Monday, August 18, 2008

Where in the World is Georgia?

It seems now that what you say about the Russian invasion of Georgia depends on where you think "there" is. U.S. President George W. Bush would have it be in Europe, in order to make the crisis to appear more historically momentous, and to make his call for its NATO membership to sound more strategically convincing.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would rather follow in the footsteps of the czars, who since the day of Peter the Great have eyed that mountain nation as part of their natural southern border, and think of Georgia as being in Russia's "near abroad," with the implied warning to others -- Stay out!

Students with a long view of history point out that Georgia is properly in the Caucasus – that hopeless checkerboard of cross-purposed nationalities, the triumphant ones with newly recognized countries of their own, and the still vanquished ones currently without, yet ever hopeful of even further ethnic subdivision. Not for nothing did the early Arab geographers call the Caucasus "jebel al-lisan," or "the mountain of languages."

Israelis might have the most succinct label for it -- "a bad neighborhood" -- yet it goes unsaid just how much responsibility the Israelis themselves have for making their own neighborhood so.

Bush and Putin both have a lot to lose if they don't get it geographically their way. If Georgia is in fact part of Asia, closer to Baghdad than to Brussels, then Bush's tough talk of Russia's unacceptable policy of regime change, military invasion, and the targeting of civilians gets uncomfortably close to U.S.-approved invasions of Iraq, Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, etc.

Conceding Georgia as being in the Caucasus leads to the equally hypocritical parallel of Armenia's occupation of the Azerbaijani territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which for 18 years has been tacitly approved in Washington because of much muscle flexing by the Armenian-American lobby.

If, on the other hand, Georgia is considered to be squarely part of Europe, then Putin will be seen as spearheading yet another Prague '68, Hungary '56, or Sudetenland '38 -- just as American neocons are now calling it in their effort to get key European allies to buy into their rhetoric. Sarko l'Américain already has. Yet what might a loyal NATO ally like Turkey, whose territory is all to the west of Georgia, have to say about this -- especially when told by many that they are not sufficiently "Western" to qualify for EU membership?

Isn't there a better place for Georgia -- in neither Europe nor Asia? From now on, why not think of the Black Sea as the Russian Caribbean, and let Georgia be renamed the Cuba of the Caucasus? Turn it into a fully fledged U.S.-allied junior NATO member and give it a few rusty missiles pointed north. U.S. military advisors are conveniently already in residence there.

Just as Soviet advisors in Havana learned to love Cuban rum and say no to Russian vodka, U.S. soldiers stationed in Tiblisi these days are said to much prefer Georgian wine over American beer.

Elect a Georgian nationalist version of Fidel Castro -- in fact, current President Mikhail Saakashvili will do fine -- to shake his fist at Moscow in every speech and then rattle his tin cup for Western aid.

Cede Abkhazia and South Ossetia outright to Tiblisi, and let their refugees flood into nearby Sochi, already a palm-planted resort town much like Miami, which will then become a hotbed of cross-border conspiracy, nostalgia, and irredentism -- and a serious political headache for Moscow if the day ever dawns when Russia and Georgia decide to make peace.

The parallels between Georgia and Cuba are already striking. Both are rentier states, dependent on fees collected for leasing out their real estate to others -- Georgia as a pass-through along Big Oil's Baku-to-Ceyhan pipeline, and Cuba as a vacation spot formerly for Soviet-era commissars in guns-for-sugar swaps, and more recently for hard currency-carrying sex tourists from Europe.

Georgia curried favor with its American client by sending its troops to Iraq and Afghanistan to help spread democracy at gun point, just as Cuban soldiers and fighter pilots aided the Soviets in their efforts to hurry up the inevitability of communism in Africa.

Yet this current crisis in Georgia can only bring to mind the Cuban missile crisis of yesteryear, which now has the bluffing, blustering, and eventually backing down Bush playing the part of the United Nations. Security Council shoe banging Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who allowed himself to be outplayed and outsmarted by the virile John Kennedy.

Like Putin and unlike Bush this time round, Kennedy before he came to office did truly have experience of the real world, where the personal consequences of one's own decisions in war are sometimes bloody and sometimes lethal. President Bush in a newly tailored, never before worn flight suit, permitting photo-ops on the deck of an aircraft carrier off the Pacific coast of San Diego, will never understand this.

click here: Where in the World is Georgia?
Middle East Times, Egypt