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October 24, 2008

Bailing Out Georgia


No, not our Georgia – the other one!

by Justin Raimondo

The US government is sending $1 billion to "rebuild" Georgia – no, not the Georgia located in the southern United States, where home foreclosure rates are double the national average, but the one located in the Caucasus, along Russia's southern frontier, where the President of the country launched a reckless invasion of a rebellious province, murdered thousands, and got his ass kicked by the rebels and their Russian protectors. Now we're sending him a billion dollars – by way of a reward.

Meeting in Brussels, Western donors pledged "more than $1 billion more than the World Bank's target." The announcement, as reported by the New York Times, "came as a financial crisis rattled the economies of donor nations. The United States pledged the largest amount, $1 billion over three years. An additional $642.8 million will be allocated by the European Commission over the next two years. Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, said the pledge should send ‘a strong signal to the world' that its members stand with Georgia. ‘The international community believes in and upholds certain values and norms of conduct, and those include the peaceful resolution of disputes,' Mr. Barroso said."

Who is sending a signal to whom – and for what purpose?

On the surface, none of this makes any sense. To begin with, all the damage to civilians and infrastructure was done by the Georgians. They bombed the city of Tskhinvali, capital of the rebel province of South Ossetia, destroying the city center, killing thousands, and rendering many thousands more homeless. Rebuild Georgia? It's the Ossetians who need the rebuilding – not that anything or anyone on this earth can rebuild their broken lives.

This is one humanitarian catastrophe that has gone completely unacknowledged in the West: indeed, justice is not only denied, but inverted: the Georgians, the villains in this instance, are being sent the aid. Sounds like an incentive to commit yet more aggression – not that Saakashvili needs any encouragement.

He refuses to include the Ossetians or the rebel Abkhazians in any negotiations, and his government has broken off meetings with the Russians over the terms of a peace accord. Faced with protests over his increasingly authoritarian rule, as well as a backlash against his hot-headed recklessness in starting the war to begin with, the region's star "democrat" and staunch US ally is even now maneuvering to launch yet another provocation against Moscow. It would be a welcome diversion from his growing internal problem.

With the West and much of the world undergoing a financial paroxysm of unprecedented proportions, what in the name of all that's holy are we doing sending a billion bucks to some godforsaken ex-Soviet republic on the edge of nowhere? The Europeans are sinking, too, and yet they're chipping in. What's the story?

The signal that is being sent here, both by the US and Europe, is that we will fight, if necessary, to extend Western influence into the Caucasus. The gauntlet is thrown – and Putin is sure to pick it up.

Some of the Europeans may be a little skeptical of admitting Georgia (and Ukraine) into NATO, but the US government and its European allies are giving the Georgian government unconditional support in its ongoing efforts to confront the Russians in their own "near abroad." The Russians, for their part, are acting much as we did when the French – still suffering from the aftereffects of the French Revolution in its Napoleonic phase– set up Maximilian I as "Emperor" of Mexico and threatened to extend their sphere of influence north of the Rio Grande.

This signal of support for Tbilisi is for the benefit not only of the Russians, and the Georgian government, but is also meant to reassure big Western investors who have already poured billions into the lucrative Ceyhan-Tbilisi-Baku oil pipeline, which is competing with the Russians in transporting oil from the central Asian ‘stans to the European market. The Western oil giants, locked out of the Russian market by Putin, are desperate to outflank the Russkies and bypass Middle Eastern suppliers. Billions in profits hang in the balance.

The CTB pipeline is yet another investment that is threatening to go south, bigtime, as regional tensions threaten to disrupt the free flow of oil over the troubled lands it snakes through. Like AIG, Bear-Stearns, and the rest of the lords of Wall Street, this concern is "too big to fail," and you can bet that the US government will take every possible action – including military action – to protect the banks who are underwriting the project.

As the response of Western governments to the financial meltdown makes all too clear, here in the West we have socialism for investment bankers and their partners-in-crime, and "free enterprise" for the rest of us, who work hard, pay taxes, and live by the rules.

Oh, but not to worry: they're rebuilding Georgia – with your tax dollars.

The costs are socialized, and the profits are privatized – that's what they call "democratic capitalism," or, in Europe, "social democracy." In both cases, foreign policy is merely an overseas projection of domestic political arrangements.

In detailing how the aid money is going to be spent, the Times' reporting on the donors' powwow implicitly rationalizes the expenditure:

"After hostilities broke out on Aug. 7, transportation routes from Georgia's main Black Sea port were cut off, and dozens of importers defaulted on contracts. The stock market plummeted, and Georgians made a run on banks, wiping out $165 million in deposits at the Bank of Georgia. The country's scenic Black Sea resorts, once popular with Russians, sit largely empty."

Hefty costs, but who ought to pay? Why, the perpetrator of the violence, namely Mikhel Saakashvili. Instead, he's being sent a big fat check. Welcome to the Bizarro World of American foreign policy.

As Mark Ames points out in The Nation, the evil-authoritarian-Russia-attacked-poor-little-democratic-Georgia narrative has been completely debunked – check out Der Spiegel's "Did Saakashvili Lie?" (short answer: yes). As Antiwar.com reported as the crisis broke out, and subsequent reports confirm, the evidence is indisputable that the Georgians attacked the Russians first, killing over a dozen Russian peacekeepers legally stationed in South Ossetia in the course of a massive and deadly assault on the Ossetian capital. Not that the Western media, so easily manipulated by Georgia's amen corner, is acknowledging their initial "error," as Ames notes.

"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. Would the Times let their ombudsman out of the cage for another fake apology? ‘Oops! Who'da thunk our esteemed newspaper coulda screwed up this big twice in a row, dragging America into yet another war all on account of our inability to do our job as journalists?! Look, we just want to say we're sorry and move on, m'kay? So, have you moved on yet? Because we have'."

The lies spread by the mainstream media in the service of the War Party are bought and paid for by the corporate sponsors of the Russia encirclement project that has been the linchpin of our adversarial stance toward Moscow since Yeltsin's demise and Putin's rise. Having failed to pulverize the shattered Soviet colossus into the smallest possible splinters, the Western powers are now confronted with what they regard as a "resurgent" and inevitably revanchist Russia – which means that the Russians are no longer dirt poor and ruled by gangsters with American bank accounts. It also means they aren't going to be pushed around in their own back yard – at least not without putting up a heckuva fight.

Whether South Ossetia is Georgian, Russian, or none of the above – why is this any of our business? Who among us is qualified to untangle the interwoven threads of claims and counter-claims, extending back over hundreds of years, and come up with a just solution to the question of what constitutes Georgian "sovereignty"? Certainly no one who works for the US government.

Before one penny of "aid" is sent to Georgia, we should be asking: who will get this money? The Times gives us a breakdown:

"The World Bank had estimated that Georgia would need $3.25 billion "to cover budget support, social sector support and infrastructure development." Most of the aid, roughly $3.7 billion, will go to social and construction programs. An additional $850 million will be invested in the private sector, where donors hope it will offset the sharp drop in foreign direct investment."

None of this money is going to South Ossetia: it is all being funneled through Saakashvili and his cronies, who would rather leave the shattered infrastructure of bombed-out Tskhinvali as it is today, a stark reminder of what may very well reoccur should the Ossetians persist in going their own way. If anyone rebuilds, it will have to be the Russians. The private sector aid will be used to buy up Georgian assets on behalf of Western corporate interests. The difference between the World Bank figure and the number announced in Brussels – nearly half a billion – will cover bribes, covert action operations carried out by Western intelligence agencies, and other incidentals.

When challenged, proponents of foreign aid programs invariably reply: yes, but look at the minuscule numbers! Why, foreign aid is less than one percent of the total overseas budget, including, one supposes, military expenditures – but so what? The point is that these programs do real harm, in most cases achieving the exact opposite of their intended purpose. And in this particular case, the entire package is premised on a lie, and a freshly debunked one at that. What's really going on here is that the West is rewarding Saakashvili for his recklessness, and inciting him to commit fresh assaults. This course guarantees war.

 

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  • Jorge Hirsch is a professor of physics at the University of California San Diego.

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