Alex Massie

A Georgian Folly

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I must say I was surprised by Fraser's praise for Mikheil Saakashvili on Friday and his support for the stance taken by David Cameron and Liam Fox on matters Russian and Georgian. Surprised, because I'd thought Cameron's dash to Tbilisi last year one of the more reckless moments of his leadership that demonstrated that, like John McCain, his judgement in foreign affairs was too often too open to accusations of rashness. 

Apart from anything else, as Carl Thomson ably demonstrates, Saakashvili is a poor poster boy for liberalism, even by the standards of the Caucasus. If Georgia is, in Fraser's description, "a light of democratic freedom" it's a light that shines pretty feebly.  Nor is it even obvious that Russia, for all its faults and for all that the Medvedev-Putin regime is obnoxious, actually started the war last summer. On the contrary, there's every reason to suppose that it was Sakaashvili who miscalculated and launched needless, reckless provocation. That's not to condone Russia's reaction, but that reaction ought not to have surprised anyone. Equally, there is the rather awkward truth that, as best as can be determined, the people of South Ossettia would rather be Russian than Georgian. Their wishes were rather conveniently ignored last summer. 

It's not easy having a larger, more powerful country as your neighbour. All Scots, including Fraser know this. Russia may often be in the wrong, but that makes it all the more sensible to avoid provoking it unduly. Again, the history of this small island demonstrates the dangers that follow when you prod an elephant and stir it to rage. Remember Flodden!

Liam Fox continues to argue for Georgian membership of NATO, while Fraser asks tht we all show "solidarity" with the Georgians. But what is this solidarity apart from cheap gestures and puffed-up rhetoric that, we all know, actually means almost nothing? Because solidarity for Georgia's predicament can't be more than words.

We're not going to sacrifice other aspects of our relationship and dealings with Russia on the martyrdom of Mikheil Sakaashvili and it is folly to pretend we are. Amongst those worst affected by the kind of bombast favoured by the Tories and the Republicans, are the Georgians themselves who may, alas, once more be tempted to think there's more support for them in the west than there is only to discover that this support melts away as soon as it is put to the test, leaving Tbilisi isolated and feeling abandoned.

In other words, you shouldn't promise more than you can deliver. And since we either can't or won't deliver much support for Georgia we might be better off not promising too much of it.

As for Georgian membership of NATO, well that's a long way off. But how many people would willingly send the troops off to die for Tbilisi? Because, ultimately, that's what membership of NATO means.

Fraser says that the Georgian issue is a useful demonstration of the Conservative party's "values". I hope he's wrong. Because I'm not convinced that a foreign policy determined by feel-good sloganising and emotion-driven rash misjudgements is necessarily the sort of foreign policy that's in our, or anyone else's, best interests.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

Topics in this articleInternationalforeign policyrussia