A possible war in Iraq leaves Georgians dazed and confused. Certainly, pending war makes a good feed for the casual discussions in Tbilisi streets, but ordinary citizens do not see the role of their country in a global debate on whether this war is justified or not. Politicians feel they should remain loyal to the primary partner – the United States, and the citizens mainly share this pragmatic view. But all fear, the world involved with Iraq may forget about Georgia.
“I do not want to see war neither in Iraq nor elsewhere. This would be bad for Georgia and for the whole world,” Dali Gabunia, says reflecting the view of many Tbilisites. People on the streets come to realize how close the military action may be to the Georgian borders. However, few protest the decision of the Georgian authorities to whole-heartedly endorse the military option put forward by the United States.
During an open discussion at the UN on March 12, counselor of the Georgian permanent mission to the UN Gocha Lordkipanidze called Iraq “a direct threat to peace and security in the world”. The Georgian diplomat said Iraq has been continuously violating the UN resolutions during the past 12 years. “Nobody has the right to neglect the UN resolutions,” he added.
Experts say official Tbilisi’s reaction to the crisis is pragmatic. The United States spends USD 64 million to train and equip Georgian troops - twice as much as the Georgian government can allocate.
“Georgia’s support to Washington [administration] could lead to even greater US interest to Georgia, which is, of course, highly desirable for us,” Ghia Nodia of the Caucasus Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development, told Civil Georgia.
And usually divided political spectrum seems to embrace the same logic. Only the Revival Union, backed by Adjara’s leader Aslan Abashidze criticized President Eduard Shevardnadze for backing George W. Bush.
Georgian politicians like to be relevant in the worldwide politics, but when it comes to specific decisions on US policy and participation, narrower national political agenda takes precedence. As a result of the internal partisan haggles, the Parliament failed to ratify the military agreement between Georgia and the United States, which would allow the US government to occupy mutually agreed territories and buildings in Georgia for use by the US administration’s civilian and military personnel, transport vehicles, vessels and aircraft.
Similarly, the ordinary citizens care more about internal issues, rather than possible effects of the Iraqi war on Georgia. They do not share into the worldwide outcry against the war. Two pacifist rallies to echo the international protests failed to generate wide attention. Only 30 representatives of the non-governmental and pacifist organizations participated in the candlelight action on March 17 in the center of the capital city, causing ironic remarks from the nearby policemen.
Still, the war generates some anxiety, as it triggers uncertainty and gives the way to the geopolitical speculations among common citizens and the experts. “A war in Iraq would definitely have bad influence on Georgia. After all, we are neighbors with many Muslim countries. The war can worsen the situation,” Nodar Varamishvili, 52, says.
Experts think that our position may embarrass some neighbor countries, particularly Russia. Ghia Nodia says, “[Georgia’s] the official support to the US may cause very negative attitude of other countries, especially Russia towards Georgia, which is definitely not good for us”.
The politicians worry about yet another problem. Chairman of the Tbilisi Council, leader of the National Movement, Mikheil Saakashvili, thinks that war in Iraq would be particularly bad for Georgia if it gets protracted.
“In such case [if the war goes on for a long time] the international community will not have time for us, even if very disastrous events happen in Georgia and this is what might in fact happen here,” Saakashvili assumes. “If the United States finishes war in Iraq quickly, than it would be very good for us, as our prime partner and ally would have stronger positions in the region,” he adds.
Still, as the world launches its countdown for war, a hope dominates in Tbilisi that other people’s war would have little impact on their country, or even if any impact is expected there is nothing a small nation can do to change the state of affairs.
By Giorgi Sepashvili, Civil Georgia