Several strategists I respect, including my former professor George Friedman at Stratfor and Thomas Barnett, are arguing that we've misplayed the situation with Russia and essentially driven them to lash out. It's worth noting that Tom Friedman has the same perspective in an op-ed piece today.
Now these gents are not Pat Buchanan, who never met a fascist he didn't like and couldn't help admiring how Putin put the smackdown on the Georgians! Rather, they are arguing from a standpoint of grand strategy that it is better for us to engage Russia than to isolate it over what is in the end a minor dust-up on Russia's periphery.
I have real problems with this, because my emotions get caught up in the "big bully Russia beating up small, heroic Georgia" storyline. There's a lot of fundamental truth to that storyline. But grand strategy is not about emotion, it's about a cool, dispassionate 10,000-foot view of what is in a nation's long-term interests.
Forget Putin's thuggery for a moment. It is hard to do so, but let's try to look beyond it just for a moment. Is it desirable for the United States to get into a new Cold War with Russia over a small nation of 4.5 million people? Is it even possible that our relationship with Russia can be salvaged at this point, after our mis-steps and Russia's even more numerous ones?
These are difficult questions to answer, and clearly beyond my pay-grade or, for that matter, Obama's. It's my hope that for all his stirring rhetoric that "we are all Georgians," McCain has some clear-eyed grand strategists (Kissinger, perhaps?) advising him on the bigger grand strategy concerns.
I wish I had something more definitive than that, but I don't.