The Cable

Coming on The Cable: Live coverage of the Munich Security Conference

That's right, your humble Cable guy is on his way to Germany to participate in the 48th annual Munich Security Conference, one of the largest gatherings of national security officials in the world.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), and a large delegation of experts and lawmakers led by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) will be at the event, which begins Friday. Other senators and former officials from Washington headed to Munich include Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Mark Udall (D-CO), Brent Scowcroft, Paul Wolfowitz, Zalmay Khalizad, Kurt Volker, Dan Senor, and many others.

"It is arguably the most important security conference of them all," McCain told The Cable. "It's like Davos without the Hollywood aspect."

When McCain learned that The Cable will be at the conference, blogging and tweeting the whole time, he said, "Oh, no.... I'm going to call the German embassy."

Lieberman gave The Cable a little more historical perspective about the conference, which he has been attending for over 20 years, after first being invited by Sen. John Glenn (D-OH). Bill Cohen, who served as senator and later defense secretary, led the U.S. congressional delegation to the conference at that time. Cohen passed the baton to McCain when he left the Senate, and McCain invited Lieberman to be the co-leader of the delegation to give it a bipartisan character.

"For decades, it has been an occasion to discuss critical issues in the U.S.-European alliance. In the past 10 or 15 years it really has been broadened," Lieberman said. Defense ministers and foreign ministers from just about every NATO country attend and recently more and more heads of state are showing up as well, he said.

Among the foreign leaders expected to attend, in addition to U.S. and European officials, are Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jabali, and perhaps even Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The interactions with the Russian delegation are always interesting, Lieberman said.

"We've had some very eyeball-to-eyeball matches when President [Vladimir] Putin has come," he said.

The main topics of the formal conference sessions will be the effect of the global recession on defense budgets, what President Barack Obama's so-called pivot to Asia means for U.S.-Europe relationship, and the uprisings in the Arab world.

But a lot of the action happens informally in the hallways and in the bilateral meetings that take place on the sidelines of the sessions. Last year, Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov actually exchanged the final documents of the New START treaty there.

McCain and Lieberman always plan one stop on the way to Munich. This year, they are touching down for a few hours in Madrid to meet with the Spanish government led by newly elected President Mariano Rajoy Brey.

It's a lot of foreign policy packed into only a couple of days, but watch this site for coverage of all the action.

"It's quick," Lieberman said. "We go Thursday and we'll be back Sunday night in time for the Super Bowl."

Photograph by Kai Mörk

The Cable

Saakashvili: The Arab Spring will topple the Russian government

The Russian government is following the path of the deposed regimes of Hosni Mubarak and Muammar al-Qaddafi and is setting itself up for a fall from power, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said in an exclusive interview with The Cable.

"You need to listen to what Russian leaders themselves are saying. They say ‘We are not Libya, we are not Egypt, Russia will not go down this road,'" Saakashvili said. "I've heard that from other leaders before. I heard it from Soviet leaders. And once you start saying those things it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and then you start to do certain things and to not allow certain things, and those are exactly the kind of actions that promote further sliding down this road [toward losing power]."

Not only is Russia denying the desires of its own people by suppressing protests and real democracy, it is now leading the opposition to the wave of popular revolutions that the world witnessed over the past year, said the Georgian president, who fought a five-day war with Russia in 2008. The latest and greatest example, he said, is Russia's support for the brutal Syrian regime led by President Bashar al-Assad.

"Syria stands as a symbol," Saakashvili said. "[The Russians] fully identify themselves with Libya but they thought that in Libya they were a fooled into action.  And now with Syria they think that if Syria falls, it's the last bastion before Moscow. And this is exactly the kind of attitude that will bring problems closer home to Moscow. It's not going to help Syria in any way, but it's certainly damaging Russia a lot."

The anticipated return of Vladimir Putin to the presidency later this year is significant because his term will be marked by opposition to real reform both inside and outside Russia, Saakashvili said.

"Unlike Westerners who think in terms of superficial symbols that he's returning, the middle class in Moscow knew that he never went away," said Saakashvili. "It's not about returning Putin to the presidency, it's about what he said. And what he said was ‘I'm returning because I should stop any attempt to reform and crack down on any mode of reform,' and that's what the middle class in Russia heard."

U.S. engagement with Moscow is useful and efforts to continue the "reset" policy should continue, but all the signals from Russia indicate that it is returning to a pre-reset policy, the Georgian president added. He made the case that Russia showed real flexibility during its drive to get into the World Trade Organization in 2011, but now that it has achieved that goal, its attitude has reverted to one of confrontation.

One example is Russia's constantly stoking the rumor that the United States is planning to deploy missile defense elements to Georgia, something Saakashvili said simply isn't true.

"Vladimir Putin is talking about this all the time. Either he is strongly misguided or he's looking for reasons to say nasty things," he said.

Just minutes before his interview with The Cable, speaking in front of a packed audience in the sparkling new auditorium of the United States Institute of Peace headquarters in Washington, Saakashvili contrasted the reactions of Russia and Turkey to the Arab Spring.

"Two radical different attitudes have emerged, offered by two specific regional powers. On one hand, the Russian Federation reacted with outrage and panic to the Arab Spring and tries to do anything they can to prevent any international support to the democracy movements anywhere. On the other hand, Turkey asserts itself as the model for the post revolutionary countries," he said.

"On the one hand, the government of Vladimir Putin desperately tries to hold back the progress of history. On the other hand, the government of Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan tries to embrace the revolutions of the world. Two very different prime ministers," he said.  "It's not a coincidence that Russian influence is decreasing while Turkish leadership is growing in the region every day."

Saakashvili also talked about Georgia's struggles following its separation from the Soviet empire, and the lessons he might offer to new governments undergoing similar difficulties.

"Georgia's experience does not provide a transferable model for many countries that have known or will sooner or later know progressive uprising. There was no freedom textbook for us, and no textbook for our friends was ever written. The real revolution occurs after the cameras from CNN, BBC, and the others have left the country. It consists of the long and difficult process of reform that follows," he said.

"This is a lesson and a message of hope. There is no future for global powers playing against the will of their own people."

The Cable also asked Saakashvili for his opinion of actor Andy Garcia's portrayal of him in the movie Five Days of War, the 2011 film about the Russian-Georgian conflict.

"I only saw parts of it, but what I know is that my English was a little better than his and that was very reassuring," he said.