Saakashvili Gives NPR Moving Interview about Friend, McCain

This Sunday, US Senator John McCain will be buried at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery after a private ceremony at the Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Maryland.

Yesterday, the United States’ National Public Radio (NPR) aired a moving interview between former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Morning Edition host David Greene on Saakashvili and McCain’s relationship, providing listeners with insight into the Arizona statesman’s personality, not just his politics.

They discussed McCain’s relentless support for Georgia, how he made Russian aggression in Georgia a major talking point of his 2008 campaign for president. As Greene said, McCain “couldn’t stop talking about” the August War. McCain once said, while on the campaign trail, “world history is often made in remote, obscure countries. It’s being made in Georgia today. It’s the responsibility of the leading nations of the world to ensure that history continues to be a record of humanity’s progress toward respecting the values and security of free people.”

The piece notes that McCain often supported the struggles of small nations, so supporting Georgia was not out of character, but suggests that his relationship with Saakashvili was among the reasons why he worked so hard to draw attention to the country’s plight.

Saakashvili spoke about their 24-year relationship, which began when he was a law student at Columbia University. He repeated the story of McCain’s 2006 visit to Georgia, which he originally shared in a video posted on his Facebook page, when McCain “went to visit a separatist enclave and they shot a grenade launcher at his helicopter there, and it didn’t deter [him] from continuing to remote mountains in Svaneti where we met [with the] local population and listened to folk music then we flew all the way to the Black Sea where he jet skied in a very, very stormy sea for almost an hour, and then we sat in [a] Ferris wheel, 3 am, in Batumi, Black Sea coast, and there he told me the story of his dreams…he would have favored to live in the 20s and 30s of the 20th century, to be in Paris together with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemmingway.”

Saakashvili also told of McCain’s involvement in the 2008 Georgia-Russia War, how as soon as news of the conflict broke, McCain was one of the first people to call him, and he gave the advice to “be like Churchill...say ‘we will never surrender’ because you need all the support you can get, and people like to support people who are not willing to surrender.” Saakashvili explained, “of course, we were not going to surrender anyway, but I took his advice and I kept quoting Churchill all the time.”

Both McCain and opponent Barack Obama called for a multi-pronged diplomatic approach to pressure Russia to withdraw from Georgia. On August 12, the day the ceasefire was declared, Obama released a statement saying "Now is the time for action not just words. It is past time for the Russian government to immediately sign and implement a cease-fire. Russia must halt its violation of Georgian airspace and withdraw its ground forces from Georgia, with international monitors to verify that these obligations are met."

McCain said that Moscow was using "violence against Georgia to send a signal" to "any country that chooses to associate with the West." Russian leaders, he insisted, must realize they risk "the benefits they enjoy from being part of the civilized world." On August 12, McCain spoke to voters at a campaign rally in York, Pennsylvania. There he uttered the famous line, “we are all Georgians,” expressing the nation’s support for Georgia.

In the NPR interview, Saakashvili shared that, a few days later, he flew to the United States to muster support, and on the plane a flight attendant whispered in his ear, “we are all Georgians.” McCain, “made us a household name,” Saakashvili said.


By Samantha Guthrie

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31 August 2018 09:08