God love 'em, those Georgians. Unprepared for their sudden importance in the American fight against terror, the Georgians have been remarkably honest – perhaps too much so.
Having only a vague awareness of the importance of Western-style PR, the Georgians have consistently come across as sincere, bewildered, and somewhat shy. Yet on one particular occasion, their honesty almost blew it – much to the chagrin of Donald Rumsfeld.
It happened like this. Georgia's defense minister, David Tevzadze, joined Rumsfeld at a Defense Department press conference (7 May). Surely, one assumes, Tevzadze had been briefed well in advance as to the party line. It might have sounded something like this:
"coming to the rescue of yet another terror-afflicted nation, US Army trainers have arrived in Georgia, where al Qaeda continues to lurk. This operation will both deepen the great Georgian-American friendship, and rid the world of the al Qaeda menace in the Caucasus."
Unfortunately, things went down quite differently.
THE EMBARRASSING TRANSCRIPT
Although it has surely by now drowned in the unceasing flow of media "content," the press conference transcript luckily resurfaced the other day, in the course of my internet circumambulations. This is a colossal boon – if just for the sake of comedy.
At the press conference, Rumsfeld only fielded a few questions on Georgia. Most of the reporters were interested in other affairs that have since been forgotten – discontinued aircraft, army brass shake-ups, etc. As often happens, the truly important details were buried – until now.
First of all, there was the issue of cash, about which Tevzadze was rather forthright. Let the transcript speak:
But wait, there's someone here – wait, wait, wait, wait. There's
someone here from the Republic of Georgia. There you are.
It's a good thing that Tevzadze was cut off at "bigger than any millions you can count." This admission begs the following: what results have been obtained from the American policy of pouring taxpayer money into Georgia? What has been gained for the long efforts to revamp the military of a small, poor country few Americans can find on the map?
This black hole of expenditure becomes increasingly suspicious in light of the fact that all recent media coverage has stressed the utterly impoverished state of the Georgian military. If the Georgians are really in such a shoddy state, will another $53 million – above and beyond the "billions" already spent – surely do the trick?
Riiight. What the unfortunate minister was trying to say is that the US intends to be in Georgia for a long, long time – and results be damned.
IT GETS EVEN BETTER: THE "AL QAEDA THREAT"
An al Qaeda presence in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, according to the US, is the primary reason that military "trainers" have been sent to Tbilisi. The "lawless" area, bordering on Chechnya, has long been the site of much diplomatic strife between Tbilisi and Moscow.
This little detail, of course, has fallen by the wayside in most recent reports. Instead, all of the major media have dutifully trumpeted Washington's terror angle. Yet it turns out from the transcript that the gun-shy Americans are not going anywhere near the Pankisi Gorge – and perhaps with reason:
The minister has a few more meetings here in the building shortly.
What I'll do is take just a few more questions. Yes, indeed.
For the US there are certain benefits, of course. Securing the oil pipeline – no longer a concealed objective – is just one. And as for Georgia, it will take any and all assistance. In a country of confusion where the electricity sometimes comes on for only four hours a day, and where over 2,000 candidates vie for the same city elections, it is understandable why resistance to American imperialism is non-existent.
Even preliminary analysis of Defense Department propaganda illustrates just how sketchy the "al Qaeda" assertion is. An article from the American Forces Press Service ("Republic of Georgia: Global Partner in Anti-terror War," 15 May) demonstrates this:
"In 1999, Georgian officials admitted about 7,000 Chechen refugees who, Western observers say, undermine the country's security. Both Russia and the United States want Georgian authorities to regain control over the crime-ridden Pankisi Gorge region where Chechen separatists and armed militants allegedly linked to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network may be hiding."
Just who are these "Western observers"? What's with the "militants allegedly linked?" And what about "may be hiding?" Is this supposed to be believable at all?
No, the Pankisi problem has always had more to do with a Russian-Georgian power play than with any terrorist threat. It was apparent long before September 11th that President Shevardnadze would use this prickly issue to open the door for a third party – i.e., America – to enter into the mess. Yet perhaps even he was surprised with the swiftness of their arrival.
THE EMERGENCY INTERVENTION PHENOMENON
It's funny how dire emergencies that require swift action tend to disappear once the intervention is underway. After all the media hype has subsided, few pose the question of why the mission should be continued.
In short, it is far easier for any intervention to get started than to get stopped. Once the advisors, trainers, NGO's etc. have penetrated the interior, it becomes next to impossible for them to leave, without also admitting the fraudulency of their initial mandate.
Indeed, when questioned, the apologists for intervention inevitably counter with hypotheticals: "can you imagine what would have happened without us? Can you imagine how much worse things would have turned out, without our timely action?"
Naturally, such possibilities cannot in fact be imagined with any degree of accuracy. Nevertheless, the hypothetical defense is taken as irrefutable – simply because it cannot be argued conclusively either way. This scenario of intervention and apologetics has happened in Kosovo, Macedonia, and now, Georgia.
Further tidbits from the official transcript bear out this phenomenon. For oddly enough, the much-publicized "Al Qaeda threat" in Georgia magically subsided once the Americans dropped in:
Just a second. One second. Yes?
From the foregoing, it would seem that those Islamic terrorists literally melted away, just from hearing that the American avengers were on the way. Mighty kind of them, eh?
UNBURDENED BY PROOF
Yet there is little grounds for surprise. It was Rumsfeld, after all, who declared that no proof of terrorist intentions is required in order to bomb Iraq. The fact that Bush signed (on September 9th) the directive for attacking Afghanistan shows clearly that provocation would not have been required then, either – but can one imagine how little support the rest of the world would have given the US, had the events of the 11th not occurred? That is the kind of hypothetical question worth entertaining.
A TIME FOR PRAGMATISM
When all is said and done, of course, the intervention has begun, and we can do nothing but come along for the ride. The most interesting aspect now involves the physical presence of the American trainers and their "support" staff. A recent CSM article chronicled the disparity between the guests and their dishevelled hosts:
"At a base in Vaziani, 20 miles northeast of Tbilisi, the barracks were stripped of electric outlets, windows shattered, and water pipes broken or clogged up by the Russian military as it pulled out a year ago. The Americans will renovate part of the barracks to house US soldiers for a few months and then turn it over to the Georgians.
Meanwhile, the Americans are billeted in Tbilisi's Sheraton Hotel, which, with its marble plaza, glass elevators, and phalanx of private and government security guards, forms an incongruously luxurious, secure spot in this unstable, struggling country. The US Army is spending roughly $700,000 to house its soldiers here until early August, when they will move to the renovated Georgian bases."
"To the outsider, it looks like we are living high on the hog," says Lt. Col. Robert Waltemeyer, commander of the US mission here. "In the security and money analysis, this turns out to be one of the best options in town."
I'll bet. And though they claim to be there only for a 70-day crash course in military organization, the Americans are sure to be in Georgia much longer. Although they have promised to vacate the premises soon after refurbishing the base, it seems more likely that the Caucasus will be stuck with Georgia's answer to Camp Bondsteel. Hopefully the new base will also be blessed with a Burger King and movie theater.
For blind supporters of intervention, of course, this is a welcome idea. It is definitely a reassurance to know that all those al Qaeda bad guys can't get our boys, holed up as they are in the Tbilisi Sheraton.
So that's what it's all about. Making the world safe from terror – one hotel at a time!
Previous articles by Christopher Deliso on Antiwar.com
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