Foreign Policy

Georgia On and Off Our Minds


Mark Ames at the Nation thinks that the New York Times took an unwarrantedly kind view of the sterling qualities of Georgia's government and behavior in the recent Russia v. Georgia contretemps, and is now quietly backpedaling. Some excerpts:

….a couple of weeks ago, the New York Times slipped in a story that completely contradicted a narrative that it had been building up for two straight months, one that was leading America into another war--a so-called "New Cold War." The article exposed the awful authoritarian reality of Georgia's so-called democracy, painting a dark picture of President Mikhail Saakashvili's rule that repudiated the fairy tale that the Times and everyone else in the major media had been pushing ever since war broke out in South Ossetia in early August. That fairy tale went like this: Russia (evil) invaded Georgia (good) for no reason whatsoever except that Georgia was free. Putin hates freedom, and Saakashvili is the "democratically elected leader" of a "small, democratic country."


The real question, then, is why the Times waited until this late to question its own position--why wait until the war was long off the front pages, to publish an article about what everyone with an ounce of journalistic curiousity already knew--that Saakashvili was about as much a democrat as he was a military genius?

The push in the West by outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post to get a new cold war on hinged on two major fallacies: (1) that Russia invaded Georgia first, totally unprovoked, because Georgia is a "democracy"; and (2), that Georgia is a "democracy."

It's as if the Times deliberately forgot what it already reported about Saakashvili last year, after he sent in his goon squads to crush opposition protests:

"I think that Misha tends toward the authoritarian," said Scott Horton, a human rights lawyer in the United States who taught Saakashvili when he was a student at Columbia Law School in the mid-1990s, later hired him at a law firm in New York and has remained friendly with him. "I would put it this way: there is a remarkable similarity between Misha and Putin, in terms of their attitudes about presidential prerogatives and authority," Horton said. Like Putin, he added, Saakashvili has marginalized Parliament and taken to belittling the opposition.


Ever since I went down to South Ossetia to see the war for myself, I'd developed a kind of sick curiosity to see just how the Times and all the others were going to extricate themselves from the credibility-hole they'd dug. I had a feeling it was going to come, because Saakashvili was not only a blatant liar but an incredibly bad liar. I was in South Ossetia at the close of the war--I saw the destruction that the "freedom-loving" Georgians wreaked, and the bloated, rotting corpses on the streets of the province's capital city, Tskhinvali--so I was particularly interested in how long the sleazy tale of good vs. evil would last, and how the major media would squirm their way out of their biggest journalistic fiasco since the Iraqi-WMD blooper.

It's a long piece, but well-detailed, and worth studying for historians of how U.S. public opinion is shaped toward feeling bellicose about far-away conflicts with little to no effect on genuine American interests.

Matt Welch on John McCain's overreaction to the Georgia crisis. 

[Link via Rational Review.]