War Sandwich
09 September, 2014
Five hundred kilometers northwest of Georgia, Russia has invaded Ukraine. Five hundred kilometers to the south, the Islamic State forces control most of Syria and lots of Iraq. The rest of the world seems to be watching these regional developments more closely than people in Georgia for some reason. For good reason, many in Georgia still think of it as within Moscow's orbit and people habitually watch things in the former Soviet states carefully. But Damascus and Bagdad are closer
than Moscow and Kiev. The quality of reporting and information, not to mention the interest, is much lower. In any case, the area surrounding Georgia is in crisis and the world is watching it closely. The pictogram in Chinese for crisis is composed of two symbols, the first is for danger, the second for opportunity. So what are the dangers and opportunities for Georgia? The first thing is to realize that there are giant forces at work, forces much bigger than Georgia. So it is time to put aside small things and to recognize the power of those forces. There seems to be a lack of big picture thinking and discussion in Georgia these days. Or at least the big picture thinking is very inward looking. This is strange because now is exactly the period when Georgia has the most to loose and to gain by clearly understanding its external environment and having an active long term policy taking that into consideration.

Of course Russia is occupying large chunks of Georgia just as it plans to do in Ukraine. It does this to keep these countries out of NATO and to keep them as distracted, unsuccessful and dependent on
Russia as possible. Russia does not want Georgia to have a future with Europe, which is clearly an important part of Georgia's future in the long term. But Georgia also needs good relations with it's
neighbors to the south, most importantly Iran as well as Arab countries. The Arab world is in tumult. The Arab Spring has turned sour in many countries and in many others, it never happened. Saudi Arabia, the most powerful Arab country funds Wahhabi Islam everywhere, often turning to terrorism. The most populous Arab state of Egypt is once again a military autocracy. But it is a varied picture. Many Gulf states are successful for example. This dynamic region is changing quickly, more quickly than any other region in the world. Understanding it and seeing opportunities where they can be found is a smarter policy than ignoring it.

The real opportunity is Iran. The US and Europe are coming closer and closer to an agreement with Iran. That may be soon, in the next year or two, or it may take longer. But eventually the US will not be as close to Israel and Saudi Arabia as it has been for the last fifty years and its new regional partner will become Iran. Iran is not a perfect partner, it is a theocracy, and has huge corruption problems. But it is a stable state, it wants the sanctions to finish, and it has things beyond oil and gas to offer the world. Georgia could easily turn its long historical relationship with Iran to its advantage. Georgia must not let old prejudices prevent good relations or Iran will eclipse Georgia when relations between Iran and the West improve.

Putin doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks and that makes for a dangerous leader. Sanctions will tighten and the Russian economy will be hit badly, but he probably doesn't care. Russia has become rich, particularly its richest citizens, because Russia has been allowed to participate in the world economy. That will be less and less the case and the Russian poor and middle class will suffer. They may blame the West or they may blame Putin, and if they blame Putin, he may not care. Georgia's least bad option is to go as unnoticed as possible, but to build its relations with NATO which it is doing very well now. But Georgia also needs a small number of rapid reaction fighters in case of emergency. That is a current weakness. The US's and Europe's patience for the lies Putin keeps telling is wearing thin. They are offering Georgia much more defense cooperation and this will be very useful.

And of course Georgia needs to have close relations with Ukraine. Currently there are many former officials there helping with administrative reform. This is great, but Georgia's government also needs to participate in any way it can to help this country deal with this invasion and not see the former official's involvement as somehow undermining relations.

And Georgians themselves can help, particularly people to people. Study Persian, Arabic or Russian not simply French, Greek or Spanish. Meet people from Georgia's neighborhood and help those individuals who need help, patronize their new businesses. The Yasidi and Iraqis are arriving after one of the cruelest humanitarian disasters in years. Engage and help them. Georgian hospitality can be one of Georgia's greatest assets at this time of international turmoil.