TBILISI, GEORGIA - If you want to understand what's really going on beneath the current election crisis in the former Soviet republic of Georgia -- a struggle that threatens to push the country back into the kind of civil war which killed tens of thousands from 1989 through 1993 - then you need to pull the camera back. Way back, to the global level. That's because Georgia is a battleground not just between local political factions vying for power, but also between the geostrategic interests of America and Russia, between competing Big Oil interests, and between the forces of globalization and the forces which defy globalization (chaos, tradition, isolation).
Georgia, in other words, is one of the world's key battlegrounds on every level that matters, and that is why so much is at stake in the election crisis. Most tiny nations -- Georgia has a population of about 5 million -- would relish the thought of being so important; the opportunity to play off powers and up one's price would seem to be limitless. In Georgia's case, its location and its importance have been its curse.
Bad luck not just because it means the Georgians are surrounded by venal, war-like Caucasus states or brutal, imperial Russia, but also because, thanks to the Caspian Sea oil, the Americans have been no less deeply involved in Georgia...with the usual destruction that comes with American aid and regime support in this part of the world. In Russia, American-backed aid and loans were a crucial factor in creating one of the most corrupt regimes on earth and its subsequent default.
In Georgia, the situation is even worse. America has given more aid per capita to Georgia over the past ten years than to any other country besides Israel. The corruption is correspondingly worse: Georgia ranks far below Russia on the Transparency International corruption rating, below all CIS countries, below even Papua-New Guinea, and ahead of only five other nations, including such illustrious examples as Haiti and Nigeria. You won't see a single result of all those hundreds of millions of dollars in aid grants -- everything was stolen, every last penny. So you have to assume that the aid served another purpose besides establishing democracy or helping the Georgian people -- and that purpose is the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, the Frontera oil company, and NATO and U.S. Special Forces access.
The result is that Georgia, which just 15 years ago was considered the Soviet Union's wealthiest republic, is today one of the poorest and most corrupt nations in the world, with huge chunks of its territory in the hands of separatists or local petty despots, hundreds of thousands of internally-displaced refugees, an infrastructure in such disrepair it makes Russia look like Switzerland, a ghost town when it comes to attracting foreign investment and capital. Its impoverished citizens, who are lucky to receive their wages or pensions, are also weighted down by a crippling external debt.
And yet somehow, in spite of this, Georgia is one of the most charming places on earth.
In order to untangle the web that connects Georgia's election crisis to global politics, keep in mind four things: James Baker III, Ambassador Richard Miles, Caspian Sea oil, and Russia.
When James Baker was sent out to Georgia this past July to lecture its President, Eduard Shevardnadze, about the need to ensure that the upcoming parliamentary elections were "free and fair," it must have raised a lot of eyebrows. Eyebrows of the "you've got to be shitting me" variety.
James Baker? This is the same guy who Bush Jr. hired in 2000 to steal the Florida vote, handing the U.S. presidency over to a tool who lost by half a million votes. The way Baker railroaded Bush into the presidency has done more damage to American democracy than anything since Nixon and Watergate. Sending him into corrupt Georgia to demand that they have "free and fair elections" is like sending Yegor Gaidar into Iraq in order to advise them on privatization and the transition to a market economy -- which Bush also did.