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Learning from color revolutions

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By Stephen Gowans

A common complaint made against critics of color revolutions, the Western-engineered insurrections that have brought neo-liberal governments to power in Serbia (the 5th October Overthrow), Georgia (the Rose Revolution), and Ukraine (the Orange Revolution), and have been attempted in Zimbabwe and Belarus, is that they err in minimizing the degree to which these revolutions are spontaneous, grass-roots-organized eruptions of popular anger against oppressive “regimes.”

One such defender of color revolutions, Philippe Duhamel, a “non-violent actionist (sic) and an educator for social change” takes issue with criticism of non-violence, pro-democracy activists who cheer on, and contribute to the organizing of, color revolutions (1). He argues that:

1. Criticism of such color revolution supporters as Stephen Zunes for his connections to ruling class foundations is unfair, and amounts to guilt by association; (2)
2. Color revolutions provide a model for non-violent social change in the West;
3. Anti-government mobilizations in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine were not imported from the West, but were grass-roots in origin.

Duhamel argues it is “possible for somebody to study the dynamics of popular revolutions and want to further nonviolent methods…without necessarily becoming a fan of the types of regime or rulers that emerge” – an implicit acknowledgement that the governments that have been swept to power by color revolutions, aided by “non-violent actionists and educators for social change,” are not the kinds of governments “pro-democracy” activists care to be associated with. No wonder. Western-directed uprisings have produced governments in Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia committed to the Washington Consensus of harshness to the weak and indulgence to Western business interests. Considering that these uprisings have cleared the way for the ascension to power of governments that cater to the interests of the same Western governments and corporations that funded them (and hired the West’s docents of non-violent social change as color revolution advisors), they can hardly be said to be popular, progressive or democratic.

As regards studying color revolutions to apply their lessons to bringing about social change in the West, one must ask why it is that the model has enjoyed vaunted success in spring-boarding to power neo-liberal governments outside the West, but has failed to bring about a popular revolution in the West. (3) Color revolutions have relied heavily on funding from imperialist governments, ruling class foundations, and wealthy investors. (4) Western funding provides enormous advantages that genuine popular revolutions not aimed at serving imperialist goals struggle (usually unsuccessfully) to obtain. Obviously, Western governments and corporate foundations don’t fund revolutions in their own countries. (5) For this reason, color revolutions have been strictly non-Western phenomena.

In Serbia, where the 5th October Overthrow succeeded, and in Zimbabwe and Belarus, where Western governments and corporate foundations have worked to replicate the color revolutions of Georgia and Ukraine, economic warfare and threats of military intervention were, and are, important regime change inputs. They conduce to the success of anti-government uprisings by establishing regime change as a necessary condition for ending the crisis conditions economic warfare and threatened (or actual) military intervention create. Whether techniques of non-violent direct action are more effective than other means of bringing about revolutionary change under siege conditions is an open question. What is clear is that in Ukraine and Georgia, anti-government mobilizations were bankrolled, organized and assisted by Western governments, corporate foundations and billionaire investor George Soros. Could anti-government mobilizations succeed in toppling governments in the West without the strategic advice, polling, legal support, media infrastructure, public relations backing, legal expertise, civil disobedience training, leadership education, hiring of full-time organizers, creation of unified political opposition parties, unqualified media support, and mountains of spending money that Western governments and corporate foundations have showered on color revolutionaries outside the West?

Duhamel and other pro-democracy non-violence activists argue that major social mobilizations cannot be created on demand from a socio-economic vacuum or imported from the US, but critics of color revolutions haven’t tried to make this case. The argument they make is that engineered uprisings depend on three critical inputs: a crisis (induced by economic warfare, actual or threatened military intervention, or related to the impugned legitimacy of an election); an understanding that relief from the crisis is contingent on removal of the government; and a united political opposition working with an interlocked civil society apparatus pursuing clear and specific goals related to removal of the government. (6) The idea that popular uprisings of sufficient mass and coherence to topple governments arise spontaneously is a pleasant thought, but fatally minimizes the necessity of crises, the establishment of a contingent relation between ending the crisis and overthrowing the government, and the advantages of generous funding in building an opposition capable of carrying out the assigned task of sweeping the government away.

The goals of color revolutionaries are narrow and circumscribed and quite different from those of truly popular revolutions. Color revolutionaries care about toppling the current government, not about the government that follows. Not surprisingly, color revolution enthusiasts in the West are usually completely unaware of the nature and character of governments that have been swept to power by color revolutions. They celebrate the process, not the outcome. Unlike color revolutions, truly popular revolutions have been concerned first with establishing new systems of government and second with removing the existing government because it stood in the way of achieving this goal. Color revolutions, however, are inspired by no positive vision, only a negative one.

The beneficiaries of color revolutions have been neo-liberal governments committed to privatizing publicly-owned assets, providing a low-wage, low-tax environment for Western investors, eliminating tariffs and subsidies to please Western exporters, and signing up to integration into Nato to please the Pentagon. For all their boasting about being pro-democratic, color revolutions haven’t brought democratic governments to power (democratic in the sense of representing the interests of the mass of citizens.) Since the outcome of ostensibly pro-democracy revolutions cannot, therefore, be said to be truly democratic, why it is that color revolutionaries don’t try again, if, indeed, democracy, or at least, removal of oppressive antidemocratic governments, is their true aim? Surely, equipped with techniques of non-violent activism imparted by corporate foundation-supported educators for social change, a movement, emboldened by success in toppling one oppressive government, would have no trouble toppling another – or at least, giving it a good try. Yet the post-revolutionary governments of Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine, which have been no better than the ones they replaced, and in the case of Serbia, far worse, have faced no popular insurrections that have threatened to bring them down.(7)

Consider the case of Georgia’s Rose Revolution. The popular insurrection that brought US-trained corporate lawyer, and George W. Bush-admirer, Mikhail Saakashvili to power, has not ushered in a new, democratic, day. Instead, Georgia has become decidedly less democratic and emphatically friendlier to US corporate and military interests.

Lincoln A. Mitchell, a Georgia expert at Columbia University says that,

“The reality is that the Saakashvili government is the fourth one-party state that Georgia has had during the last 20 years, going back to the Soviet period. And nowhere has this been more apparent than in the restrictions on media freedom.” (8)

According to Sozar Subari, Georgia’s ombudsman for human rights,

“That Georgia is on the road to democracy and has a free press is the main myth created by Georgia that the West has believed in. We have some of the best freedom-of-expression laws in the world, but in practice, the government is so afraid of criticism that it has felt compelled to raid media offices and to intimidate journalists and bash their equipment.” (9)

Indeed, so severe are the new government’s restrictions on the press that Nino Zuriashvili, a Georgian investigative journalist, says, “The paradox is that there was more media freedom before the Rose Revolution.” (10)

So why haven’t the Rose Revolutionaries trotted out their pro-democracy, non-violence techniques to oust the oppressive, anti-democratic and violence-prone Saakashvili (who sent troops to Iraq, started a war in South Ossetia, and sent riot police into the streets to bash the heads of demonstrators protesting the loss of their jobs)? One reason why is because they’re otherwise engaged doing Uncle Sam’s work elsewhere in the world. Instead of staying at home to topple the oppressive Saakashvili government, the non-violent, pro-democracy activists who helped organize the Rose Revolution have been “deployed abroad to teach democracy activists how to agitate for change against their autocratic governments, going everywhere from Eastern Europe to train Belarusians to Turkey to coach Iranians” (11) but not Georgia.

Who deployed them abroad? Their employers, billionaire financier George Soros and “the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, or Canvas. The group is funded in part by the International Republican Institute, which many describe as the international arm of the GOP, and Washington-based Freedom House, which receives most of its funding from the U.S. government” (12) and is interlocked with the CIA. (13)

The other reason a second Rose Revolution hasn’t come along to sweep away the anti-democratic, pro-violence, Saakashvili is that while “U.S. support for Saakashvili resulted in a sharp increase in foreign aid to the Georgian government…funding for the advocacy groups that had been at the heart of the Rose Revolution dried up, forcing organizations to shut down programs that could monitor and challenge his decisions.” (14)

In other words, Washington cut off the funding that fuelled the Rose Revolution, and, predictably, without the impetus of generous funding, no grass-roots organized popular mobilization has arisen (or has, but is so starved for funds, and has such a low profile as a consequence, that nobody has noticed.) And yet pro-democracy, non-violence activists, who take money from imperialist governments and corporate foundations to train Belarusians, Iranians, Zimbabweans and Venezuelans to overthrow their governments, insist that color revolutions are not fuelled by Western lucre, but are grass-roots, independent, uprisings against oppression.

Finally, the idea that color revolutions are carried out non-violently, while also a pleasant thought, is without foundation. Engineered uprisings invariably arise in the context of implied or threatened violence, whether it is the persistent threat of non-violent demonstrators suddenly turning into a violent mob, or the threat of Western military intervention, lurking in the background of events related to efforts to oust the Mugabe government in Zimbabwe, and actual military intervention preceding the Serbian 5th October Overthrow.

Western-assisted revolutions have also been aided by the efforts of Western governments to destabilize target countries through economic warfare. The West imposed sanctions on the former Yugoslavia, and maintains sanctions on Zimbabwe and Belarus. As mentioned, these destabilizing efforts are accompanied by signals to the besieged population. Topple your government and the threats and sanctions end. These conditions (blackmail, in straightforward language) give birth to an incipient movement to overthrow the government, coalescing around the existing opposition. The hiring of full-time anti-government organizers, grants to establish “independent” media to shape public opinion, Voice of America and Radio Liberty broadcasts to further tilt public sentiment away from the local government, the hardships imposed by the West’s economic warfare, the training of activists in techniques of popular insurrection, diplomatic maneuvers to isolate the country internationally — these things together establish the conditions for the success of an engineered insurrection. At the same time, they challenge the idea that color revolutions are pure, spontaneous, and grass-roots-organized, not contrived, nurtured and facilitated from without.

Western-engineered insurrections cannot, then, serve as a paradigm for organizing in the West, for the ingredients essential to their success could never be expected in the foreseeable future to be present in the case of attempted popular revolutions in the US, UK, France or elsewhere in the Western world. The necessary crisis conditions, and the contingency between relief from the crisis and removal of the government, will have to arise independently of the will of Western ruling classes. In Serbia, Zimbabwe and Belarus, they have arisen owing to the will of Western ruling classes.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from attempted and successful color revolutions. There are two important lessons to be learned:

o Funding, and the organization that generous funding enormously facilitates, cannot be underestimated in its power to bring about disciplined mass mobilizations guided by clear and specific goals.
o Organizers serve the interests of those who provide the funding.

From this we can conclude that for a revolution to serve popular interests, its funding, unlike that of color revolutions (which have served Western corporate and military interests), must be popularly sourced. Non-popularly sourced leadership training, training in techniques of civil disobedience and insurrection, “independent” media and NGOs, serve the interests of their funders.

As regards the guilt by association of Stephen Zunes and his peers, it can be said that what they are guilty of is taking money from Western governments, ruling class foundations and wealthy individuals to train activists to topple foreign governments. The purpose of these activities, whether the guilty acknowledge it or not, is to clear the way for the ascension to power of reactionary dependent governments committed to catering to imperialist interests. What Zunes et al are associated with, then, are the outcomes of these insurrections – harsher, more uncertain, and certainly less democratic lives for the local populations, but enhanced profit-making opportunities for Western banks, corporations and investors. That the funding for these activities comes from Western governments, corporate-sponsored foundations and wealthy investors is no accident.

The argument of non-violent actionists and educators for social change that this funding contributes in no way to the success of antigovernment uprisings and in no way shapes their outcome is an obfuscation spurred by obvious self-interest. Those who take lucre from imperialist governments and corporate foundations to help bring to power foreign governments to cater to imperialist interests must be held accountable for the outcomes of their actions. They must not be allowed to hide behind the delusion that they’re only studying the dynamics of “popular revolutions” abroad in order to understand how to be bring about social change non-violently at home. Anyone who works diligently to overthrow foreign governments in order to clear the way for the more vigorous pursuit of imperialist interests can hardly be expected to be genuinely interested in bringing about truly democratic change at home.

1. http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/09/04/the-war-over-south-ossetia/#comments
2. Zunes has been criticized from the left by Michael Barker, “Peace activists, criticism and non-violent imperialism,” MRZine, January 8, 2008, http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/barker080108.html and “Sharp reflection warranted: Non-violence in the service of imperialism,” Swans Commentary, June 30, 2008, http://www.swans.com/library/art14/barker01.html; John Bellamy Foster, “Reply to Stephen Zunes on imperialism and the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict,” MRZine, January 17, 2008, http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/foster170108.html; George Ciccariello-Maher and Eva Golinger, “Making Excuses for Empire: Reply to Defenders of the AEI,” August 4, 2008, Venezuelanalysis.com, http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/3690; Netfa Freeman, “Zimbabwe and the battle of ideas,” The Black Agenda Report, September 25, 2008, http://www.blackagendareport.com/?q=node/10802; and Stephen Gowans, “Stephen Zunes and the struggle for overseas profits,” What’s Left, February 18, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/stephen-zunes-and-the-struggle-for-overseas-profits/.
3. Stephen Gowans, “Stephen Zunes and the struggle for overseas profits,” What’s Left, February 18, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/stephen-zunes-and-the-struggle-for-overseas-profits/ and “The war over South Ossetia,” September 4, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/09/04/the-war-over-south-ossetia/
4. Michael Barker, “Regulating revolutions in Eastern Europe,” ZNet, November 1, 2006, http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/2846
5. The funding that ruling class foundations and Western governments provide to left and progressive groups in the West is counter-revolutionary, intended to channel potential militancy into bureaucratic, litigious and electoral arenas where ruling class forces have the upper hand. Foundations are keen to support left groups that promote the idea that “we can change the world without taking power” and limit their goals to “pressuring elites”, i.e., leaving capitalist ruling class structures in place. Foundation grants are also used to upset the development of class consciousness by promoting identity politics and particularism. There is plenty of foundation funding available to support groups organized around women’s issues, ethnic media, gay, lesbian and transgender concerns, the elderly, and so on, but not for those working to create a working class conscious of its collective interests and place in history and the world. See Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism, State University of New York Press, 2003.
6. Zimbabwe provides an example of how Western governments, media and foundations work together to destabilize target countries to promote anti-government uprisings. Western efforts to replicate Eastern European color revolutions in Zimbabwe have so far failed, possibly owing to the reality that the formula has become evident and target governments know what to expect and can take defensive actions. See Stephen Gowans, “Zimbabwe at War,” What’s Left, June 24, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/zimbabwe-at-war/ and “US government report undermines Zimbabwe opposition’s claim of independence,” What’s Left, October 4, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/us-government-report-undermines-zimbabwe-opposition%e2%80%99s-claim-of-independence/
7. For a summary of post-5th October Overthrow Serbia see Stephen Gowans, “Stephen Zunes and the struggle for overseas profits,” What’s Left, February 18, 2008, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/stephen-zunes-and-the-struggle-for-overseas-profits/.
8. New York Times, October 7, 2008.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Borzou Daragahi “Soros’ Army: A Georgian soldier of the Velvet Revolution,” Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2008
12. Ibid.
13. Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon Books, 1988, p. 28. 17.
14. Philip P. Pan, “Georgia, a nation stalled on the road to democracy,” The Washington Post, March 9, 2009.

The War over South Ossetia

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By Stephen Gowans

On August 4, 2008, Russia’s deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin phoned US assistant secretary of state Daniel Fried to complain about the build-up of Georgian troops in the vicinity of South Ossetia. [1] Two days later, South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity, having evidence that Georgia planned a military strike before the month was out, told Denis Keefe, Britain’s ambassador to Georgia, that a Georgian invasion was imminent. [2]

Georgia had increased its military budget from $30 million to $1 billion per year, under its US-aligned president, Mikhail Saakashvili, relying on deep infusions of aid from Washington. [3] A country of only 8 million, Georgia had sent 2,000 troops to help US forces occupy Iraq, the third largest occupation force in the oil-rich country, after the US and Britain. Tbilisi “considered participation in Iraq as a sure way to prepare the Georgian military for ‘national reunification’ – the local euphemism of choice for restoring Abkhazia and South Ossetia to Georgian control.” [4]

Georgia’s attack was emboldened by three US moves: the sending of “advisers to build up the Georgian military, including an exercise” in July “with more than 1,000 American troops”; Washington’s “pressing hard to bring Georgia into the NATO orbit;” and the US “loudly proclaiming its support for Georgia’s territorial integrity in the battle with Russia over Georgia’s separatist enclaves.” [5]

On the eve of the war, Russia convoked an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, presenting a resolution that called on both sides to renounce the use of force. [6] The US, Britain and France refused to back the resolution, arguing that it was unbalanced. Only South Ossetia and Russia should be called upon to renounce the use of force, they said. Georgia should be allowed to defend herself. [7]

The above shows that far from restraining the Georgian hand, the US was facilitating, even encouraging, an attack; that the South Ossetians and Russians anticipated an attack and that the Russians used their position at the United Nations to try to stop it; and that the West was setting the stage to blame the attack on the victims.

The war was swift, and for the Georgians, ignominious. Georgian forces were rapidly pushed back, their positions easily over-run and much of their equipment captured or destroyed. In the end, Saakashvili would rail against Russian aggression, and wonder histrionically who was next.

The Russians did not strike first, as Georgian officials now claim. The New York Times cited evidence from an extensive set of witnesses that Georgia’s military began to pound South Ossetia’s capital, Tskhinvali, with heavy barrages of rocket and artillery fire, after Saakashvili gave the order and before Russian troops entered Georgia. The result was hundreds of civilian deaths. Among the targets of the Georgian assault was a Russian peacekeeping base. There “has been no independent evidence, beyond Georgia’s insistence that its version is true, that Russian forces were attacking before the Georgian barrages,” reported The New York Times. [8] Moreover, an unnamed senior US official told the newspaper that Russia’s response didn’t look “premeditated, with a massive staging of equipment,” adding that “until the night before the fighting, Russia seemed to be playing a constructive role.” [9]

On August 26, Moscow recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent. Meanwhile, Saakashvili vowed to rebuild his army to try again at a later date. [10]

Origin of Tensions

Ossetians have their own language and, in recognition of this, enjoyed autonomy within Soviet Georgia. Abkhazia, too, was an autonomous region. When the Soviet Union dissolved, Georgia declared the autonomous status of both regions to be void, and attempted to integrate them. This sparked fighting between the Georgians on one side, and the South Ossetians and Abkhaz on the other. The two regions “settled into a tenuous peace monitored by Russian peacekeepers,” in which both enjoyed a de facto independence. But “frictions with Georgia increased sharply in 2004,” when Saakashvili was elected,“ pledging “to restore Tbilisi’s rule over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.” [11]

Pipelines

There are two overland routes for pumping petroleum resources from the oil- and gas-rich Caspian basin to markets in Europe: through Russia, and alternatively, through Western-built pipelines that run through Georgia. Washington would like Caspian oil and gas to be delivered to European markets through the pipelines Western oil companies control in Georgia; Moscow would like Europe to continue to rely on pipelines that transit Russia. [12]

Two Western pipelines run through Georgia: “the 1,000-mile Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan line, which can deliver up to one million barrels of crude a day from the Azerbaijani coast on the Caspian Sea, through Georgia and Turkey to the port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean Sea”; and the BP-operated Western Route Export pipeline, capable of carrying up to “160,000 barrels of oil a day from Baku on the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan to the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa.” [13]

For Washington, the routes through Georgia represent a way of checking “Russia’s control over pipelines and energy resources.” Pipeline projects through Georgia are valued owing to their potential “to loosen Russia’s grip over European energy supplies”, and to fatten the bottom lines of US oil companies. [14]

From Moscow’s perspective, control of Georgia and its pipelines puts it in a position to establish an “energy chokehold on Europe.” [15]

Georgia, then, is of strategic importance to Washington because Western oil companies can transport “oil, and soon also gas, that lies not only in Azerbaijan, but beyond it in the Caspian Sea, and beyond it in Central Asia” to European markets, through Georgia, thereby cutting the Russians out of the action and giving Washington control over Europe’s energy resources. [16] Equally, Georgia is of strategic importance to Moscow for the same reasons.

Encircling Russia

When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the United States found itself in a unique position. As the lone remaining superpower, it had the potential to dominate the world for the foreseeable future. To maintain its primacy, it would have to prevent potential rivals from growing strong enough to challenge US pre-eminence. The route to remaining top dog lay in unchallenged military supremacy, and the determination to use military force to eclipse the rise of potential competitors.

The Pentagon set out its strategy in the Defense Planning Guide, a 16-page Pentagon policy statement leaked to The New York Times, on March 18, 1992.

“Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival…First, the U.S. must show the leadership necessary to establish and protect a new order that holds the promise of convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests.
We must account sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order. Finally, we must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” [17]

In 2000, a group of US ruling class activists established The Project for a New American Century, a think-tank whose aim was to press the Clinton administration to more closely follow the 1992 Defense Planning Guide’s blueprint for US primacy. Members of the group — investment bankers and CEOs who had circulated between top jobs in Washington and corporate America — furnished the personnel for key positions in the Bush administration and would soon become the principal architects of the war on Iraq. They urged the Pentagon to eclipse the rise of new greater power competitors, and to adopt this as its main 21st century mission. [18]

Russia was, and remains, of particular concern to the US ruling class. While weak compared to the Soviet Union, it remains the country most able to challenge the US. To preserve US military pre-eminence, Washington seeks to build a ring around Russia, integrating countries on Russia’s periphery into the Nato military alliance. Despite promises that it would not expand toward Russia’s borders, Nato’s policy since the demise of the Soviet Union has been to aggressively expand, dismissing the alarm raised by Russian leaders as paranoia. Expansion serves the purpose of hemming Russia in militarily and expands markets for US arms manufacturers who supply the standardized military equipment Nato countries buy as part of the alliance’s equipment interoperability requirement.

A continuing strategy

While it seems as if Washington’s encirclement strategy is new, dating from the early aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse, it is, on the contrary, an extension of a Western policy pursued since the beginning of the Cold War.

The Cold War, remarked R. Palme Dutt in 1962, was “directed against the Soviet Union” since it, and the countries it liberated in WWII “remained…completely independent of American domination and control. The aims of American world domination required the overthrow of this independent power.” [19] The new Cold War is no less directed at Russia, and is no less perpetrated by the US, than the old one (or the continuing one) was.

These “ultimate major aims,” Dutt continued, “required as their presupposition and first step the building up of a coalition of governments and armed forces under American control.” The “long-term strategic plan required the preliminary conquest of (the Soviet Union’s) periphery, and establishment of a chain of bases and hinterland territories from which to launch the offensive.” [20]

Thus, it has been US policy since the beginning of the Cold War to encircle Russia with a chain of bases and armies under US domination. The strategy was not born in 1992 and cannot be said to be the brainchild of neo-conservatives of either the Bush I or Bush II administrations. Its origins stretch back to the 1940s.

In the West, the spat between Georgia and the Ossetians appears to be rooted in longstanding ethnic animosity, but in Russia, it is seen quite differently. Russians understand that the United States is gradually encircling their country, and that Georgia is an important link in the chain. [21] Russian president Dmitri Medvedev complains of “being surrounded by bases on all sides” and of the “growing number of states…being drawn into the North Atlantic bloc.” [22] He and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin protest vehemently against US plans to site antimissile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, on Russia’s doorstep. They fear, justifiably, that the missile shield is aimed at Russia, and provides the US with a new offensive capability.

Saakashvili and the Rose Revolution

Mikhail Saakashvili is typical of local rulers Washington brings to power to act as its proxy on the ground. He is US-educated, fanatically pro-American, and implicitly shares the imperialist values of his backers in Washington. It is not by chance that the Saakashvili government enthusiastically pledged troops to the occupation of Iraq, and named a street in honor of George W. Bush.

With aid from the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and billionaire financier George Soros’ Open Society Institute, Saakashvili was carried to power by the so-called Rose Revolution of 2004, a US ruling class-financed overthrow movement that forced Georgia’s then president Eduard Shevardnadze, to step down. Soros’ intimate connection to Saakashvili’s rise to power is evidenced in his helping finance the Georgian government once Saakashvili was installed in the president’s office, and in Georgia’s designation as Sorositan by critics of the financier’s meddling. [23]

Washington was happy to partner with Soros to rid Georgia of Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister who was too close to Russia and not close enough to Washington. Intent on extending its ring of armies and military bases around its potential great power competitor, the US finagled Shevardnadze’s ouster and replaced him with the biddable puppet, Saakashvili.

The name for our profits is democracy

While the official propaganda holds Saakashvili to be a champion of democracy, the real story is quite different. The Georgian president is in reality a champion of Western investment interests who is prepared to suspend political and civil liberties to crush opposition to his pro-US economic policies.

The World Bank recognizes Saakashvili’s Georgia to be “the number one economic reformer in the world,” having climbed to 18th place from a shameful 112th under Shevardnadze, by creating “a friendly business environment.” Saakashvili earned the bank’s high praise by replacing Georgia’s progressive income tax system with a regressive flat tax; [24] privatizing publicly-owned assets; and gutting the civil service. The latter action sparked huge street protests last autumn, which Saakashvili put down with riot police, rubber bullets and truncheons, charging that the protesters were planning to stage a coup, with Russia’s collusion. [25] Ruling with an iron fist, he had no qualms about dispatching masked police officers to ransack an opposition television station, forcing it off the air. [26] Soon after, he declared a state of emergency, suspending advocacy rights and freedom of assembly – an action which, had it been done by his predecessor Shevardnadze, would have called forth howls of outrage and new infusions of aid for pro-democracy activists from Western governments, imperialist foundations and billionaires. On Saakashvili’s watch, by contrast, abridgments of civil and political liberties are met with fond reminiscences of the Rose Revolution and paeans to Saakashvili’s pro-American leanings and supposed democratic credentials.

Saakashvili won snap elections held two months after he cracked down on protestors, but his victory was secured under a cloud of accusations of blackmail and vote-buying. The government accused two opposition leaders of treason, charging they were conspiring with Russia to overthrow Saakashvili. [27] Having himself come to power with the aid of outside forces, Saakashvili more than anyone else knew the danger of foreign-directed overthrow movements, and perhaps knew better than others, how to defeat them.

Post Rose Revolution

Once Saakashvili had been installed as president, Washington scaled back funding to the civil society organizations that had been instrumental in destabilizing Shevardnadze’s rule, shifting aid instead to building up the central government, now under Saakashvili’s control. [28] Achieving the policy aim of installing a local proxy quite naturally led Washington to channel funding away from the manipulated “pro-democracy” civil society groups on the ground who paved the way for Saakashvili’s rise to power, to the government forces that would secure the friendly economic and military environment Washington desired. In other words, once civil society served its purpose, it was cut free.

Today, Rose Revolution true-believers are embittered. “Georgia is a semi-democracy. We have traded one kind of semi-democratic system for another,” laments Lincoln Mitchell, who worked for the Rose Revolution-funding Democratic Party-arm of the NED in Georgia from 2002 to 2004. “There is a real need to understand that what happened is another one-party government emerged.” [29]

Naïve do-gooders who thought money pitch-forked into the coffers of civil society groups by wealthy individuals and the US government would create democracy in Georgia now complain that Georgia under Saakashvili is no better, and probably worse, than it was under Shevardnadze.

Mitchel, for example, points out that under Shevardnadze, there was freedom of assembly and the press, the government was too weak to crack down on dissent, and the parliament could lay a restraining hand on the president. Under Saakashvili, the media have far fewer freedoms, civil society has been weakened, the government is strong enough to crack down on dissent with ease, and the parliament is less able to restrain the president. As regards elections, they’re run no better under Saakashvili. [30]

Exporting color revolutions

The Los Angeles Times of September 2, 2008 ran a story on Nini Gogiberidze, a Georgian who “is deployed abroad to teach democracy activists how to agitate for change against their autocratic governments, going everywhere from Eastern Europe to train Belarusians to Turkey to coach Iranians.” She is not, predictably, deployed within her own semi-democratic country, working to bring down the liberal democracy-disdaining Saakashvili.

Gogiberidze’s salary is paid by the Soros-linked Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, funded by the Republican Party arm of the US Congress’s National Endowment for Democracy, headed by John McCain, a friend of Saakashvili. Freedom House, a US ruling class organization that is interlocked with the CIA and is headed by former Michael Milken right-hand man Peter Ackerman, also chips in.

Gogiberidze is hardly the kind of grassroots, left-leaning, radical democracy activist one is led to believe make up the officer corps of the Soros-funded international army against autocracy. Like one of her Zimbabwean colleagues, who is a white conservative businessman with a penchant for good manners and the British royals (who we’re to believe is working underground to overthrow the Mugabe government because he’s keenly interested in democracy), Gogiberidze sounds more like a conservative interested in promoting Western economic interests on behalf of Uncle Sam. She studied at the London School of Economics and is married to an investment banker. She’s also on the payroll of US ruling class foundations. Moscow “views the so-called color revolutions as US sponsored plots using local dupes to overthrow governments” Washington is unfriendly to “and install American vassals.” [31] Is it any wonder?

The Los Angeles Times reporter who brought the Gogiberidze story to light, mocks Moscow’s assessment of the color revolutions, while at the same time documenting the manifold connections Gogiberidze and her fellow color revolutionaries have to US ruling class organizations. The only way to square this circle – to explain how color revolutionaries can be on the regime changer’s payroll while mocking the idea that color revolutions are US-sponsored plots to overthrow governments Washington has targeted for regime change – is to believe billionaire financiers, CIA pass through organizations, and foundations dominated by US investment bankers and CEO’s, are really concerned with promoting democracy.

Conclusion

US ruling class activists and George Soros, sponsored dupes in Georgia to overthrow the Shevardnadze government to bring the ardently pro-US, pro-foreign investment, pro-imperialist Mikhael Saakashvili to power. Since ascending to the presidency, Saakashvili has gone on a neo-liberal binge, privatizing formerly publically-owned assets, replacing the country’s progressive income tax system with a regressive flat tax, and firing civil servants in heaps. While this has earned him the admiration of the World Bank, it has created unrest at home, which Saakashvili has put down with truncheons, rubber bullets, police attacks on opposition media, and abridgements of political and civil liberties.

At the same time, Saakashvili has acted to further his US-sponsor’s military designs, deploying 2,000 Georgian troops to Iraq, bulking up his military, clamoring to join Nato, and keeping Russia off kilter with incessant threats to annex South Ossetia and Abkhazia militarily, now acted upon.

The great democrat, in the eyes of color revolution hagiographers, is hardly a democrat. Leaders who deploy troops to occupy conquered countries, who attempt to integrate regions that don’t want to be integrated, and who limit political and civil liberties when they threaten to derail the building of a business friendly environment, are not democrats, no matter how many dollars their supporters receive from Freedom House, George Soros and the National Endowment for Democracy.

The US seeks to expand its sphere of influence to hem Russia in militarily in order to preserve US pre-eminence; to draw new countries into the Nato alliance to expand markets for US arms manufacturers; and to secure new markets and investment opportunities for US investors and corporations in countries whose economic ties have historically been oriented toward Russia. Russia seeks to resist the encroachment, to hang on to as much as the former Soviet sphere of influence as possible.

To expand its influence into the former Soviet domain, Washington deploys a number of tactics. In Belarus, it sponsors a civil society-based overthrow movement to destablize the Russia-aligned government of Alexander Lukashenko. In Ukraine, it sponsored the Orange Revolution to force the Russian-aligned leader Viktor Yanukovich to yield power to the US-oriented Viktor Yushchenko. Washington is very likely to have sponsored, encouraged and aided the secessionist movement in Chechnya, with the aim of breaking the territory away from Russia.

To maintain, or in an attempt to restore, its influence in these regions, Moscow backs Lukashenko in Belarus and Yanukovich in Ukraine, facilitates Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s remaining independent of Georgia, and militarily crushed the Chechen secessionists.

The struggle to expand spheres of influence (the US) and to maintain or restore them (Russia) inevitably leads powers to take hypocritical positions: the US insists on Georgia’s territorial integrity (South Ossetia and Abkhazia) but denies that of Serbia (Kosovo); Russia insists on its own territorial integrity (Chechnya) but denies that of Georgia.

There is no doubt that the US is the more aggressive party in this clash, but it can be, because it is by far the stronger of the two. The jingoist depiction in the Western media of Russia as provoking a new Cold War and seeking to expand militarily into neighboring countries is without foundation and is an inversion of reality. The US pursuit of a Cold War against Russia has been carried on without interruption since the 1940s. It is not Russia that is aggressively acting to expand its sphere of influence, it is the US. And yet this reality is so infirmly grasped that it is possible for the leader of a country whose scores of thousands of troops occupy conquered Iraq and Afghanistan to lecture Russia that countries don’t invade other countries in the 21st century.

The Rose Revolution was not a people power-driven rebellion against autocracy but a movement of dupes sponsored and manipulated by Washington whose purpose was to pave the way for the rise to power of a US-educated lawyer with connections to Washington and Wall Street.

Saakashvili is not a hero of democratic reform, but a representative of US ruling class interests who is prepared to suspend civil and political liberties, tinker with elections, and commit war crimes if that’s what it takes to secure his patron’s economic and military objectives.

Russia did not initiate an attack on Georgia. Georgia launched an artillery and rocket barrage on the capital of South Ossetia and on Russian peacekeepers before Russia entered Georgia.

The US did not try to defuse tensions in the region; it has actively moved to inflame them.

Russia has not provoked a new Cold War; the US has allowed the Cold War is had pursued against Russia since the 1940s to heat up, using its puppet, Saakashvili to fan the embers.

1. RIA Novosti, August 4, 2008.
2. RIA Novosti, August 6, 2008.
3. Russia Today, August 8, 2008. US assistance to Georgia is about to increase significantly, with Washington announcing on September 3 that it is hiking economic aid to Georgia to $1 billion per year from $63 million in 2007, placing the country among the top recipients of US aid, along with Israel, Egypt, Turkey and Colombia: The Guardian (UK), September 3, 2008.
4. New York Times, August 10. 2008.
5. New York Times, August 13, 2008.
6. Independent (UK), August 8, 2008.
7. New York Times, August 10, 2008.
8. New York Times, September 3, 2008.
9. New York Times, August 10, 2008.
10. New York Times, August 26, 2008.
11. New York Times, August 10, 2008.
12. Los Angeles Times, August 13, 2008.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid.
16. Zbginiew Brzinski, quoted in Serge Halimi, “The Return of Russia,” MRZine, August 28, 2008,
http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/halimi280808.html .
17. Nato in the Balkans, International Action Center, New York, 19998. p. 4.
18. http://www.newamericancentury.org/RebuildingAmericasDefenses.pdf
19. R. Palme Dutt, “Problem of Contemporary history,” International Publishers, New York, 1962.
20. Ibid.
21. View of Russia’s representative to NATO, New York Times, August 28, 2008.
22. New York Times, August 28, 2008.
23. Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2008.
24. “The political realities of ‘democratic’ Georgia,” World Socialist Website, August 18, 2008. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/aug2008/saak-a18.shtml
25. New York Times, August 12, 2008.
26. New York Times, August 14, 2008.
27. “The political realities of “democratic” Georgia,” World Socialist Website, August 18, 2008. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/aug2008/saak-a18.shtml
28. Glenn Kessler, “Georgian Democracy A Complex Evolution,” The Washington Post, August 24, 2008. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/23/AR2008082301817_pf.html
29. Ibid.
30. Ibid.
31. Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2008.

Written by what's left

September 4, 2008 at 10:36 pm

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