By David Axe
September 03, 2008
If Tbilisi indeed staged weeks early for a war with Russia, as we reported yesterday, it raises the question of what went wrong. Did Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili (pictured) honestly believe his tiny country stood a chance against Russia?
Gordon Hahn, an analyst at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, offers what he believes is key insight into Saakashvili's miscalculation. The Georgian president, Hahn claims, counted on a massive propaganda effort to draw the West into the war. "Saakashvili and his ministers made numerous statements in their effort to convince the West that it was obliged to defend Tbilisi from Russia's incursion," Hahn wrote in a widely circulated email (read the whole thing here):
In some 40 appearances in the Western media and at Western think tanks, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and his ministers made numerous statements in their effort to convince the West that it was obliged to defend Tbilisi from Russia's incursion.
Their major themes, according to Hahn:
Russia planned the war and attacked first.
In fact, Hahn contends, "both sides planned for war as a contingency. They both held maneuvers in late July, used them to move forces and equipment near (Russian) or into (Georgian) the conflict zone."
Russia ignored Georgia's attempts at a diplomatic solution.
But during a televised address in Georgia, Hahn writes, Saakashvili told his people that Georgia was "in constant contact with the leadership of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs."
Russia used "disproportionate" force, including 1,200 tanks.
Jane's, however, estimated the armored force at just 150, Hahn points out.
Russia destroyed civilian infrastructure and killed non-combatants.
Actually, many reporters saw "a very different story," according to Hahn, recalling reports of "few signs of damage by Russia."
"American support for Georgia in the present crisis is based in part on the belief that Russia is to be blame for instigating this war," Hahn concludes. "Much of this belief is founded on Saakashvili's and other Georgian officials' statements to American officials."
Statements that, if you believe Hahn, are mostly untrue.
If Hahn is right, it wouldn't be the first time Georgia has snowed the West with misinformation, according to Nathan Hamm at Registan.net. Way back in 2006, Hamm was reporting that Saakasahvili was "quite effective at selling a certain image of Georgia to the West that has enhanced Georgia’s international profile."