How should the Georgian crisis have been handled by any competent administration of either party?
1) Intelligence should have pointed out the Russian troop buildup and provided an analysis of its likely result. The President would have this estimate on his desk three months before the actual conflict.
2) The President should, at that moment, have called Vladimir Putin and asked him to stop the buildup. In that conversation, the President should have held out both vague carrots and sticks.
3) If the buildup persisted, the President should have made a speech calling attention to it, and analyzing for the American and world audiences what that buildup likely portends. Pointed description of South Ossetsia and its conflicted nationalities would be pertinent.
4) If the buildup still persists, the U.S. has to do something. That could range from moving an aircraft carrier attack group to the jujitsu approach, i.e., brokering the handover of South Ossetsia from Georgia to Russia — thus taking the wind out of Georgia’s supposed provocation and leaving nothing to fight for.
How far did actual U.S. policy diverge from this truly “realistic” approach? Let’s not even count the ways.