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After the August War: A New Strategy for U.S. Engagement with Georgia

Mitchell, Lincoln A.; Cooley, Alexander A.

There is a temptation to look at the U.S.-Georgia relationship as an enduring alliance between two countries that share similar values and goals. It is also tempting to view Georgia as a democratizing country which, while still not fully consolidated, continues to generally move in the right direction. If these narratives, which U.S. policy makers seem to support at least publicly, serve as the foundation for U.S. policy toward Georgia, then the United States should simply continue to unequivocally support Georgia financially and politically. Similarly, the United States should publicly praise the Georgian government, reserving any criticism for private settings, and wait patiently for Georgia's democracy and economy to flourish so that Abkhazia and South Ossetia feel compelled to rejoin Georgia. Although appealing to some, this report will show that this approach is not only grounded in questionable assumptions, but it also risks entangling the United States into a long-term patron-client relationship with Tbilisi that could, in turn, drag the United States into a number of possible crises in Georgia and the South Caucasus. The United States must actively avoid developing this patron-client relationship. There is political space for the United States to craft a better relationship with Georgia, one that is built on true partnership rather than dependency, which will further the sovereign interests of both states. Such a new partnership would better reflect the internal dynamics in Georgia as well as acknowledge and confront the new complex dynamics that have emerged between Georgia, Russia, and the disputed territories.

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Harriman Institute
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September 14, 2011