Tuesday, May 10, 2005
Can you believe what President Bush said in the Baltics? Can you believe he went to the Baltics, before visiting Russia for the 60th anniversary? Oh, yes, you can, if you know President Bush.
The Baltic states, of course, have moved much further towards freedom than the rest, and they were the region subjugated last by the USSR (those two points connect, but that'll wait for another post). Bush is touching base on all the parts of the former Warsaw Pact that are making great strides towards freedom. It is in part a desire to get Russia to understand her own past, something not comfortable when you've got someone like the old blowhard Viktor Chernomyrdin, now Russian ambassador to Ukraine, saying that the Holodomor, the Ukrainian terror famine of the early 1930s, was the fault of Georgia, not the USSR, since that Stalin guy was really a Georgian. (I'd've posted that earlier except I didn't know what to say except "put down the bong".)
Thus Bush's visit as well to Georgia, from which Malik Keylan reports in the WSJ today:
As Mikhail "Misha" Saakashvili, Georgia's irrepressible president and leader of the country's democratic Rose Revolution, has pointed out, "[The Bush visit] offers final proof that Georgia is an independent state with inviolable territory, that our land and freedom are indivisible."
That's the message in the Baltics as well: This land is claimed in the name of liberty. Bush has already had Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko in to the White House, and so missed the trip. But perhaps Bush will also highlight the types of reform Georgia is moving forward with, particularly since we're seeing less of this in Ukraine. Keylan writes:
Mr. Saakashvili has to reinvent civil society, slash bureaucracies, rehabituate the country to the rule of law, keep the Russians at bay, jumpstart the economy, and rebuild a nonexistent army--among other things. It's no easy undertaking, not least because some of the tasks contradict others. He keeps telling Georgians that he is no messiah or czar, that they must do the work themselves. But to get things done quickly, to allocate emergency road funds or sell off rotting state industries, his government often needs to act unilaterally and with dispatch rather than with full attention to formal procedures--some of which may not yet exist anyway.
But all acknowledge that he and his young ministers have made a tremendous running start. As he says, "even if you do nothing, the honeymoon period is over within two years, so it's better to do a lot of necessary unpopular things immediately." In the process, he often resorts to unprecedented acts. He fired some 15,000 traffic police in one stroke. He then had to rehire and retrain new ones and find the funds to pay them. His government then licensed a TV station to run a hidden-camera investigative series monitoring the behavior of traffic and customs officers. "The families of all those newly jobless people," he says, "will be my enemies for a while, maybe a long while, but the country will benefit." Meanwhile, he
refuses to confiscate the businesses of powerful oligarchs, even ones accused of buying state enterprises on the cheap during the Shevardnadze period. "They run them better than the state. Anyway, we must not compromise the principle of private property."
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Ukraine, as Scott Clark observes. Price controls are in place, economic reforms are haphazard or stalled, some really goofy thinking about privatization and ownership, and there's a little problem of a justice minister with a resume falsification problem. Scott says that the crowds still adore Yushchenko and prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko (who even is in fashion magazines now), but Saakashvili is right: you only get one honeymoon.
Lucky for them, the other guy continues to self-immolate.
Aside: Much ado is being made over Bush's statement of complicity in helping divide Europe. Do you remember the end of Patton, in which he argues for invading the Soviet Union at the end of World War II? There's a game scenario in Axis and Allies in which you recreate this. The problem is always that we would play the US INF and ARM in Europe and Asia began the game fatigued, and that made it nearly impossible to win. And, perversely, I always played the Russians. My point being, it's hard for me to see what our alternatives were in Yalta with the war fatigue felt at the time.