One of the sad resonances of the U.S. Invasion of Iraq is playing out on the Steppes of Northern Georgia today. As President Bush was feverishly trying to assemble the “coalition of the willing” to join with us in Iraq, President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia eagerly stepped forward. Always looking for a way to bait the Russian bear across the border, Saakashvili became the first of the “coalition of the billing”. He would send 2000 troops to Iraq if the U.S. would completely modernize his army, train his soldiers and give him the latest technology like surveillance drones. We were so desperate for allies in Iraq, we gladly complied. And of course, in order to make sure they got as much from our treasury as possible and encouraged Congress to let them into NATO, the Georgians hired some Neo-con lobbyists like Randy Scheuneman, now John McCain’s chief foreign policy advisor. All of this advice from the Neo-cons led to a classic miscalculation.
In the ensuing years, even as Russia issued warnings, Mr. Saakashvili grew bolder. There were four regions out of Georgian control when he took office in 2004, but he restored two smaller regions, Ajaria in 2004 and the upper Kodori Gorge in 2006, with few deaths.
The victories gave him a sense of momentum. He kept national reintegration as a central plank of his platform.