I've read quite a bit lately about how clever the Russians are for calling our bluff with regards to Georgia and it's neighboring states. The basic line is that Putin knew that if this went down while President Bush was in China, the face to face meeting along with all the other distractions could help him to pull it off with no risk of greater conflict. At first blush this appears to be completely correct. The political maneuvering and information management was handled well as documented here (hat tip instapundit). Because of the spin, it took several days for most of the West to decide what we thought about all of this. A lot of people said, "Georgia? Well, I really don't know much about that place. The Russians say the Georgians started it? Could be true." Then they sign a truce but continue to occupy the territory. This is a classic appeal to Western liberals, who will scream bloody murder if the US or NATO tries to move the Russians back out. There's a peace deal after all, so any action by us would be inflammatory war-mongering. Never mind the fact that the Russians haven't given anything. They just kept what they took and signed a nominal "peace" treaty, the violation of which by us would be breaking the "peace".
On the surface, it seems like a complete Russian victory. Their mistake is the American elections. Before the Gorgian episode, there was a chance that Barak Obama could have pulled out the election. Not a good chance, but a chance. He was and is obviously weak on foreign policy. But really that doesn't matter very much when the only foreign policy happening has already been dealt with and is mostly over. Don't get me wrong, the GWOT is important and it is ongoing. But really, the heavy lifting is done. And as far as enemies go, these ones are pretty weak. Terrorism is evil, dangerous, and rampant, but it has never been an existential challenge. Russia? Well now, that's a different story.
Two weeks ago, foreign policy weakness could pretty much be ignored. Two weeks ago we had one candidate who was terrible on foreign policy, and one candidate who's only selling point was foreign policy. Unfortunately for both of them, our economy is the biggest issue. Unfortunately for us, neither one of them has the foggiest idea about how the economy works. It's a bit like an American Idol competition where one guy dances and the other plays the drums, but neither one sings. And then from out of nowhere, Vladamir Putin throws a full drum set in front of John McCain.
When Iraq is looking up and Afghanistan is looking messy, but still mostly like a pile of rocks, it's pretty easy to ignore what an idiot Obama is on the issue and vote about something else. Or, more electorally significant; to not vote at all in protest of McCain running as a Democrat. But when the Russians start threatening to nuke Poland, the whole situation looks a bit more serious. The world suddenly started looking very cold-war-ish last week, and everybody but Obama noticed.
Barak had a chance before this. If Putin had waited a few months, he may have had a pushover US president in office and a free hand to do whatever his little black heart desired on his border with Europe. But he couldn't wait, and this week I'm sure that several million US voters went, "hmmm..."
Putin just bought himself an American president who had his teeth smashed by communists, and isn't afraid to call them that. Oops.
"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."