Tremendous Bitterness Against the United States

The New Republic has a rather acerbic but interesting interview with Charles Fairbanks, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and former deputy assistant secretary in the Department of State. We completely agree with him that the Bush administration’s Iran obsession is really allowing the Russians to completely distort the balance of power in the relationship.

How would you characterize the U.S. response to the crisis? Could the administration be doing more? This is a huge event. It really alters the international landscape, and the backgrounders that came out of the State Department talk as though it’s just another little outbreak of instability in the third world. There’s no realization that this is an event like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The real test of the Bush administration’s policy will come in the next months–whether there is any fundamental adjustment to totally new realities in our relationship with Russia and in our awareness of the problems with the Georgian government. How will the U.S. and the world engage with Russia, after its willingness to assert itself geopolitically has reared its head so violently? The Bush administration is mesmerized by the goal of getting Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and that’s indeed a tremendously important thing to do. But there is a very real question of whether it can be done at all, and one has the impression from backgrounders and conversations that the dominant consideration in the handling of this [Georgia] crisis was to not offend Russia too much, to get cooperation above all on the Iranian nuclear issue. That seems to me very short-sighted because Russia is victorious, and they think, even if we don’t, that we lost a war. The result is that Russian cooperation will come at a higher price on every issue.

What does the future hold for Georgia?On a personal level, the response to Soviet rule was to create resignation and apathy, and people had a lack of confidence in themselves and assumed that they couldn’t change things. The Rose Revolution changed that a lot, [but now] I think people have lost that new confidence. There’s tremendous bitterness against the United States, ranging from the top of the government to the most ordinary people. It’s sad, because we warned against this adventure, but there’s a universal belief that the United States betrayed Georgia, so you have people who are really in despair and profoundly hopeless. We’ve lost 70 percent of our influence in the Caucasus in four days. The future is very dark, I think, unless either the Georgian public or the American government becomes much, much more serious and tries to retrieve the situation. That can happen, but one can’t bet on it.