Anatol Lieven wrote in Wednesday's Financial Times that there are two lessons to be learned from the recent war:  "The first is that Georgia will never now get South Ossetia and Abkhazia back.  The second is for the West:  it is not to make promises that it neither can, nor will, fulfil when push comes to shove."[1]  --  The West generally and the U.S. in particular "bear a considerable share of the responsibility for the Georgian assault on South Ossetia and deserve the humiliation they are now suffering," wrote the author of America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism (Oxford UP, 2004).  --  "[T]he Bush administration armed, trained, and financed the Georgian military. . . . The Bush administration, backed by Congress, the Republican presidential candidate John McCain and most of the U.S. media, also adopted a highly uncritical attitude both to the undemocratic and the chauvinist aspects of the Saakashvili administration, and its growing resemblance to that of the crazed nationalist leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia in the early 1990s. . . . [T]he Bush administration even put heavy pressure on international monitoring groups not to condemn flagrant abuses by Saakashvili’s supporters during the last Georgian elections. . . . Finally, the U.S. pushed strongly for a NATO Membership Action Plan for Georgia at the last alliance summit and would have achieved this if France and Germany had not resisted."  --  "The latest conflict is humiliating for the U.S., but it may have saved us from a catastrophic future:  namely an offer of NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine provoking conflicts with Russia." ...

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Comment & analysis

Comment

REPROACH FOR THE WEST ON ITS ROLE IN GEORGIA
By Anatol Lieven

Financial Times (London)
August 13, 2008

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/401e5fa0-68e1-11dd-a4e5-0000779fd18c.html

The bloody conflict over South Ossetia will have been good for something at least if it teaches two lessons. The first is that Georgia will never now get South Ossetia and Abkhazia back. The second is for the West: it is not to make promises that it neither can, nor will, fulfil when push comes to shove.

Georgia will not get its separatist provinces back unless Russia collapses as a state, which is unlikely. The populations and leaderships of these regions have repeatedly demonstrated their desire to separate from Georgia; and Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, made it clear again and again that Russia would defend these regions if Georgian forces attacked them.

The Georgians, like the Serbs in the case of Kosovo, should recognize reality and formally recognize the independence of these territories in return for a limited partition and an agreement to join certain Georgian-populated areas to Georgia. This would open the way either for an internationally recognized independence from Georgia or, more likely in the case of South Ossetia, joining North Ossetia as an autonomous republic of the Russian Federation. For the Georgians, the resolution of their territorial conflicts would make it more likely that they could eventually join NATO and the European Union -- though after the behavior of the Georgian administration, that cannot possibly be considered for many years.

Western governments should exert pressure on Georgia to accept this solution. They have a duty to do this because they, and most especially the U.S., bear a considerable share of the responsibility for the Georgian assault on South Ossetia and deserve the humiliation they are now suffering. It is true that Western governments, including the U.S., always urged restraint on Tbilisi. Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s president, was told firmly by the Bush administration that he must not start a war.

On the other hand, the Bush administration armed, trained, and financed the Georgian military. It did this although the dangers of war were obvious and after the Georgian government had told its own people that these forces were intended for the recovery of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The Bush administration, backed by Congress, the Republican presidential candidate John McCain and most of the U.S. media, also adopted a highly uncritical attitude both to the undemocratic and the chauvinist aspects of the Saakashvili administration, and its growing resemblance to that of the crazed nationalist leader Zviad Gamsakhurdia in the early 1990s.

Instead, according to European officials, the Bush administration even put heavy pressure on international monitoring groups not to condemn flagrant abuses by Saakashvili’s supporters during the last Georgian elections. Ossete and Abkhaz concerns were ignored, and the origins of the conflict were often wittingly or unwittingly falsified in line with Georgian propaganda.

Finally, the U.S. pushed strongly for a NATO Membership Action Plan for Georgia at the last alliance summit and would have achieved this if France and Germany had not resisted. Given all this, it was not wholly unreasonable of Mr. Saakashvili to assume that if he started a war with Russia and was defeated, the U.S. would come to his aid.

Yet all this time, Washington had not the slightest intention of defending Georgia, and knew it. Quite apart from its lack of desire to go to war with Russia over a place almost no American had heard of until last week, with the war in Iraq it does not have an army to send to the Caucasus.

The latest conflict is humiliating for the U.S., but it may have saved us from a catastrophic future: namely an offer of NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine provoking conflicts with Russia in which the West would be legally committed to come to their aid -- and would yet again fail to do so. There must be no question of this being allowed to happen -- above all because the expansion of NATO would make such conflicts much more likely.

Instead, the West should show Moscow its real will and ability to defend those East European countries that have already been admitted into NATO, and to which it is therefore legally and morally committed -- notably the Baltic states. We should say this and mean it. Under no circumstances should we extend such guarantees to more countries which we do not intend to defend. To do so would be irresponsible, unethical and above all contemptible.

--The writer is a professor in the War Studies Department of King’s College London and a senior fellow of the New America Foundation.