Peggy Noonan offers up some shameless revisionism:
Mr. Putin doesn’t move because of American presidents, he moves for his own reasons. But he does move when American presidents are weak [bold mine-DL]. He moved on Georgia in August 2008 when George W. Bush was reeling from unwon wars, terrible polls and a looming economic catastrophe that all but children knew was coming. (It came the next month.) Mr. Bush was no longer formidable as a leader of the free world.
There is a certain pathetic ideological consistency to this. If recent history has to be turned on its head to vindicate the hawkish conceit that “weakness is provocative,” and that U.S. “weakness” opens the door to Russian invasions, then that is what Noonan will do. This is how she can pretend that Russia wasn’t reacting to promised NATO expansion, recognition of Kosovo’s independence, or the mistakes of Saakashvili in 2008, but was taking advantage of the fact that Bush was “no longer formidable.” Had someone suggested to anyone at the paper that the Iraq war was “unwon” in late 2008, the WSJ editors would have shouted her down as a defeatist. After all, the “surge” had saved the day, hadn’t it? (The implication that the Iraq war was subsequently won is an ideological fantasy all its own.) Shortly after the August 2008 war had ended, the Journal did fault Bush as “missing in action,” but it never occurred to them to claim that Bush had invited the war by being too “weak.” In that case, as in the latest one, the evidence pointed in the other direction.
The claim that Bush’s “weakness” helped create the conditions for the August 2008 is a very new one that has been invented out of thin air to defend the ridiculous and self-serving argument that a more aggressive and confrontational American policy in Ukraine would have somehow prevented the Russian incursion. As we should have learned in 2008, and as we ought to be learning again, this gets things entirely backwards: aggressive U.S. policies in its vicinity do not cause Moscow to defer to what Western governments want, but provokes strong and sometimes even violent responses. As I mentioned earlier this week, hawks routinely make the mistake of assuming that their perception of U.S. policies is shared by other governments, but this is almost never the case.
Moscow perceived the Bush administration’s actions in the former Soviet Union as a relentless effort to reduce Russian influence, and reacted strongly against that. Russia acted as it is did in Georgia in part because it correctly assumed that it had more at stake in keeping Georgia out of NATO than the U.S. and its allies had in bringing it in. That was true then, and it would be true at any point in the future, which is why it still makes no sense to expand the alliance. The truth is that Bush pushed NATO to take as aggressive a line on future expansion as the other members would dare allow, and it blew up in his face at great cost to the Georgians. Almost six years since Bush made that serious mistake at Bucharest, the people that cheered on his failed Russia policy are desperate to deny this while trying to cajole the U.S. into making the same mistakes all over again.