The ongoing crisis in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia is not just about Vladimir Putin using the superior power of his army to intimidate and weaken an independent, pro-U.S. country that strayed from Russian influence. The Georgia-Russia dust-up it is also about the serious miscalculations on the part of President Mikhail Saakashvili, who thought that while Putin was away at the Beijing Olympics he could reassert authority over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. But the crisis is even more complicated because there is also the miscalculation of President George Bush, who wrongly viewed Putin as someone who would sit by passively while power shifted in Russia’s sphere of influence. Bush did not appreciate Putin’s displeasure with Georgia seeking membership in NATO, Kosovo gaining independence and the Czech Republic and Poland pursuing a missile defense system aimed eastward.
One of the key requirements of national leaders is that they have the capacity to see beyond the first step of a decision and recognize the consequences of their actions. But both Saakashvili and Bush proved that they need a refresher course in executive decision-making. Why the Georgian President thought that Putin would sit idly by and allow a leader he publicly detests push around a resurgent Russia is a miscalculation wrapped in stupidity. And why President Bush would think that his good friend Vlad would listen to him and back off in Georgia just because they are diplomatic buddies is a miscalculation wrapped in naivete.
Putin may have taken a huge risk in Georgia and is currently beginning to see the downside of his aggressive posture, but it is Saakashvili whose miscalculation started a needless brushfire war and it is Bush whose miscalculation fostered a lingering animosity in Russia toward the U.S. Now what the innocent people of Georgia are left with is a shattered and divided country occupied by Russian troops, who have little interest in moving out, all because of presidential miscalulation.