Q: First days of Trump administration seem to confirm the weakening – some say unraveling – of the world order as we know it. In these choppy waters, what is a pragmatic course for Georgia to take, to preserve its sovereignty?
Ted Jonas, Lawyer:
Right now, for all its flaws, Georgia is running on a more rational and democratic basis than the United States in numerous respects, from its conduct of elections to the maturity and judgment of its official executive authorities and at least one of its main opposition parties (European Georgia). [Former president Mikheil] Saakashvili, the head of the UNM, openly praises Donald Trump, so I don`t see that party as a very good example for a democratic Georgia.
Georgia should look even more to Germany and the EU for leadership and as examples for its democratic and economic development, which I believe will be vindicated in the near future as the proper course of action, as populist initiatives like Brexit, and populists like Donald Trump, fail.
Georgia should of course retain cordial relations with the US Administration and should seek to make its case to them, to try to mitigate the very high risk that Trump will sell out Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova in some deal with Vladimir Putin.
It should continue to cultivate its American political allies, like Senator John McCain, Obama Administration veterans like Clinton, Kerry, Biden and McFaul, and within the Trump Administration, the new Defense Secretary, General Mattis. With this approach I believe Georgian can preserve its Western alliances and steer clear of the contaminating effects of right-wing European and American populism.
Lincoln Mitchell, analyst:
We should be careful not to view the weakening of the post-war order as a sudden event brought about by Trump`s presidency. That order was never quite as strong as it seemed. It is easy to forget how events like wars in the former Yugoslavia threatened the post-Cold War order from its very inception. Similarly, the ongoing crises in the Middle East and the long wars in Central Africa during recent decades are other examples of how the world order was never quite so peaceful or orderly.
The more significant and stark event in recent weeks and months has been the rapid erosion of American democracy. Efforts to limit access to information and indeed media freedom have been a key dynamic of this administration. The failure of the legislature to act as a mature check on executive power is striking and is most evident in their failure to investigate Russia`s role in the election or President Trump’s conflicts of interest or even to push back against patently unqualified cabinet nominees.
The mores and conventions that have undergirded American democracy for decades are under attack by the Trump administration. This has already led to resistance including widespread demonstrations that the President may encounter almost everywhere he goes in the US.
Thus, for Georgia, the election of a pro-Russia president is only part of the problem. The very real possibility of either weakening of American democracy or political instability, either of which will likely leave the US preoccupied and with little appetite for a thoughtful internationalist approach to foreign policy is a much bigger problem.
Moreover, Georgia`s friends in the US have little ability or perhaps willingness to help Georgia right now. John McCain, for example, said all the right things on his recent trip to Georgia but upon his return more or less stopped talking about investigating Trump and said he would vote to confirm Rex Tillerson for Secretary State.
There is no easy pragmatic course here for Georgia. The relationship with the US remains important and until it is disrupted can be a key part of the Georgia`s security strategy. There is a lot of support for Georgia and the middle and middle-upper levels of the US foreign policy and defense establishments. That support will remain in place unless a change in policy is made by the administration.
One way to begin to guard against that possibility is to continue to integrate Georgia into the global economy so that other powers, notably China, have a stake in Georgia`s future and sovereignty. If the US were to dramatically cut its support for Georgia, the prospect of invading or otherwise destabilizing Georgia would be a lot less appealing for Russia if China were heavily involved in Georgia. This does not necessarily mean defense agreements and the like, but rapidly integrating Georgia into economic structures that go beyond making the country the remote end of the Euro-Atlantic community.
Lastly, I remember eight years or so ago receiving similar questions because so many in Georgia were concerned about Obama, largely because they believed the talking points of the Republican Party, frequently repeated by Georgia`s then governing party, that Obama would not support Georgia. At that time, I tried to reassure people both publicly and privately that Obama would not abandon Georgia. As Obama has just left office, perhaps Georgia should recognize that many were wrong about him and that he was a good friend of Georgia.