August 20, 2008
Armchair strategists are wagging fingers over the supposed naiveté of Georgia and its superpower ally over the conflict in the Caucasus. In this blame-the-victim analysis, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili started the whole thing by attacking separatists in South Ossetia, giving Russian leader Vladimir Putin the perfect excuse to respond in force. Washington encouraged the Georgian hothead by pumping him up with praise and making him think that it would gallop to his aid, while in fact it has no power at all to help.
The facts are somewhat different. While Mr. Saakashvili blundered at the start and Washington underestimated the Russians, it is wrong to place the blame on the Georgians and their American allies. That blame rests squarely with Moscow, which orchestrated the whole business with the skill of a Shostakovich.
It has been clear for months, even years, that Russia was determined to teach Georgia a lesson. Moscow was unhappy when the birthplace of Stalin broke away after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and furious when the enthusiastically pro-American Mr. Saakashvili came to power vowing to join the Western military alliance, NATO.