Joshua Kucera found that Condoleeza Rice’s account of the August 2008 war in her new book acknowledged that Saakashvili could be and was provoked into starting a war over the separatist republics. This is what some of us have been saying about the war for the last three years. Kucera began his article this way:
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says Georgian President Saakashvili alienated potential NATO allies by “letting the Russians provoke him” into starting a war over South Ossetia. That’s in her new book where, as with the controversy over Uzbekistan, she portrays herself as the voice of reason, in this case trying to contain the impulsive Saakashvili while also restraining the more bellicose members of her own administration.
There is no question that this is what Rice wrote. The quotes from her book confirm this. Remarkably, it’s also an accurate account of what actually happened in 2008. Saakashvili did alienate potential NATO allies by letting the Russians provoke him into starting a war over South Ossetia. Whether Rice really was trying to be a restraining influence on Saakashvili or not, we can say without a doubt that she was unsuccessful.
As Kucera says in his follow-up post, such an admission by the former Secretary of State is newsworthy because it is so much at odds with the standard talking points one hears on this in the U.S.:
The post said that Rice said that Saakashvili allowed himself to get provoked by Russia, and that it was Georgia which made the first large-scale offensive of the war, the shelling and invasion of Tskhinvali. While that stops short of “blaming” Georgia, it does contradict the narrative that Tbilisi still promotes, which is that Russia was the unilateral aggressor, and so is newsworthy as such. Nothing that Rice says to the Weekly Standard actually contradicts what my post said she said.
The question to ask Rice is not whether she is offended by a slightly misleading title on The Atlantic‘s version of this article, but rather why she doesn’t hold Saakashvili responsible for making what proved to be disastrous decisions that greatly harmed his country and brought U.S.-Russian relation to their lowest point in the post-Cold War era. By her own account, Saakashvili blundered by responding to Russian provocations with escalation, so why is he not at least partly responsible for the war that followed? Isn’t Saakashvili responsible for his own actions, or is he permitted to get away with the excuse that “Putin made him do it”?