Lincoln Mitchell Answers Accusations


Lincoln Mitchell spoke to GEORGIA TODAY and the Realpolitik show to clarify some of the circulating accusations against him and his viewpoints. This is part two of the definitive Lincoln Mitchell interview.

Salome Zurabishvili, as well as putting the blame on Georgia for the August 2008 War, also mentioned the US played a role.

Official American channels, the US Secretary of State and the US Ambassador to Georgia of the time, all made it clear to Saakashvili that he shouldn't get drawn into a war, but people around Saakashvili were constantly engaged in dialogue with people in other leadership positions in the foreign policy establishment who said, “we will support you if you do” So, basically, they called around until they got someone who said “yes, go for it,” and they went for it. I know it because I've talked to a lot of people in the American government who were there in 2008 and that's what they told me. I’m not going to name any names, but I will say there were a lot of people in and around the then-Vice President's Office.

That's a very serious statement that has not been publicly mentioned before. Tell us more.

If I said it in Washington in an academic setting, it would not be a controversial statement. The US Secretary of State told Saakashvili not to go to war and if the Secretary of State says don't do something and somebody much lower down the food chain says do it, then the message is clear: the message is don't. But what the Georgian government was doing was forum-shopping: going around until they got a yes, but most people said no. The Georgian government knew what it was doing. I don’t believe the US government policy was to mislead Georgia into this conflict with Russia. I was no fan of the Bush Administration, but I wouldn’t say they did this: it was not the official position.

But you say there were people in political circles in the US who were trying to greenlight the notion that the US would stand by Georgia against Russia. Why?

I'm not sure about the word “greenlight,” but I think that's a good enough phrase, so we'll stick with it. Why? Because they thought that if Georgia held out for a while, the American military would have no choice but to follow and support them more aggressively than we eventually did. Why? Because these are ultra-hawks who wanted to push back against Russia and they thought this was a good way to do it.

Did they really believe the US would get involved in a war even if the top government was saying no?

Now, I want to be clear we're speculating now. What I believe they thought was that if this happens, even though the official position is don't do it, once it's done we'll go back to the leadership, to the Secretary of State, and say now we have to do something, and that the views would change. That's not what happened.

Some say no such thing took place and point to the Russians. Do you know exactly what transpired?

[Such people] naturally want to be respectful of their allies, the US and others, but I'm pretty sure such processes took place.

Do you have proof so as not to harm the relations between the two states?

I don't think it harms the relations between the two states: it’s something that happened ten years and two administrations ago. While I appreciate the concern from people who are not American that somehow I’m anti-American, if you’re a good American, it is your duty as a citizen to constantly question and criticize the decisions your government makes, and if you're not doing that you're not being a good American.

But at the cost of some making accusations that your narrative serves Russia’s interests, as they do of Zurabishvili’s statements?

My narrative serves Russian interests? There was a time when I got upset when people in Georgia would call me pro-Russian, but now it's just funny. I get it: serving Russian interests means you don't like Saakashvili or the UNM. Look, if you want to serve Georgia's interests, stop talking about the Russian narrative: my family fled Russia 120 years ago and never looked back. I've as much reason as anybody to be anti-Russia.

What is the evidence that I’m supporting Russia's interests by pushing back against a Georgian narrative about the war that is not believed at all outside of Georgia?

Some of the Georgian audience are reasoning that your analysis cannot be considered objective because you paid consult to Ivanishvili back in 2012 and that's where your allegiances lay.

You don't have to think my analysis is legitimate: not everyone has to agree with me. In American academic circles, a client from six years ago it's not viewed as your client today, but if someone in Georgia says, “Lincoln worked for Ivanishvili, Lincoln has always been a critic of Saakashvili,” I'm going to discount it. I’d hope people would read my writing on its own basis. A few years ago, I was in Georgia and caught up with Bidzina, and he said to me in a kind of stern tone of voice, “you know, I'm aware what you're writing” (because I've written some things that are critical of him), and I laughed and said, “if you're worried about what I'm writing, you don't know what's going on out there.” I mean, yeah, I've been critical of Bidzina, but I've hardly been his harshest critic. So, he's not happy with me either, but that's okay.

Part of the critique aimed at you rests on allegations that you were associated with the lobbyist companies that work for Abkhazia and Ossetia.

Stephen Ellis, who was a lobbyist for Abkhazia, contacted me on several occasions by email and phone and therefore they had to write that down; meaning my name appears as having been contacted by the lobbyists for Abkhazia. I didn't reach out to him, he reached out to me. So, if the question is did I ever take a phone call or an email from a lobbyist for Abkhazia, the answer is yes. Does that make me a lobbyist for Abkhazia? I think your mind would have to be pretty deep in conspiracy to think that.

So, no negotiations or meetings took place?

I talked to the guy on the phone. He came to New York and we had coffee. He had a guy he wanted me to meet and we met with him, but I'm a researcher: like, I have to meet with these people. When we went to Abkhazia in 2010, I called him to ask how to get a visa, but I've never lobbied for Abkhazia, I've never advocated for Abkhazian independence: quite the opposite and you know my public statements on that. How bad am I supposed to feel that someone called me or emailed me? That seems crazy.

There is another argument against you that you lobbied for Ivanishvili and you should have registered on the FARA list, which you apparently never did.

I consulted for Ivanishvili in Georgia; that's not considered lobbying. Lobbying means you go to Congress and say, “hey, you should support Ivanishvili over Saakashvili,” or vice versa, or you go to the American media and say, “here's a good story you should write about Saakashvili or Ivanishvili.” I didn't do that, I don't have those kinds of skills or connections, so I was not a lobbyist; that's why I didn't register as a lobbyist.

Don’t media activities include lobbying?

Not in Georgia. Here, what’s considered lobbyism is if, let's say, I call the New York Times and pitch a story: that's considered a lobby.

But you did author several pieces in US outlets at that time.

I wrote pieces mostly on my own site, so I don't know whether that counts or not. I talked to three lawyers who said I didn't need to register in FARA.


By Vazha Tavberidze

08 November 2018 19:13