What?! The Open Society Institute is George Soros’s piggy bank for funding a variety of his leftwing front groups. And yet, the Atlantic puts this extreme group’s advocacy up as if it were legitimate, nonpartisan journalism. In doing so, it turns itself into a mouthpiece, an unreliable one at that, for a group whose animus toward many of American foreign policy objectives (even in the Obama administration) is well known.
When one is shamelessly flacking for the propagandistic pro-Georgian party line, it is more than a little odd to complain about advocacy masquerading as journalism, but it’s important to emphasize that Kucera wasn’t engaged in advocacy of any kind. He was reporting on some interesting excerpts in a new book from a top Bush administration insider that confirmed what he and any other honest observer of the Caucasus already knew about the start of the August 2008 war. It’s also odd that Rubin would find something sinister in EurasiaNet’s connection to this group, since Soros has been a major backer of Saakashvili, which previously earned Saakashvili some unusual, scathing condemnation from a contributor to none other than The Weekly Standard. Richard Carlson took the (correct) view that Saakashvili was not what he was being made out to be by his Western friends:
The previous summer Soros had flown Saakashvili and his followers to a seminar he sponsored in Belgrade on how to stage your own “Velvet Revolution.” And perhaps Soros would deserve some credit–except for the undeniable fact that, ever since his anointing in a crooked election in January, Saakashvili has sounded more like a raging nationalist and authoritarian thug than a democrat strewing rose petals.
This was written in 2004, and it was no less true in 2008. Indeed, by 2008, Westerners had even fewer reasons to have any illusions about who and what Saakashvili was after he had ordered a brutal crackdown on protesters in 2007. As tensions between Russia and Georgia increased and then exploded with Saakashvili’s escalation that August, it became necessary for Western backers of Saakashvili to ignore this as much as possible. The excerpts from Rice’s book were interesting partly because they tended to confirm the picture of Saakashvili as the reckless nationalist that he is, and mostly because they acknowledged that it was Saakashvili who was responsible for escalating the conflict. Rice can insist that “in no way were the Georgians at fault,” but that contradicts the evidence and her own published statements.
In fairness to the Georgians, much of the fault for the August 2008 crisis belongs to the Bush administration to which Rice belonged and other Western governments that created the false impression that they would support Georgia in the event of a crisis. As Thomas de Waal wrote in his excellent book, The Caucasus:
In that sense, the main culpability for the conflict lies, strangely enough, with the one actor that did not fight and that sought to stop the violence: the West. The Western sin was in promising more than it could deliver….Often sympathetic to Georgia for other reasons, Western officials consistently delivered the easy part of the message–they supported Georgia’s territorial integrity; but they did not sufficiently convey the hard part–that recovering the two territories would be a very long haul that required building a new state and rethinking many old attitudes….The default policy of isolating the separatists persisted and only drove them further into the embrace of Russia.
The United States in particular gave many confusing signals. The fact that U.S. troops were there supposedly to train Georgian troops for peacekeeping and antiterrorism functions, not for combat against Abkhaz and South Ossetia, was a distinction lost on many observers, including most Georgians. President Bush consistently praised Saakashvili, yet the commitment was only rhetorical. [p. 222-223]
Asmus honestly concedes that there were plans to launch a military operation in South Ossetia in 2004-a plan scotched in Washington-and for a “preemptive Georgian military move” on Abkhazia in the spring of 2008, as the Russians were increasing their military presence there. Presidents Bush and Saakashvili had a misunderstood conversation in which the latter apparently believed he had been given the go-ahead for military action. It took high-level diplomatic intervention to dispel the impression. U.S. officials delivered repeated messages in private that they would not support a military campaign, but they never said so strongly in public. Here, it seems, was the flashing amber light that made Saakashvili think that if he did launch a quick military strike, he would be allowed to get away with it.
To this day, anti-Russian hawks such as Rubin pretend that this isn’t what happened. That is what is really behind this phony controversy over Kucera’s article: the adamant refusal on the part of anti-Russian hawks to acknowledge that Saakashvili was largely responsible for the disaster in 2008 and that Bush administration mistakes contributed to Saakashvili’s disastrous decision to escalate, because they will not admit that our “ally” could act so recklessly and they want to resume failed Bush-era policies toward Russia and Georgia.