Even if Ivanishvili is a Manchurian candidate personally dispatched by Putin, dear Bidzina will have to keep Georgia moving in a Western direction unless he wants to have a very short political career.
What’s curious about the reaction from Mandel and Boot is that Georgia’s ties with Western governments aren’t dependent on one set of leaders or one party, but they want to treat a completely internal domestic political dispute as a showdown between great power proxies. The only people convinced that Russia has “won” anything in Georgia are American Russophobes and Republican hawks, perhaps because they still think of these things in Cold War terms where a loss of power by “our” client ruler must mean that there has been a gain by one of “theirs.” They confirm the charge of a Cold War mentality with their reactions.
The U.S. shouldn’t want to cultivate a relationship that is linked to one faction’s hold on power, since that will put the U.S. in the undesirable position of having to prop up yet another regime that its own people will increasingly come to loathe. Along the way, the people will come to loathe our government as well for its role in keeping that faction in power. Whatever value the U.S.-Georgian relationship has (and I still don’t think it has very much value for the U.S.), it has to have the same value when the political leadership in the country changes. If not, the relationship is unsustainable and will eventually deteriorate. It isn’t and shouldn’t be the business of the U.S. government to favor one side or the other in an internal political contest in another country*, and on that score the administration handled the Georgian situation fairly well. It discouraged vote-rigging and election-stealing, but beyond that it didn’t get involved. That was as it should be.
Come to think of it, the neoconservative misunderstanding of the Georgian election is very similar to their misunderstanding of the Green movement protests three years ago. Just as many them couldn’t seem to fathom how people could be protesting against the Iranian leadership without wanting to overthrow the regime and to yield to U.S. demands on the nuclear issue, they can’t imagine how a movement could be anti-Saakashvili without being pro-Moscow. They confuse purely internal domestic political protests and disputes with their own foreign policy preoccupations, and assume that if an opposition movement shares some of their objections to a given regime it must share all of them. Likewise, they impute foreign policy views to domestic opposition forces that they don’t have to build them up or, in the Georgian case, to try to discredit them in the eyes of Western audiences.