Friday, October 12, 2012

The "Freedom Agenda" in Georgia

One of the bloggers I regularly read is Daniel Larison, who writes for Pat Buchanan's American Conservative magazine. I read Larison because he is the closest thing in America to an intelligent, well-informed isolationist, and he can usually be counted on to give the best argument against American intervention in any situation.

Larison is something of an expert on Georgia -- the country in the Caucasus, that is, not the American state -- and he regularly writes about Georgian affairs. This is interesting mainly because Georgia has a bad relationship with Russia, and a certain sort of belligerent American writer thinks we should be more pro-Georgian and more anti-Russian in our actions. Just recently there was an election in Georgia. The Georgian people voted out the Saakashvili administration, which was closely allied to the US, and voted in an obscure billionaire named Bidzina Ivanishvili, who heads a very vague party called Georgian Dream. Nobody knows what Ivanishvili will do in office, but he is likely to be less anti-Russian than his predecessor and to pursue improved relations with Moscow. Various American commentators have decried this as "dispiriting" and accused Moscow of meddling. Larison:
Instead of applauding these developments, some American hawks seem so attached to Saakashvili and his government that they insist on describing what looks like the first successful democratic transition in Georgia as “dispiriting,” and they do so mainly because they continue to misinterpret what Georgian Dream represents. [This] reaction is instructive in several ways.

First, it’s a useful reminder that many enthusiasts of the so-called “freedom agenda” weren’t ever terribly interested in a more democratic Georgia, which is why they continued to defend and cheer on Saakashvili even as his government became more illiberal and abusive. The response of so many of them to Georgia’s first genuinely competitive democratic election has been to echo the ruling party’s attacks against the opposition, and to lament the new government’s “pro-Russian” orientation when there is no proof that such a thing exists. It’s not news that a lot of Western support for the “freedom agenda” in the former Soviet Union was mostly, if not completely, driven by hostility to Russia. It is nonetheless remarkable that their understanding of political change in Georgia is so limited that it can’t account for an opposition movement that rejects Saakashvili without repudiating or weakening Georgia’s ties with Western nations. Such a possibility seems to be inconceivable to them. Interpreting the Georgian election as a “pro-Western” vs. “pro-Russian” contest is hopelessly misleading.
Similar things could be said about American reactions to elections in Egypt and the Palestinian territories. If you want to promote freedom in other countries, you have to accept that sometimes candidates or parties you hate are going to win elections. Given the vote, many people are going to vote for anti-US parties. If we really care about freedom, we have to accept this. In the long run it is the fact of freedom that matters most.

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