Saturday, September 27, 2008

Why McCain Loves Misha

Mikheil Saakashvili, his eyes bloodshot from sleeplessness and his face caked with television makeup, summoned his closest advisers into his office above Tbilisi's Old City. It was 2 a.m. on Aug. 12, and columns of Russian tanks were rolling down the highway toward the Georgian capital. "I am never going to flee," the president told his team. "I will not live my life regretting that I abandoned my own country at war." Then he sent them home to change out of their suits and ties so they could fight the invaders. Swigging a can of Red Bull, Saakashvili grabbed a phone and called the trusted friend and mentor he had turned to every night since Aug. 8, when the war began: John McCain. A source close to the Republican standard-bearer, asking not to be named discussing a private conversation, says McCain voiced support for diplomatic and political pressure against Moscow. "Hang in there," the senator said, according to a Saakashvili aide on condition of anonymity. "We are not going to let this happen … We are doing everything we can to stop this aggression."

Alex Majoli / Magnum for Newsweek

Straight out of the gate, Saakashvili fired 80,000 state employees, including 90 percent of the old KGB-trained security force and every last member of the country's notoriously corrupt traffic police. Since then three Parliament members, 16 prosecutors, 45 judges, 400 police and even a serving cabinet minister have been indicted and jailed for graft. And bypassing Georgia's old ruling class, Misha filled his cabinet with young, Western-educated former NGO staffers. "Only young people had the enthusiasm to change the country," says Georgia's state-security secretary, Alexander Lomaia, 50, the cabinet's oldest member. (The defense minister is 29.)

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Source: Newsweek

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