Michael Totten’s dispatch from Georgia is depressing reading:
My translator, whose husband worked for Georgia’s ministry of foreign affairs, made a similar guess that the West helped save the capital. “The night they came close to Tbilisi,” she said, “Bush and McCain made their strongest speeches yet. The Russians seemed to back down. Bush and McCain have been very good for us.”
I call this depressing because it shows how readily some people put their trust in false friends. Bush and McCain haven’t been good for Georgia. They treated it as a pawn, and their professions of support were just strong enough to encourage the Georgian government to blunder in the worst way. Had it not been for the likes of Bush and McCain and their preferred policy towards Georgia*, it is less likely that tensions would have been as great between Russia and Georgia in the previous decade, and it is less likely that Georgia would have been provoked into a war that it couldn’t possibly win. If Saakashvili had not had so many cheerleaders in Washington giving him the false impression that the U.S. would accept Georgian moves to “reintegrate” the separatist republics, he might not have gambled so recklessly and lost so disastrously four years ago.
Aside from one anecdote involving Sarkozy and Putin, I don’t believe there is much evidence for the claim that “the West” persuaded the Russians to stop where they did. As it was, “the West” was in no position to stop anything, and it was the mistaken belief cultivated by some Western governments (ours most of all) that “the West” would support Georgia in a crisis that helped to create the crisis. In fact, Western support for Georgia helped cause the possibly permanent partition of Georgia.
* I should add that U.S. support for Georgian membership in NATO has been a bipartisan position for many years (and one held by all top members of the current administration), so it wasn’t just hawkish Republicans that are responsible for this. That said, Bush and McCain were and are among the most aggressive advocates for bringing Georgia into NATO, which is one of the things that worsened relations between Russia and Georgia the most.