Saakashvili's Charade

The Georgian president has manipulated his own people and our government. It’s time the West wised up to his games.

For two tense days in August, all communication in the country Georgia was down. Georgian citizens did not know that President Mikheil Saakashvili had ordered his woefully inept "army" to begin shelling the country's Russian-backed separatist region of South Ossetia.

As a result of the unprovoked and unwise attack, former-Russian President Vladimir Putin had very harsh words for the Georgian president, while Saakashvili's public-relations machinery immediately went into overdrive trying to sell the "David vs Goliath" scenario to his own people as well as the media. Even more bizarre (given the current credit crunch and financial turbulence in America), this tiny country managed to secure a $4.5 million bailout from the United States taxpayers.

Bailing out Wall Street and Detroit are one thing, but to ask Americans to financially support Saakashvili's recklessness is a new low. And the truth of Saakahsvili's self-destructive actions is finally emerging. In recent days, the New York Times, the BBC and Human Rights Watch have all reported investigative stories showing that U.S.-armed and -trained Georgian troops attacked unarmed civilians in the sleeping city of Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. Initially, the State Department defended Saakashvili's actions, but now has reversed that stance and has condemned the attack.

Figures in the international community have commented on Saakashvili's erratic behavior. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called the Georgian government "reckless" for its military actions, and the European Union has formed a commission to investigate Saakashvili's behavior to determine whether international laws were violated.

Recent events seem to confirm this take on Saakashvili's character. During the five-day skirmish, the Georgian president continued to lie to his countrymen, abandoned the French foreign minister, was filmed ducking for cover under fictional bomber planes, and before a televised interview, seen eating his necktie on the air.

What is not amusing is Saakashvili's indiscriminate use of military force against innocent civilians and Russian peacekeepers and the fact that Georgia's territorial integrity will never be restored. In a report by international monitors, there is no doubt that Saakashvili provoked Russia and was itching not only for a fight, but also for American military support and approval. Afterward, he suggested Senator John McCain egged him on.

The president's judgment has been called into question, as well as his ability to stabilize his crumbling government. A week ago, while Americans were celebrating a new president-elect, more than ten thousand Georgian citizens stood before the Parliament building demanding Saakashvili's resignation.

There is no free media in the country, Saakashvili's cabinet is in shambles, and he fired all his top military advisers as a result of the South Ossetian war. There is little chance that American aid money will actually reach any South Ossetians, whose homes and schools were destroyed. Corruption in Georgia is rampant, despite Saakashvili's promise to make the country a beacon of democracy.

Tbilisi's jails are overflowing with political prisoners arrested on trumped-up charges. The legal system is draconic, with the president handpicking judges. Families have been broken, dissidents have been killed-or they just disappear without a trace. The best and the brightest have fled the country, seeking a better life.

It is time for Georgians to wake up. The president has kept his own people in the dark for too long. Americans should support Senator Hillary Clinton's bill to hold congressional hearings to determine the causes of the war-and to decide how much longer to keep bailing out Saakashvili for his own mistakes.

 

Tsotne Bakuria, a former Member of Parliament from Georgia, is a senior fellow at the Global International Strategic Group in Washington, DC.