It’s heartbreaking, but even more infuriating, to read so many Georgians quoted in the New York Times—officials, soldiers, and citizens—wondering when the United States is coming to their rescue. It’s infuriating because it’s clear that Bush did everything to encourage them to believe that he would. When Bush (properly) pushed for Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, Putin warned that he would do the same for pro-Russian secessionists elsewhere, by which he could only have meant Georgia’s separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Putin had taken drastic steps in earlier disputes over those regions—for instance, embargoing all trade with Georgia—with an implicit threat that he could inflict far greater punishment. Yet Bush continued to entice Saakashvili with weapons, training, and talk of entry into NATO. Of course the Georgians believed that if they got into a firefight with Russia, the Americans would bail them out.
This highlights, I think, some of the limits of the kind of bluff-and-bluster approach to foreign policy that seems popular among conservatives these days. Or, rather, it highlights the fact that popular as bluster-based policymaking is on the American right it can have some extremely high costs and that, tragically, a large proportion of those costs can wind up being borne by the people who were nominally supposed to be the beneficiaries.