Writing in the New York Times, Himmelreigh argues that;
the report has a major flaw. It fails to thoroughly analyze the decisive role that the United States played before, during and after the conflict. Only a detailed assessment of President George W. Bush’s Georgia policy and its failures can fully explain the outbreak of the war and help the E.U. and President Obama shape new policies toward Russia and Georgia.
The EU report blamed Georgia for initiating the conflict with artillery attacks against separatists positions and Russian “peacekeepers.” It also blamed Russia for responding with a disproportionate use of force. So what are the policy failures of the Bush administration that deserve being singled out for condemnation?
Himmelreich begins by identifying “two elements that developed into serious strategic disadvantages.” These dangerous policies are that, “Mr. Bush not only made Georgia into a partner in the “war on terror,” but he promoted Mr. Saakashvili and Georgia into a centerpiece of his “promotion of democracy.”
Unfortunately, Himmelreich does not provide specific information on how being a partner in the “war on terror” leads to using military force against separatists and Russian troops. This may be because there are no cases of this happening with any of the many partners in the “war on terror.” For example, both Russia and Georgia are among the 49 partners with the US in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) which are “pledged to undertake all efforts to combat the scourge of terrorism.” Such a partnership has not led to other conflicts within the EAPC, so why does Himmelreich believe that partnership in the “war on terror” was a causal factor in the Georgia conflict?
Himmelreich also blames the Bush administration for supporting Mr. Saakashvili and Georgia as centerpieces in the “promotion of democracy.” With this argument, Himmelreich not only ignores the fact that promoting democracy in Georgia has been a consistent policy of all U.S. Presidents since Georgian independence in 1991, but he once again fails to offer concrete evidence of how U.S. support for democracy leads national leaders to initiate conflicts with separatists in Georgia or other cases.
In addition to these general complaints, Himmelreich does criticize two specific policy decisions by the Bush administration. One was not publicly warning Georgia “against using force against Russia.” Himmelreich admits that “[s]enior officials of the Bush administration claim they warned Mr. Saakashvili,” but condemns the Bush administration for not doing so more publicly. The cursed Bush administration, even when they have the right policy (warning governments not to use force), it is never enough for their critics. Furthermore, Himmelreich unfortunately offers nothing more than his assumptions to prove that such public declarations could have had the desired effect.
The other policy decision targeted by Himmelreich is that the Bush administration “decided against any U.S. military action, and instead to encourage President Nicolas Sarkozy of France… to seek a cease-fire.” Himmelreich argues that this was, ” a strategic mistake: Only the United States had the political clout to negotiate and enforce a serious peace agreement with Russia.” By focusing on “any U.S. military action” and seeking enforcement rather than just negotiation, Himmelreich appears to desire U.S. military involvement in ending the Georgia conflict, but is unwilling to say so explicitly. In terms of diplomatic involvement, it is clear that even President Sarkozy’s persuasive skills and leadership succeeded because President Sarkozy also enjoyed the full “political clout” of the Bush administration publicly and privately working to end the conflict. It must be confusing for members of the Bush administration to be condemned in the case of Georgia for not acting unilaterally.
It seems that Himmelreich’s main issues of contention are not so much with the role of the Bush administration in the Georgia conflict, but in using the Georgia conflict and Himmelreich’s role in evaluating it for the EU, as a platform for Bush Bashing. There are legitimate arguments against the “war on terror” and the “promotion of democracy;” and well supported, scholarly debates about those controversial topics. But this OpEd does a disservice to all of these important issues by crying wolf! (or in this case, crying Bush!) when not necessary. The New York Times also committed a disservice by choosing to publish such a poorly supported essay, simply for having a desirable conclusion. (photo: Yves Herman/Reuters)