Thursday, May 7, 2009

Kerry misses facts, pushes for Georgia partnership

Senator John Kerry, along with Representative David Dreier, apparently have a solution to all of Georgia's problems - a free-trade agreement with the United States. Our two esteemed Congressmen make their case for yet-another free-trade agreement in today's Washington Post, unfortunately it's one that gets a few of the important facts wrong.

Kerry gets off on the wrong foot by repeating the now fairly thoroughly disproven claim that Russia started last August's conflict with Georgia (most now agree that Georgia sparked the conflict with their midnight artillery barrage of Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia). He then goes on to boast about the $1 billion in post-war aid the US doled out to Georgia. Except that a report at the end of 2008 found that, even with tens of thousands of Georgian refugees displaced from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgia spent 20% of the bil on helping Georgian businesses, including spending $30 million to build a luxury five-star hotel (for the business community to use mind you, not the poor folks who lost their homes in the fighting).

Finally Kerry goes on to praise Georgia for their wholehearted commitment to democracy, which begs the question why then have there been tens of thousands of people protesting in the streets of Tbilisi for the past three weeks against the anti-democratic rule of President Mikhail Saakashvili?

Kerry and Dreier go on to say that a free-trade agreement is the best way to "hold Tbilisi accountable in its efforts to enshrine the rule of law and build the institutions that are the foundation to both democratic governance and economic prosperity." That sounds great, but it also sounds like Kerry and Dreier have made a great case for dropping the decades-long embargo against Cuba and signing a free-trade agreement with them instead, since what better way to truly bring about change on the island?

Bottom line is that right now Georgia is a mess. Sure, we should encourage the Georgians in establishing democracy, free markets and the rule of law - but those are problems the Georgians need to figure out for themselves, and until they do we shouldn't tie ourselves tighter to their chaos with free-trade agreements or by pushing for their speedy entry into NATO. And John Kerry, as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ought to know better.
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