Advice and Responsibility

Advice and Responsibility

As an editor, I take very seriously the obligation that our publications present accurate facts and reasoned analysis.


As an editor, I take very seriously the obligation that our publications present accurate facts and reasoned analysis.  (On a side note, I am happy to note that the "Rumors" column of several weeks back, our first stab into the world of political speculation, wasn't entirely off target; the December 15th issue of The American Conservative, in its "Deep Background" column, contains an item that "Some political advisors to President Bush hope to persuade the president to dump Vice President Cheney from the 2004 ticket … Some of President Bush's Texas loyalists want to have Secretary of State Colin Powell replace Cheney on the ticket.")

I believe that it is especially important to present realistic assessments of what America can and cannot do to the rest of the world. This is because, while I do recognize the power of ideas in helping to shape policy, we in the think-tank community cannot guarantee that our vision for policy will be implemented, nor (unless we also happen to control major financial-industrial conglomerates) can we ensure that massive financial flows will back up our policy initiatives.


I find myself becoming concerned about the gap between rhetoric and deliverability, which is especially pronounced with regard to the Black Sea basin.  Let me cite two examples.

The first concerns Turkey and the European Union.  It is becoming an article of faith among many in the Washington think-tank community that Turkey must enter the European Union as soon as possible, and preferably by 2007.  Expanding the EU to encompass Turkey would bring Europe's boundaries squarely into the "Greater Middle East"-- to directly border on Iraq, Iran and Syria (and the logic runs, give Europe a greater stake in supporting U.S. policies on the Middle East).  U.S. commentators constantly preach the benefits that the United States would receive from Turkish accession into the EU, and make it clear that the U.S. will "do what it takes" to get Ankara into the Union.

There is one small problem, however.  Washington has no way to deliver on such assurances.  The high-water mark of American influence occurred at the 1999 Helsinki summit, when Turkey's candidacy was guaranteed.  What Washington cannot do, however, is modify the criteria under which Turkey-EU accession talks would take place.  Certainly, the lack of a final settlement on Cyprus remains a major stumbling block, but as Philip Gordon and Henri Gordon wrote in their increasingly prescient article on Cyprus, Turkey and the EU in the Winter 2001/02 issue of The National Interest, "For the EU, Turkish accession still seems remote primarily because of Turkish domestic problems" and that "in the absence of progress in these areas, Ankara will not earn Brussels' seal of approval."

I cannot reiterate the latter statement.  Turkey's membership in the EU depends on what happens in Brussels, not in Washington.  Washington's influence in this matter has diminished even further, because many of the same strong proponents for Turkish accession to the EU are openly contemptuous of the institution itself and of its core members, France and Germany.  To turn around and expect that the EU will admit Turkey primarily because it is in the strategic interests of the United States, especially for the U.S. position in the Middle East, is preposterous.  Writing in the forthcoming issue of The National Interest, Zbigniew Brzezinski notes: "It is already evident that the European Union, as it begins to identify its own foreign policy interests, will not remain merely a passive observer or compliant supporter of whatever the American policy is in the Middle East."

Europe will admit Turkey when Europeans feel it is in their economic, political and strategic interests.  Certainly, U.S.-based commentators are free to utilize their transatlantic connections to try and convince European governments and publics of this proposition, but, at the same time, they also need to be sending a clear message to our Turkish ally about the realistic limits of U.S. influence.  I don't see this happening.

Nor do I see preparation for any sort of fall-back plan should there be further delay in the opening of accession negotiations.  Would Washington extend NAFTA eastward to encompass Turkey?  Would the U.S. be prepared to open up its borders to allow for the free migration of Turks to the United States?  In other words, would the U.S. try to provide some of the economic benefits that would be expected from EU membership?  Not likely.

And herein lies the lack of responsibility.  Analysts can suggest wide-ranging measures for assistance.  They rarely get them implemented, precisely because we think-tank denizens are not politicians elected to office capable of persuading local voters why foreign aid matters more than building more roads and schools locally, and because we do not answer to the shareholders of corporations who justify investments and their profitability.

This is also a factor in "advice" that has been provided to Georgia.  Once one of the most prosperous republics of the former USSR, Georgia was especially hard-hit by the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

A hallmark of U.S. strategy toward the former Soviet Union has been to encourage the other republics to emerge from Russia's shadow.  Such a policy is all well and good.  The problem remains, however, that countries like Georgia are akin to Mexico in Porfirio Diaz's lament: "Poor Mexico!  So far from God, so close to the United States."  And while Westernized elites delight in promoting Georgia's transatlantic ties, the reality is that the country needs to normalize its relationship with Moscow.  Georgia depends on Russia not only for the energy that heats homes in the winter and powers the electricity grid, but hundreds of thousands of Georgians continue to live and work in Russia. 

The United States wants to encourage Georgia to be more independent of Russia. In so doing, however, in "escaping dependency" in economic terms from Russia, there must either be a new source of supply or this creates real problems for the country. American firms that have tried to invest in Georgia have found it quite difficult to turn a profit. And let's be clear here: American private investment is not some sort of quasi-foreign aid. American firms will invest in places that are profitable and that meet their economic needs.  Just as we don't see many Russian firms investing in Mexico, we shouldn't be surprised that Russian firms might want to invest a great deal in their neighbors--it makes good business sense. And despite the large amount of aid that the United States has given to Georgia, it is unlikely to increase by leaps and bounds--and certainly the United States is not going to supply Georgia with energy or give Georgians hundreds of thousands of U.S. visas to come study, work and live in the United States.

So, we have to squarely realize that fostering rising expectations--in Turkey about immediate EU membership or in Georgia that it will be bailed out of its economic and political crisis by large amount of Western aid--are counterproductive. It would be better to promise what we actually can deliver.


Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of In the National Interest.