We are not all Georgians

Saturday, October 11
In the heat of the moment, as Russian tanks rolled into Georgia last August, Senator John McCain earnestly pronounced that "we are all Georgians." With all due respect, many of us would disagree. Mikheil Saakashvili's Georgia, along with the Ukraine, are nations where the grueling path to democracy has not been as pain-free and magically transformative as neocon policy wonks believe. It is a complicated part of the world, and while the danger of an aggressive Russia is real, a simple-minded vision of a world of good guys and bad guys has not served us well for the past eight years, and won't do any good for the next four.

Georgia is not the plucky little embattled democracy too many ideologues suggest. It is a place where dissent and freedom of the press are tightly restricted, and where minority voices are routinely harassed. All this came to a head last November in street protests in Tbilisi that were like a film negative version of the anti-government protests of the Rose Revolution that brought Mr. Saakashvili to power in 2004.

Meanwhile, Ukraine — which Mr. McCain urges us to "keep an eye on" — is mired in political discord, much of its own making. On Wednesday, President Viktor Yushchenko dissolved the government and called a snap election for December, which will mark the third time in four years the government has collapsed in acrimony and backbiting.

The root cause is the egos and venality of Ukraine's leaders. The erstwhile allies of the Orange Revolution, President Yushchenko and Yulia Timoshenko, are involved in a personal power struggle that has left many voters angry and disillusioned. The turmoil raises the real danger the country will lurch further toward base nationalism or witness a return to power of those who see their country as a Russian vassal state.

In both countries, the present leadership is a great improvement over the previous relics of Soviet rule. But the former Soviet Union is a vast space full of overlapping minorities, interests and histories.

There are obvious reasons why politicians like Mr. McCain remain locked in a Reagan era mindset, with its moral clarity and unquestionable certainty in America's role overseas. But this kind of faith-based policymaking fails to acknowledge the world's complexity, alienates far too many who should be our allies, and often puts us in morally compromised situations. Consider all the right wing authoritarian regimes through the Cold War the United States supported or ignored simply because they were not left-wing authoritarian regimes.

We need more than this kind of stubbornness from our leaders. And needless to say, we need more insight than Governor Sarah Palin's confident assertion in her CBS interview that Americans must be vigilant "as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America." These are times that require the wisdom and temperament to see the world beyond ideology.


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