Ghosts in the Room

Pondering the implications of semi-democracies in Pakistan, Georgia and the Ukraine for the U.S. “freedom agenda.”

What will be the trajectory for Georgia in the run-up to and the immediate aftermath of its presidential and parliamentary elections in Janaury?

No discussion can take place without acknowledging that events in Georgia are occurring against a larger backdrop. The "freedom agenda" of the Bush Administration has run out of momentum, with success stories from Lebanon to Kyrgyzstan turning into disappointments. It also did not help matters for Georgia that President Saakashvili's decision to crack down on the opposition, to remove an opposition television station from the airwaves and a declaration of a temporary state of emergency took place alongside events in Pakistan, making comparisons between Saakashvili and Pervez Musharraf-and the nature of U.S. support for both Georgia and Pakistan-inevitable, among them the continued American predisposition to support leaders and personalities in place of processes and institutions.

One reason that Musharraf enjoyed the level of support he did in Washington was the sense that he was better positioned to carry out reform and to assist the United States in the "war on terror" than previous "democratic" politicians. A preference for strong presidential leadership in Georgia-even at the expense of democracy-has been reinforced because of the Ukrainian experience of the last two years. Ukraine by all indicators is more democratic than Georgia, and has held a series of highly competitive elections. However, its ability to forge coherent, effective governments in light of its decisions to decentralize power among several centers as part of the move to a parliamentary system has called into question the effectiveness of Ukraine to carry out continued reforms and to keep the country on a solidly pro-Western path.

But the recent Duma elections in Russia point to a different trend-the dangers of the creation of a hyper-presidential system where institutional checks and balances are eroded.

Given that most Georgian politicians support the country's integration into the Euro-Atlantic community, one cannot argue (as one sometimes hears with regard to Ukraine) that a victory for forces that oppose Saakshvili would deliver the country into the hands of Moscow. Is this a case, therefore, where the United States can and should insist on compliance with all democratic norms, safe in the knowledge that, unlike in Ukraine or further afield-say the experience of the Palestinian elections-that an electoral defeat for Saakashvili's forces could both strengthen democracy while not compromising the country's geopolitical orientation?

The Bush Administration needs the appearance of success in Georgia. We'll see what happens in January.


Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of The National Interest.