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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A President Who Prefers Shooting From the Hip

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Aficionados of the wit and wisdom of Mikheil Saakashvili were treated to another classic barnstorming speech last week, as the Georgian president delivered a televised address to reservist troops at a military base in the west of the country. Some critics say Saakashvili simply blurts out whatever comes to his mind, regardless of the consequences. President Vladimir Putin, for instance, suggested that his Georgian nemesis was a bit of a hothead. For a reporter, however, Saakashvili's ability to surprise makes him a joy to cover and undoubtedly one of the world's more interesting presidents.

Over the past few months, there have been several Mikheil moments to cherish. Like the time when he announced that a disco would be built in the conflict zone in the breakaway region of South Ossetia, so young people could lay down their weapons and dance together in peace and unity. One nation under a groove, I guess.

Like Saakashvili's best speeches, the address to the reservists last week had both dead-serious moments and flights of creative improvisation. He spoke of what he called the fairy tale that Georgians were just some kind of "cultural phenomenon," great for cooking tasty dinners and singing sweetly around the restaurant table but useless when it came to holding their own in a fight or running a respectable state. Every Georgian citizen, he continued, should be capable of picking up a weapon and defending the nation if necessary. But his main point was that the reservist forces, which Georgia intends to expand to 100,000 over the next five years, should send out a message to the country's enemies: Back off, we're stronger now than we've ever been.

Was this militaristic rhetoric? There's no doubt that the Georgian authorities love a man in uniform. Modernizing their dilapidated post-Soviet army is a crucial part of their efforts to join NATO, which has caused the separatist administrations in South Ossetia and the country's other breakaway region, Abkhazia, to express fears that the Georgian government is preparing to invade. Saakashvili himself spent 10 days in a reservist camp last summer, and emerged from it so fired up with military zeal that he made some of his officials join him on a sweaty romp through the streets of Tbilisi.

When the young reservists saluted him last week, he looked blissfully happy, as if part of his patriotic dream was coming true right in front of his eyes. He spoke of his own time in the Soviet army when, he said, conscripts simply wasted time peeling potatoes and memorizing Soviet propaganda. "We have come a long way," he insisted. Georgia's military is becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Matthew Collin is a Tbilisi-based journalist.