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Georgia Exhaustion

Jackson Diehl at the Washington Post notes with disappointment that the Russia-Georgia moment of glory on the front burner of U.S. foreign policy may be coming to an end, and that if the U.S. reaction is soft, the tanks will take the road to Tbilisi:

Plenty of Western leaders, and no doubt some members of the incoming Obama administration, are desperately wishing this flash point away. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, broker of the cease-fire that ended the Russian-Georgian war, has publicly declared that the Russians digging those trenches do not, in fact, exist. All Russian forces are gone from the territory they occupied in August, he recently assured his fellow European Union leaders.

But there the trench-diggers are — tangible proof that Russia’s campaign against Georgia is far from over. And much as Barack Obama might wish to focus relations with Moscow on arms control or containing Iran, he will first have to decide what to do about this standoff — and about the energetic, impulsive and ardently pro-Western leader on the other side of it.

That voluble man, Mikheil Saakashvili, remains firmly in place in Tbilisi despite Putin’s vow (in a conversation with Sarkozy) to “hang him by his balls.” But the model Saakashvili pioneered for wedding Georgia to the West looks shaky. His team of 30-something, English-speaking whiz kids liberated the country’s economy, touching off an investment-driven boom and defeating a Russian economic boycott. But since the war and the global financial panic, investor cash has disappeared and the government now survives on handouts from the Bush administration and European Union.