli. Yet neither does Khidasheli’s responsible ministry use any legitimate military or police force to stop the border encroachment. After Ukraine, all seem to fear a new Russian strike. Russia has been proven not to depend on external incentives for launching its attacks, and Khidasheli willingly confirms this. Still, any tangible criticism remains in the realm of the opposition, headed by the National Movement. However, it barely can influence policy in practice, due to its still insufficient support.[14]

A small fraction of former members of the Georgian Dream coalition, the Free Democrats – led by the first Defense Minister Irakli Alasania, who was hastily ousted over a purported corruption case in the past year – share distinct pro-Atlantic views with UNM. Their relevance so far continues to diminish ever since Alasania’s forced exit. Another opposition, leftist Labor Party, notoriously critical of both the Georgian Dream and the National Movement, constantly leaves its relationship to Russia vague, reducing the problems to the domestic social ones only. Next to it stand a series of openly pro-Russian parties, such as the Orthodox Christian “Alliance of Patriots,” and former Speaker of Parliament Nino Burjanadze’s “Democratic Movement.” Burjanadze frequents Russia, even during the ongoing land grabs, meeting exclusively with Vladimir Putin to promote his “offers”[15] for further expanding the Russian presence in Georgia. With Gubaz Sanikidze from “People’s Front,” and Gogi Topadze’s “Industrialist Party,” along with other nationalist members within the ruling coalition, all these political organizations explicitly support the abandonment of NATO integration, and an open rapprochement with Russia.

Sociologists benevolently estimate support for pro-Russian parties at “10 to 15%” for the upcoming parliamentary elections in 2016.[16] The polls indeed indicate that Burjanadze’s and other extra-parliamentary parties have no high approval ratings. Yet the idea itself that Georgia would be better off joining the Russian construct of the Eurasian Union, with Kyrgyzstan and Armenia readying new memberships, garners a staggering 31% of support, according to the most recent National Democratic Institute survey. 61% of those polled, however, remain at the same time in favor of joining the European Union, and 45% support Georgia’s NATO membership. The crucial point is that the Georgian Dream merely pays lip service to this demand. It only upholds the semblance of pursuing the NATO integration, notwithstanding even recent military trainings or equipment purchases.[17] As to the European Union, even though this approachment seemingly makes a better progress, it too is undermined by the long-standing lack of reciprocation from European counterparts, most notably Germany.[18] It is highly questionable whether, ceteris paribus, Georgia would be accepted into the EU, beyond a visa-free entry, in the foreseeable future. From this vantage point, it is safe to assume that pro-Russian forces in Georgia are at a much higher percentage than estimated, and that their outreach is growing, not to the least due to agitation of social dissatisfaction by moneyed Russian proxies. In fact, the entire Georgian Dream should be counted in, including its outspoken Russia-friendly out-of-coalition satellites, if one wishes to grasp the difficulties the opposition faces in turning this tide.

 

Pretending to be Pro-Western

 

A nominally pro-Western wing of the traditionally liberal Republican Party remains a minor part of the coalition. Led by Speaker of Parliament David Usupashvili and his wife, the aforementioned Defense Minister Khidasheli, its stance is telling of the duplicity of the Georgian Dream. A well-known proponent of human rights, Khidasheli’s recent appointment to replace an Ivanishvili-loyal operative Mindia Janelidze is all but a tactical move.

At the Munich Security Conference Core Group meeting in Vienna, in many an interview,[19] and with Ashton Carter in Washington, Khidasheli staunchly reiterated her demand for Western allies to finally accept Georgia into NATO, leaving open the question whether this should happen with or without the Membership Action Plan.[20] Asserting an expectation of this decision upon the next NATO summit in Warsaw in Georgia’s favor, Khidasheli stresses that all legal requirements have been met by the Georgian side.[21] Yet examples, recently Montenegro, can be easily cited of MAP being refused to a country despite its fulfilling the formal requirements.[22] Some experts in the U.S. even advocate that the U.S. should unequivocally state that Georgia does not need a MAP to join NATO at all.[23] Inside the country, even opposition-leaning independent experts, Elene Khoshtaria of GRASS for instance, commend Khidasheli for her principled position.[24] Though they, too, stress that time will tell whether it can actually yield results.

Khidasheli’s words are indeed undermined by the overall foreign policy process under the coalition. The seemingly upright new Defense Minister is requesting what almost everybody knows will not happen anytime soon. The one event that could contribute to this most tangibly is the election of a Republican president in the U.S. in 2016. Though not all of the GOP hopefuls support Georgia’s NATO membership. Trump says he “wouldn’t care … if Ukraine joins NATO,” and, by implication, one should extrapolate, Georgia. Rand Paul maintains either one “is still not advisable.”[25] As to the Obama administration, it abandoned active military support of Georgia, taking away any political pressure on Russia, already in 2009 in favor of the “reset” policy declared by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Should Clinton become president in 2016, which may seem doubtful not to the least extent due to the public trust issues hurting her campaign, it is reasonable to believe this course of abandonment to continue. Clinton willingly accepts Obama’s liberal internationalist foreign policy legacy. Its downsides touch upon other countries in Eastern Europe, as manifested, for instance, in the issue of the stalled rocket defense systems for the Czech Republic and Poland. Even despite the war in Ukraine, nothing worth mentioning changed there. Though this new war demonstrated that Russia pursues expansionist politics justified by its ideology of Eurasianism,[26] Obama does not support Ukraine, not even by helping it to arm itself with defense weaponry.[27] The same expansionism – and Khidasheli also notes this – revealed itself in Georgia in 2008. Ever since it has become increasingly obvious that Russia is actively pursuing politics of forceful subjugation toward both Georgia and Ukraine, and it is likely aiming at the Baltic former Soviet republics as one of the next pressure targets in Europe. It is already actively getting involved in Syria in the Middle East.

Why is then Khidasheli appearing on the European and American stage as such an insistent figure, calling publicly for that which, by all accounts, is barely to be expected from current European and American leaders? Though she may be personally convinced of the opposite, Khidasheli appears to be authorized to openly act so by the political nucleus of the Georgian Dream in order to build justification for the actions that coalition has been undertaking, effectively, ever since taking office. After Georgia is again dismissed by the West in Warsaw, this seems to be the hidden narrative, the Georgian Dream will all the more easily resort to the excuse of presumably having tried everything, having left no stone unturned. Russia, as well as Iran, will be made even more welcome in Georgia then. Khidasheli is the best and, arguably, the only trustworthy face in the current government to make such moves credible. And Ivanishvili must know this.

 

Stepping Up the Fight against Eurasianism

 

What Khidasheli and her fellow Georgian Republicans would have to do, if they truly did want to speed up the Georgian integration into NATO, is to step out of their own coalition and take a stand in opposition to it. The latter’s compliance with the Russian occupation outwardly, and its mismanagement of problems in Georgia inwardly renders her words meaningless. The economy is experiencing a steep downward spiral in 2015, after a modest growth in 2014. It’s not just the devaluation of the Georgian currency, with the lari only 10 points short of reaching its all-time low of 2.45 per USD of 1999, and continuing to remain unstable. It’s not just the fact that prices for electricity and other utilities are increasing while economic growth is falling, as is the influx of tourism income and foreign transactions into Georgia.[28] First and foremost, civil liberties continue to encounter major setbacks. The blocked acceptance of religious freedom, sexual minorities, specific ethnic groups, and, in general, of people with alternative opinions trying to live out the idea of individual freedom in however restrained a way, are all factors contributing to an even more devastated state in the Georgian society. Recently, the largest opposition TV station, Rustavi 2, got handed a lawsuit by a former owner who was ousted during Saakashvili’s presidency for corruption, in what is widely seen as an effort to silence the most influential oppositional media outlet.[29] Unexpectedly, the most popular TV talk show by Inga Grigolia on Imedi TV channel, which allowed for balanced opposition coverage, was discontinued.

What Saakashvili’s government, and arguably Saakashvili personally, refused to accept, was the tempting idea that by adjusting to existing relationships one survives better as a national collective, rather than by pursuing the notion of freedom, and the will for its realization in a society, whatever the circumstances. It was not a coincidence, then, that George W. Bush called Georgia a “beacon of liberty” in 2005; for this intention, and the policies accompanying it, Georgia may have well deserved this title in the end. There is no other foundation to keep the idea and practice of freedom alive, which prevents at least the worst from happening in today’s society not liberated from the tendencies to self-destruction, than the wills of the individuals who uphold the however unstable institutions guarding them. This is precisely why it was so facile to roll back a large part of the changes that occurred in Georgia in the nine years of the Saakashvili’s government, too.

Many in Georgian society do not, and hardly will, forget the mistakes made during that time. Yet it seems impossible to ignore that appeasement of Russia, which stands in the region for the politically organized effort to resolve the crisis of the West per se by building up as an alternative the so-called “governed democracy” of Eurasianism, jeopardizes the last remnants of conditions in Georgia that make the pursuit of the best for all at least conceivable. Saakashvili himself, along with several of his team members, got involved in Ukrainian politics as the governor of the embattled Odessa region. In the midst of war in its eastern parts, and after the annexation of Crimea, it is paramount for Ukraine to demonstrate that it actually wants to achieve improvement in institutional, social, and economic terms, however minimal they may turn out to be. Thus it needs to carry out the proverbial sweeping reforms. Because Saakashvili has an ambition to prove that what he was struggling for in Georgia were exactly those structural changes, he is plausibly one of the most suitable figures for this task. It is reasonable to interpret his involvement in Ukraine as part of helping Georgia to withstand further Russian pressure.[30] Other Georgians who participate in the war on the Ukrainian side, fighting against the Russian troops and Russian-backed separatists, regard their commitment similarly.[31] Time will tell whether what Saakashvili intends can be continued in Georgia itself, and with which specific political alliances. The National Movement alone won’t be able to do this. The choice for Georgia on the whole, however, remains between what social critic Theodor W. Adorno referred to as the renewed barbarism – the embodiments of which in the region are Russia, more resolutely Iran, as well as, no less gravely, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – and a society in which the laws protecting individual self-expression, even if in a limited way, at least are functional.

 

Iran and Terrorist Threat on the Rise

 

Another threat to Georgia is clearly posed by the growing expansion of the so-called Islamic State to the south, which recently declared the establishment of the North Caucasian Vilaiyat.[32] This Vilaiyat stands in competition with the North Caucasian Emirate, several years ago pursued by the affiliates of al-Qaeda in the region. This time around, however, it may turn out more dangerous for Georgia proper. As is well-known, ISIS applies different terrorist tactics than al-Qaeda and its allies did in the North Caucasus. Here al-Qaeda affiliates used to attack political officials and the military, seeing themselves as the helpers of common Russian citizens against the oppressor state. ISIS, to the contrary, fights against everybody who does not accept its hegemony, and it deliberately attacks civilians to generate immediate submission and mediated terror. Whether Georgia can maintain reasonable politics against ISIS remains to be seen. Its policies with regard to Iran, however, are already distinctly failing. It was not a coincidence that as early as 2013 in Jerusalem, Ivanishvili declared he would prefer the issue of the nuclear program in Iran to be resolved, as he termed it, peacefully, thus ruling out an attack on nuclear facilities in Iran, and this means: effectively Georgian support for it.[33]

Moves such as this one undercut Georgia’s self-proclaimed effort to win back Israel as its political ally. By direct implication, because Georgia astonishingly handles Israel no differently than Iran, namely presumably pragmatically as a mere economic partner, this actually crosses out its transatlantic orientation under the Georgian Dream. With regard to Israel and Iran, Georgian policy rather seems already much in line with that of Russia. Russia continues to pressure Israel toward the two-state-solution by keeping contacts with Iran, Hamas and other terrorist organizations that seek a Palestinian state without their acceptance of Israel’s right to exist.[34] Russia has also helped, as State Secretary John Kerry stated, to mediate the nuclear deal with Iran, one that actually allows it all but a secure path to nuclear weapons in eight to ten years at the latest, provided, it does not cheat, while enabling it to generate high profits from oil trade and to receive about 100 to 150 billion dollars by ridding it from international sanctions. A significant part of these funds will be, arguably, used to grow Iran’s military presence, not least through funding the very same terrorist organizations and its proxies in the Middle East. It was not only, and hardly surprisingly, the German Minister of Economy Sigmar Gabriel, who was among the first to visit Iran after the deal was announced, and to start expanding industrial cooperation with the Islamic regime.[35] In Georgia, the distinguished nationalist within the Georgian Dream, Gubaz Sanikidze, was appointed to lead a delegation bent on securing further economic and even security cooperation with the Iranian regime. “‘There is a huge desire and readiness from the both sides to expand cooperation,’ [Sanikidze] said, adding that transit of Iran’s energy resources via Georgia would be of ‘strategic importance’ for Georgia, including because of its ‘security dimension.’[36]

Notably, foreign voices in Georgia, those affiliated with the Democratic U.S. government, stress the same need for Georgia’s speedy foray into the possibility of ‘normalized’ trade and commerce opening up with Iran.[37] Despite the grave threat Iran’s theocratic regime poses to Israel, Georgia’s purported ally in the region, the Georgian Dream indeed strives to quickly lift visa regulations, and allow as many tourists and businesses from Iran to enter Georgia as possible. The difference seems to be hard to perceive, yet it is tangible: the Georgian Dream chooses to adjust to the existing conditions, whereas Saakashvili’s National Movement was characterized by the will to change them by taking high risks, for which it also paid highly. Many of its political functionaries had to leave country because of persecution; some, such as the former Tbilisi mayor Gigi Ugulava and former Prime Minister Ivane Merabishvili, are still jailed. Ugulava was scandalously sentenced in September for four years and six months for a challenged corruption case after being freed for only 24 hours due to the ruling of the Constitutional Court ending his illegal 15-month custody without conviction.

 

Preventing the Worst, Aiming at the Best

 

That Donald Trump might again stand in Batumi, upon completing the Tower with his name, is perhaps less questionable than his winning the Republican nomination. Whoever may, though, would likely be of more help in Georgia as the U.S. president to those willing to continue what the Saakashvili presidency engendered – a movement toward the market economy, perceived as a bearer of economic freedom, and the rule of law. For this, the political organization of National Movement will need to cleanse itself from any remnants of authoritarian elements it had displayed, notably during Saakashvili’s second term.[38] As to the international support, it seems that in Europe, in particular among the left-leaning Social Democratic circles, the U.S. is hardly being perceived as a politically active international actor in the continent any longer. There is a false presupposition in political theory that the U.S. used to be a so-called superpower, a global sovereign of sorts, which presumably could indeed unilaterally decide world issues, whereas in fact the U.S. was involved in strengthening its hegemony by pursuing what some term conservative internationalism: that is the support of democracy in countries on the borders of other democratic nations. In an inversion of the aforementioned fallacy, the U.S. is now, by the same token, regarded as ceding its powers – as Obama himself stated qua the maxim of leading from behind – namely, to a new, multilateral global sovereign, somehow co-constituted by China, Russia, and all the other emergent military-economic semi-super powers – now including even theocratic Iran. A continuation of the Georgian Dream blame game would be to expect salvage for Georgia from the outside – and be it from the U.S. What Georgian society needs, it will have to achieve itself. And by doing so, it may even inspire others, including in the U.S. itself, who take individual’s freedom as the ground upon which social freedom can emerge. The utmost political goal of our times, after the catastrophe of the past, is the prevention of the worst – of destruction for the sake of destruction being turned once again into a politically organized entity, as an anti-state. This is the necessary basis for the possibility of a social criticism that would make a profound societal change at all conceivable.

            If, as many argue, the relation of capital in the society is a problem that needs to be dealt with, then this social relation cannot be dissolved by negatively abolishing its mediations. To the contrary, the liberation from domination in a society requires a mediation that seeks to ultimately abolish social violence rather than the mediation itself. For that, the universal acceptance of mediation – and that is, of social critique – which can be exercised only by individuals, is origin and the goal at the same time. Georgian society today still trusts too much the religious belief of abandoning its own responsibility; it is placing it in the hands of a deus absconditus, whose essence – according to the predominant Christian Orthodox theology ­– cannot be grasped either in positive or negative theological terms, but only in a mystical theology of immediate experience. This immediacy is what needs to be dissolved by the force of mediation, embodied in the individual human being. This only would constitute a lasting opposition to a violent social order, one that does not abandon the idea of truth for the sake of power. Rather it pursues truth, represented neither in the instrumental reason of scientific enquiry alone, nor in its abstract negation of an irrationalism, but in the actualization of the potential of reason which calls for the liberation of nature – and that is no less than: of history in nature – both within and without human beings. It is not a paradox, then, that in a society such as Georgia, as elsewhere, the securing of social conditions of critique is paramount for this.

September 3, 2015, New York

 

Notes

[1] Georgian Defense Minister Urges NATO Enlargement. Civil.ge, August 20, 2015.

[2] Saakashvili, Trump Unveil Tower Project, Praise Each Other. Civil.ge, April 22, 2012.

[3] The Trump Tower Project in Batumi Did Not Fall Through. Commersant.ge, December 12, 2014 (Georg. Translations by the author; online sources last access: September 3, 2015)

[4] Georgia’s PM: My dream is for Israel as a strategic partner. The Jerusalem Post, June 20, 2013.

[5] Devi Dumbadze. “‘Love as Vzaimne,’ Broken: How Anti-Semitism is Shaping Georgia’s Relationship with Israel After All. Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, 2015 (forthcoming).

[6] Georgian MPs Visit Iran. Civil.ge. August 9, 2015; Iranian MPs Visit Georgia. Civil.ge, July 29, 2015; Tbilisi Welcomes Iran Nuclear Deal. Civil.ge, July 15, 2015; Georgia, Iran Explore Ways to Boost Economic Ties, Civil.ge. May 20, 2015.

[7] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Condemns Another Provocation of Russia. New.ge, August 11, 2015 (Georg.)

[8] EU Warning over Russia ‘Land Grab’ in South Ossetia Border Row. BBC, July 16, 2015.

[9] Another 800 Meters Now Under Occupied Territory. News.ge, August 10, 2015 (Georg.)

[10] Bidzina Ivanishvili On Creeping Occupation. G-News TV. July 23, 3015 (Georg.)

[11] Beruchashvili: Russia Is Responsible For All Steps Undertaken on the Occupied Territory. Netgazeti.ge, July 16, 201 (Georg.)

[12] EU’s Tusk Hails Tbilisi’s ‘Responsible Reaction’ to Russia’s ‘Provocations.’ Civil.ge, July 21, 2015.

[13] Georgia’s Foreign Trade in H1’15. Civil.ge, July 21, 2015.

[14] According to National Democratic Institute’s recent Public Opinion Poll, Georgian Dream has 24%, National Movement 16% of support. NDI.org, May 11, 2015.

[15] Nino Burjanadze Held Meetings in Moscow. Imedi.ge, July 7, 2015. (Georg.)

[16] “We Won’t Leave Our Own Past If One Continues to Elect Kings and Kings’ Teams to Govern the Country.” Interview with Gigi Tevzadze. 24 Saati. February 19, 2015.

[17] Joshua Kucera. Georgia Finalizes Controversial Air Defense Deal With France. EurasiaNet, June 17, 2015.

[18] EU hält Ostpartner auf Distanz. Die Zeit, May 22, 2015.

[19] Georgia Calls on NATO to Deliver on Membership Promises – Radio Liberty. Interpressnews. August 22, 2015.

[20] Georgian Defense Minister Urges NATO Enlargement. Civil.ge, August 20, 2015.

[21] Interview mit Georgiens Verteidigungsministerin. “Putin wird sich nicht mit der Ukraine begnügen.” Neue Zürcher Zeitung. June 14, 2015. 

[22] Judy Dempsey. Who’s Afraid of NATO Expansion? Newsweek, August 7, 2015.

[23] This is what should occur, as they suggest, at the upcoming September conference on “Europe’s New Geopolitical Landscape: Security, Economic Opportunity, Freedom and Human Dignity for the Frontline States,” held by the McCain Institute for International Leadership in Tbilisi. “The Perfect Opportunity to Advance the U.S.–Georgian Defense Relationship.” The Heritage Foundation. August 14, 2015.

[24] Tina Khidasheli’s Risks and Chances on the Way to NATO. Netgazeti.ge, July 7, 2015 (Georg.)

[25] U.S. Presidential Hopeful Trump On Ukraine’s Possible NATO Entry: ‘I Wouldn’t Care.’ Rferl.org. August 23, 2015. Rand Paul on ISIS, Benghazi and Bringing U.S. Troops Home. Newsweek, Dec. 11, 2014,   

[26] It’s not just the West European populist nationalism that is channeling Putin’s expansionism in Europe: Cf. Marlène Laruelle (ed.) Eurasianism and the European Far Right: Reshaping the Europe-Russia Relationship. London: Lexington Books, 2015. In an Orthodox Christian dominated country like Georgia, the Georgian Orthodox Church, supported by the nationalist parties, serves an important mediating function of making such ideas current in the public.

[27] Editorial Board. Putting Ukraine in an Untenable Position. The Washington Post. August 8, 2105.

[28] In 2015, Georgia’s tourism grew only by 3.4%, close to 2014, when it increased by 3.5%; in comparison to this tangible slowdown, the number of tourists grew by 31% in 2011, by 35% in 2012, and by 23% in 2013. Statistical Data of Visitors Crossing the Georgian Border. 2006-2015. Ministry of Internal Affairs. June 2015.

[29] Rustavi 2 Owners Say Seizure May Cause Bankruptcy. Democracy & Freedom Watch. August 18, 2015.

[30] Mikheil Saakashvili – Governor of Odessa Region, Ukraine. BBC, HARDTalk, July 14, 2015.

[31] Georgians in Ukraine Fight Shadow War. The New York Times, January 22, 2015.

[32] Davit Kokosvhili. ISIS at the Georgian Border. Netgazeti.ge. July 7, 2015 (Georg.); Adrew S. Bowen. ISIS Comes to Russia. The Daily Beast, July 10, 2015.

[33] Georgia’s PM: My Dream is for Israel as a Strategic Partner. The Jerusalem Post, June 20, 2013.

[34] Special Representative of Putin Awaits Hamas in Moscow. Izrus.il, August 19, 2015 (Russ.)

[35] Nach Atomabkommen: Gabriel kurbelt Iran-Geschäft an. Der Spiegel, July 19, 2015.

[36] Georgian MPs Visit Iran. Civil.ge. August 9, 2015.

[37] Mark Mullin. Georgia and Iran – the Key is Now Speed. Georgianjournal.ge. July 16, 2015.

[38] Margarete Klein. Nicht vollzogene Demokratisierung: Georgien nach der “Rosenrevolution” 2003. Maćków, Jerzy (ed), Autoritarismus in Mittel- und Osteuropa, Wiesbaden: VS Verl. für Sozialwiss. 2009, pp. 289-305.