Georgian committment to democracy not limited to Iraq

By Dan Streib

Georgia has guts. And no, I’m not talking about the peach-producing powerhouse of the American South. I’m speaking of the tiny central Asian republic located in between the Black and the Caspian seas. It’s south of Russia, east of Turkey and north of tiny Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Those two southern neighbors are located north of Iraq. And it is in Iraq where we find reason to claim that Georgia has so much “guts.” Two thousand reasons, in fact.

Georgia’s decision to up its troop commitment in the war in Iraq from 850 to 2,000 troops finally took effect earlier this week. For a population of only 4.6 million, that amount of soldiers puts Georgia at one of the highest levels of troop commitment per capita – a level rivaling even that of the United States itself. It is also worthy to note that the Georgian soldiers will be placed in a crucial area south of Baghdad to halt Iranians from supplying weapons and explosives to insurgents. Why is Georgia showing such commitment? And besides its bold sacrifice for our war, what does this have to do with America?

In order to understand Georgia’s motivations in Iraq, one must consider the role of NATO in Georgia’s future and in America’s present. Under President George W. Bush, the United States has been disappointed by the United Nations’ lack of interest in supporting democracies over nondemocracies. Thus, it would like NATO to assume a more active role in this endeavor, especially when it concerns democratic nations that are trying to move away from Russian influence.

These nations feel the need for protection from Russia and see membership in the premier alliance of the West as a surefire way to receive that protection. Having broken its ties with Russia in the peaceful Rose Revolution of 2003, oil-rich Georgia is one of those nations.

According to the New York Times, Georgian troops view their efforts in Iraq as directly pertaining to Georgian security. This is because Georgians hope that by gaining further American support, they have a better chance at gaining the NATO membership they desire. In fact, Georgian government officials have been in close consultation with the United States regarding this matter. This and the fact that nations tend not to commit soldiers for mere pipe-dreams lead any reasonable observer to arrive at the belief that we did agree to increase our already great support for Georgian NATO membership – that is, if the tiny republic sent troops into Iraq.

But Georgia is in the middle of a couple of minor civil wars that Russia is actively helping to ferment. This is no doubt due to the Georgian oil fields that Russia covets. Because NATO is already heavily involved in Afghanistan, it does not want to let Georgia join – this would draw the alliance in to Georgia’s problems and damage NATO-Russian relations. Yet Georgia hopes to do the impossible and sway NATO’s mind by enlisting the help of the United States.

This is precisely why Georgia has “guts.” It’s willing to gamble 2,000 troops in Iraq in an attempt to gain increased security against the Russian menace. The complexity of this gamble and its boldness is shocking. No other country would even dream of doing this. And this Georgian daring and dealing also cements our own pro-democracy policy — even when it means increasing tensions with Russia.

If NATO does not succumb to our pressure to be an unequivocally pro-democracy alliance like it was in the Cold War, then we might just have to do what some political scientists have already suggested: form a new global alliance of democracies that parallels our NATO commitment.

To be sure, Georgia is not forcing us to make these influential decisions. Yet Georgia’s influence on us at the moment is forcing us to act on our pro-democracy rhetoric. That is an impressive feat for a small nation of less than 5 million people.

And it is nice to know that when we grow weary of sacrificing for our ideals, other nations will remind us of them – even if it is indirectly. And that accomplishment is what most assuredly makes Georgia worthy of a place in our minds