This flouting of a U.S. red line by a small country might seem relatively inconsequential — Saakashvili, after all, is not under arrest but in Ukraine advising its new pro-Western government. But it is part of a larger trend. Ally after ally of the United States, including regimes that, like Georgia, depend heavily on Washington for military and economic aid, have begun openly defying the Obama administration and, in a few cases, deliberately humiliating its envoys.
Naturally, Diehl doesn’t even consider the possibility that the Georgian government might be justified in bringing charges against its abusive former president for his role in ordering a violent crackdown on opposition protesters seven years ago. He pays no attention to the merit of the decision, but simply concludes that it is “transparently political” because it happens to affect a politician with connections and friends in Washington. His complaint is essentially that Georgia today does not behave like the satrapy that some in Washington want it to be. How else can one understand the complaint that a sovereign government is “defying” the U.S. unless one assumes that such a government owes Washington obedience?
The “free-for-all” that Diehl laments is almost entirely a product of local governments pursuing what they consider to be their legitimate interests. As hegemonists typically do, Diehl overstates the extent of American clout in these other countries in order to magnify the significance of the loss of the influence that he has just exaggerated. For example, the Thai coup, like the one before it in 2006, had everything to do with the internal dynamics of Thailand’s ongoing political struggles. U.S. clout was largely irrelevant in that case, as it was in almost all of the others. To the extent that any U.S. action may have led the Thai military to believe that it could carry out a coup without serious consequences from Washington, it would have been the U.S. decision not to suspend aid to the Egyptian military after it did the same thing. It should be noted that the mistaken decision not to suspend aid was prompted by the misguided desire to retain influence with the Egyptian government. Likewise, the Bahraini government’s belief that it could act against its domestic opponents with impunity stems from the administration’s muted response to the crackdown three years ago. Once again, that was done for the sake of preserving the status quo in the U.S.-Bahrain relationship. The obsession with preserving clout often encourages poor, short-sighted decision-making, and it also prompts hysterical overreactions to every perceived and imaginary slight from even the smallest of clients. Ultimately, Diehl wants to have things both ways: he wants the U.S. to preserve “clout” with other governments, but he somehow also wants the U.S. to be able to tell those governments how to act inside their own borders. The one precludes the other, and in most countries the attempt to dictate behavior will tend to produce strong resistance.
How should the U.S. have responded to the filing of charges against Saakashvili? Diehl thinks it ought to have used punitive measures:
The administration could easily punish and deter such governments; ambassadors could be recalled, military aid withheld, exercises and official visits canceled.
Of course, what Diehl is talking about here is nothing less than dictating to clients how they should govern themselves, including what domestic laws they are allowed to enforce and which criminals they are permitted to prosecute. “Establish the rule of law, but don’t apply it to our favorites, or else you will be punished.” That is what Pax Americana means to the Diehls of the world. You don’t usually see such a blatant admission that U.S. hegemony must involve the micromanagement of other “pro-American” countries’ internal affairs, but it is very revealing when it happens.