I've kind of held back in discussing the
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan Russian incursion into the Georgian separatist territory of South Ossetia (and now, evidently, the other Georgian separatist territory of Abkhazia), which has been met with "condemnation" from the United States. One wonders what might have happened if we had a less solipsistic President who didn't "look into the soul" of former KGB agent and Russian strongman (now from the position of prime minister) Vladimir Putin and see "someone I could do business with" and instead saw simply... a former KGB agent, who at a minimum would be duplicitous, ahd hardly our "friend" (and in any event someone with interests quite possibly very different from our own) and at a maximum would, well, try to restore Russia to its Soviet era levels of power.
And so, here we are. The pro-western Salikashvili government in Georgia has been pissing off Putin for a while, and Russian ethnic enclaves in nominally Georgian territory but not under Georgian control have pissed off Georgia, both for some time. This seemed a perfect opportunity for someone to launch a pissing contest (regardless even of how it nominally started). Especially a good time for a Russia eager to reassert itself and test out its new and improved military might at a time when its likeliest rivals can't do too much because one of them is putting on a sports-show in Beijing (to be fair, there's not much the Chinese would be likely to do here anyway), and the other is tied down in its leaders' last fantasy war in Iraq and is planning its leaders' next fantasy war in Iran... btw, there are American troops in Georgia for "training" and some Georgian troops were deployed to Iraq (while Georgia pitches for NATO membership) and IIRC some more troops are there in support roles in "the war on terror".
American moral and strategic leverage are... lower than they might otherwise be, right now. Many Georgian refugees fleeing the fighting decry the lack of overt American assistance. It still remains unclear if Russian forces will go beyond the breakway ethnic Russian enclaves (Georgia,of course, accuses Russia of doing just this with full intent to occupy and "regime change"... and Russia denies it). These enclaves had been left over as "to be dealt with later" after the breakup of the Soviet Union (and messy in-fighting around 10 or 15 years ago)... there are Russian troops in a lot of former Soviet republics these days, and if the current conflict serves as a model for Russian military interventions... lest just say there are going to be a lot of them.
Just another part of the powerful legacy of the Bush Administration's excellent Iraq adventure and its other really smart policies. (Not to be too snarky, it's not so much about a direct American intervention on one side or the other, but about the leverage to make Russia think twice about doing this sort of thing in the first place... leverage that Putin, at least, has concluded we don't have, and there appears to be no reason for him to believe we do.)
Update: Kleiman nails the essence of Bush Administration duplicity and incompetence on matters Georgia. As he says... unbef*ckinglievable. And The Editors tell us why we shouldn't care too much-- Republican standard-issue Neanderthal chest-thumping notwithstanding.