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Monday, July 27, 2009

Joe Biden on the Good Foot


Back in 1999, James Brown came to Tbilisi with the message to "Get on the Good Foot" and performed a concert people still talk about today. Last week, another JB arrived with a message that people may not talk about 10 years from now, but is highly significant for its timing and place.

US Vice President Joe Biden came to reaffirm “We stand by you.”

For Georgians, it was a much welcomed dispatch, as nobody knew where the US stood since last year’s war with Russia. Many people erroneously thought Uncle Sam was going to jump in and help out Georgia’s retreating army, after all, Tbilisi had named a street after Dubya; but the calvary did not arrive. When Hilary Clinton brought her little yellow restart button and presented it to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, everyone thought the well had dried up.

“Who is Obama?” all the taxi drivers have been asking.

Now they know.

When Bush visited in 2005, he shook his booty to traditional Georgian music and praised Georgia’s commitment to democracy in his aphasic way, while Condi Rice sat nearby holding her thumbs lest Dubya stick his good foot in his mouth. Biden, however, was cool, calm, down-to-earth and straightforward.

Naturally, the VP paid lip service to the significance of the Rose Revolution, but also said in an address to parliament “your Rose Revolution will only be complete when government is transparent, accountable, and fully participatory…

“There are significant, concrete steps that need to be taken to deepen any democracy. Success requires the involvement of everyone in this room, of those who were elected outside this room. It requires every Georgian citizen, regardless of their political affiliation or their ethnicity, to take part in their government,” Biden stated.

Joe met with opposition leaders with the same message. They in turn behaved like real diplomats. Even Grechikha shaved and wore a suit and tie; and it was a hot day. When Joe left, the opposition removed their “city of cells” which had been an eyesore around parliament and blocked the main drag, Rustaveli Blvd, for nearly 4 months.

In his parliamentary speech, Joe said all the right things. He explained what last month’s charter of strategic partnership was all about; thanked Georgia for sending troops to help out in Afghanistan and highlighted the significance of providing an alternative energy route to the west; he stressed that the US will never recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and supports the country’s bid for NATO; he reassured US commitment to help develop the military (much to Russia’s ire) and even quoted the eminent Georgian writer Ilya Chavchavadze: “My heart burns with a holy flame that all my strength I may employ, to serve my people faithfully in sorrow and in joy. O let my people's suffering be branded on my soul I ask, and let my heart, through good and ill, be equal to its task.” - not bad considering Joe had just been turned on to the great author only hours earlier.

Joe’s intimate meeting with a group of select refugee kids had an even more definite impact. He told them “the US does not like what Russia did at all,” and later said that the only chance Georgia has at getting Abkhazia and South Ossetia back is by working hard to create a better environment. “When they see the prosperity of Georgia and look north to Russia and see how there aren’t changes…they’ll want to come back to Georgia.”

Well, hell may freeze before any of that happens, but it’s the thought that counts. Georgia has no other alternative now but to do what it should have done from the beginning – focus more on creating a stable economic environment instead of recklessly spending millions of dollars on an army that, sorry to say, could never be a match to Russia’s massive military machine. This only pushed the separatists further away from Tbilisi, as if Russia had written the script exclusively for Georgia, but I digress.

Joe came to Georgia with a message and proved to be sincere, respectful and highly competent delivering it. US policy here hasn’t really altered with the changing of the guard, but you no longer have to cringe every single time someone from the new administration opens their mouth. Here in Georgia Joe Biden proved he is no chump and that he can stand on his good foot.

(photo Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili, lifted off indepth.news.sky.com)

2 comments:

Zurab said...

great sum-up indeed - Thank you Paul - it's a pleasure to view your postings!

Bob said...

I'll always be grateful to him for his words to Parliment. They were a great source of comfort to many Georgians petrified that the Russians were going to come back at any moment and that the US had abandoned them.