Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 26, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

GEORGIAN DEMOCRACY....GEORGIAN OIL....Patrick Belton points approvingly to this Christian Science Monitor story about the "Rose Revolution" in Georgia:

"The US government has gone to great lengths to back a [democratic] process and institutions, and to be very careful - amid big pressure from both sides - not to back certain individuals," says Mark Mullen, head of the Georgia office of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), funded by the US government, which has engaged in democracy training here since the mid-1990s.

...."There is clearly US influence in this," says George Khutsishvili, head of the International Center on Conflict and Negotiation, one of many prodemocracy groups in Tbilisi that receives US, EU, and other Western funding. "The US has supported this government for so many years, with so little outcome. It was a disaster. Finally they realized [Shevardnadze] is not the man to count on" and that the "only thing is to remove [him]."

Now, there's no question that Georgia's vote three weeks ago was rigged, but was our disillusionment with Shevardnadze really due solely to his lack of dedication to democracy? Here's a second opinion from Canada's Globe and Mail:

Western investors built a second [oil pipeline] in 1998 from Baku to the Georgian port city of Supsa. Plans were laid for an even larger pipeline that would run through Georgia to Turkey and the Mediterranean. When these plans were made, Mr. Shevardnadze was seen as an asset by both Western investors and the U.S. government.

....But somewhere along the line, Mr. Shevardnadze reversed course and decided to once more embrace Russia. This summer, Georgia signed a secret 25-year deal to make the Russian energy giant Gazprom its sole supplier of gas. Then it effectively sold the electricity grid to another Russian firm, cutting out AES, the company that the U.S. administration had backed to win the deal. Mr. Shevardnadze attacked AES as "liars and cheats." Both deals dramatically increased Russian influence in Tbilisi.

Washington's reaction was swift. Within weeks, U.S. President George W. Bush had sent senior adviser Stephen Mann to Tbilisi with a warning: "Georgia should not do anything that undercuts the powerful promise of an East-West energy corridor," he said.

It goes without saying that I don't know enough about Georgian politics to say which of these stories is closer to the truth, but it's worth reading both of them.

I like Bush's speeches about democracy although an American president extolling the virtues of democracy is hardly the rarity that his supporters make it out to be but it's a little hard not to be cynical about the fact that the Bush administration's dedication to democracy seems to be strongest whenever U.S. energy interests are at stake. If he wants to show that he's serious Bush is going to have to occasionally support democracy even in places where it doesn't favor American interests. So far he hasn't.

Kevin Drum 11:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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