Justin Raimondo's Behind the Headlines
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August 2, 1999


Is there no limit to the mendacity of the War Party? Defense Secretary William Cohen’s recent trip to Tbilisi, the capital city of the former Soviet republic of Georgia, provides the answer – a clear and emphatic no. The Associated Press reports that Cohen met with President Eduard Shevardnadze and Defense Minister David Tevzadza for an hour, and came out babbling that “Georgia has become a model of a democratic state.” Yes, Georgia is a “model,” alright – that is, if your idea of democracy encompasses such practices as breaking up opposition meetings, arresting opposition leaders, torturing political prisoners, subversion of the judiciary, and assassination of political opponents.


Shevardnadze, the former Soviet Foreign Minister, seized power in a post-Soviet coup and has been clinging to office ever since – often by a thread. The revolt of the ethnic Abhazians, in which they won de facto independence, nearly drove him out of Tbilisi, a humiliation he has avenged several times over. On December 17, 1998, opposition leader and former government official Nuzgar Lezhava was beaten to death by police during a police raid on a conclave of opposition politicians. The police claimed that Lezhava had fallen out of a tree. Doctors from the British Helsinki Human Rights Group who examined the body contradicted the official story: according to their testimony, he had been tortured to death by Shevardnadze's political police. Gee, I'm so glad Georgia is a "model" of democracy – just imagine how bad it would be if it were a dictatorship!


While the precise number of political prisoners is open to dispute – with estimates as low as 180 and as high as 2,500 – virtually all observers agree that this democratic utopia imprisons dissidents. Meetings held by the opposition Zviadist movement have been regularly broken up by police using electric prods. Another Georgian custom of equal charm is jailing people as hostages for others the authorities have not yet apprehended – and the courts are powerless to intervene. In 1998, Shevardnadze decreed that all sitting judges were required to take a new set of "exams" and those who failed to pass the test or refused to take it were purged from the bench. One can only conclude that, in describing Georgia as a "model" democracy, Secretary Cohen was using a new, distinctively Clintonian definition of democracy that wouldn't even pass muster in deepest darkest Arkansas.


As reported in this column on several occasions, Shevardnadze has been calling for a "Kosovo solution" to Georgia's internal problems and the Cohen visit was a key indication that Washington is receptive to the idea. Shevardnadze is claiming that the refugee problem unleashed by his war against secessionist Abhazians requires another "humanitarian" intervention by NATO. While Shevardnadze claims hundreds of thousands of refugees have been forced from their homes by rebel Abhazians, the authorities inflate these numbers in order to maximize the flow of Western aid. Theft by government officials is rampant, and the conditions under which refugees are forced to live cannot be blamed on the Abhazians. For example, 600 refugees crammed into a sanitorium in Kutaisi supposedly receive $4 a month from international aid agencies – but the Georgian government deducts half this amount before the refugees even get it, ostensibly for electricity. But then why is the electricity turned off most of the time in the Kutaisi camp? Inquiring minds want to know . . .


For Shevardnadze to point to the plight of the Georgian refugees as the rationale for Western military intervention is the height of hypocrisy: for it was under his rule that many thousands of Ossetians were "ethnically cleansed" from Shevardnadze's own capital city of Tbilisi, in 1992, and deprived of their property. Under the so-called "privatization" scheme inaugurated by this "free market" ex-Commie, the confiscated property of the Ossetians was sold off: even if the Georgian government agrees to let them back into Tbilisi, they no longer have homes to which they can return. The humanitarian concern of the West is highly selective, and if – or when – the NATO-crats take up their Georgian friend's invitation to intervene, you can bet we will hear nothing about these refugees.


The Transcaucasus is the only region on earth that rivals the Balkans in the complexity, longevity, and ferocity of its ethnic rivalries. Hundreds of tribal groupings and ethno-religious divisions split the rugged landscape, and the story of their bloody feuds, and the endless waves of Transcaucasian ethnic cleansings, is far longer than can be related in a single column. Yet one twist in the ethnic fabric of this volatile flashpoint requires our special attention because it shows how clearly and unmistakably the heavy hand of the West is the cause rather than the solution to the region's problems: the planned reintroduction of the Meskhetian Turks to their historical homeland in Georgia, near the Turkish border.


Ignoring the mountains of evidence that disqualify Georgia from membership in an association of ostensibly democratic nations, the Council of Europe has admitted Georgia. While this, given the ghastly record of the Shevardnadze regime, is shocking enough, the real shocker is the condition attached to the Council's invitation to join: the repatriation, within 7 years, of the descendants of Meskhetian Turks deported to Central Asia by Stalin in 1944. The Council demands that as many as 300,000 of these people be rounded up and sent to their ancestral homeland, in what used to be Meskhetia. While no one denies that Stalin's policy of forced mass migrations was a monstrous injustice, the question is whether justice would be served in displacing the Armenians who now make up the majority in that area. Instead of nullifying a great crime, the Council of Europe proposes to repeat it.


Not only that, but in insisting on this condition, the Council is planting a tripwire that is bound to trigger Western intervention sooner rather than later. The repatriation of the Meskhetians would double the number of refugees in Georgia; yet the Council does not specify how nearly half a million people are to be housed, fed, and ministered to, nor is there any indication of who will foot the bill. Given the tensions which are already high in that area, the Meskhetian exodus seems designed to exacerbate an explosive situation. As the British Helsinki Human Rights Group put it: "It should be remembered that the Council insists that the Georgian state should provide linguistic and religious facilities which will emphasize the differences between the Meskhetian Turks and the resident population. Not since President Wilson created the Polish corridor and other anomalies has such an ethnic tinderbox been gratuitously created by people who will not have to face the consequences." Light the fuse, and then stand back – this is the time-tested method of the War Party. It works every time.


I have written before of the various financial interests that stand to make a killing when the great Caspian Sea oil bonanza comes through: interests directly tied to both parties, especially the oil companies, but also including the big defense contractors and its ancillary industries. Beneath the waters of the Caspian Sea lies the greatest known untapped source of oil: the trick is to transport it. The projected pipeline has many proposed routes, but all of them intersect the ethnic wars and endless border disputes that plague the Transcaucasus. Of course, it is just a coincidence that the presence of NATO troops will ensure that the pipeline is built and protected – and if you don't believe that, then you must be one of those screwball conspiracy theorists, either a right-wing extremist or a blame-America-first Commie, possibly both.


The U.S. is already providing Shevardnadze's increasingly beleaguered central government in Tbilisi with plenty of military aid – helicopters, training, and no doubt covert aid of a more serious nature. But it is doubtful that this will be enough to prop up the regime. The central government is facing yet another challenge in the secession of Adjaria, an autonomous region whose president accuses Shevardnadze of masterminding an assassination plot. (Shevardnadze, for his part, accuses the Abhazians of plotting his own death, with the connivance of Russia.) There is also the problem of what to do about Nagorno-Karabakh, the object of a low-level war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The presence of Western troops on the ground would solve the pipeline profiteers' problems in a single blow. With transport facilities already under construction in Albania, NATO's newest colony – paid for out of "reconstruction" costs for Kosovo and other economic aid to the region via the "Stability Pact – the way is being paved for a Transcaucasian – Trans-Balkan pipeline that will transport Caspian oil to market in Western Europe. There is, however, just one little problem . . .


If Shevardnadze should lose control, again, like he nearly did in 1992, Georgia would devolve back to its pre-Soviet condition of autonomous local communities. Instead of dealing with the central authorities in Tbilisi, the oil barons would have to negotiate with as many as a dozen independent "republics," each with its own demands and greedy for increased state revenues. The costs and the risks of investing in the Great Caspian Oil Bonanza – grandiosely referred to by its boosters as "reopening the Silk Road" – would be unsustainable in a free market. As advocates of a "Third Way" between capitalism and socialism, however, the Clintonian-New Labor wing of the War Party does not concern itself with such arcane questions. Like their "right-wing" mirror images in the Republican and Tory establishments, these modern-day mercantilists are talking about the bottom line here, and it is this: without the protection of the Western military machine, that pipeline will never be built, and those profits will be "lost."


While the prospects for U.S./Western intervention are scattered across the globe, literally on every continent, from Africa to South America to the Pacific island of East Timor, to date the most dangerous by far is the steady escalation of Western involvement in the Transcaucasus. Behind the threat to tame the Abhazians and subdue the Armenians is the likelihood of a confrontation with Russia: not the Russian Empire of the Soviet era, but a shrunken and seriously weakened Weimar Russia – encircled, resentful, and still armed with nuclear weapons.


Would the mercantilists in Washington and London risk World War III to reap the profits from what has been widely touted as the biggest oil deal in history? To ask the question is to answer it.

Check out Justin Raimondo's article, "China and the New Cold War"

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).



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