Salon story by Juan Cole here.
The run-up to the current chaos in the Caucasus should look quite familiar: Russia acted unilaterally rather than going through the U.N. Security Council. It used massive force against a small, weak adversary. It called for regime change in a country that had defied Moscow. It championed a separatist movement as a way of asserting dominance in a region it coveted.
Indeed, despite George W. Bush and Dick Cheney's howls of outrage at Russian aggression in Georgia and the disputed province of South Ossetia, the Bush administration set a deep precedent for Moscow's actions -- with its own systematic assault on international law over the past seven years. Now, the administration's condemnations of Russia ring hollow. . . .
Eight years ago, the United States would have been in a position to condemn Russia for its unilateral war without necessarily seeming hypocritical. After all, even the Korean War had been sanctioned by the United Nations, and President Dwight Eisenhower had condemned the 1956 tripartite attack on Egypt by Britain, France and Israel for violating the U.N. Charter. . . .
In a unipolar world, the Bush doctrine of preemptive war allowed Washington to assert itself without fear of contradiction. The Bush doctrine, however, was never meant to be emulated by others and was therefore implicitly predicated on the notion that all challengers would be weaker than the United States throughout the 21st century. Bush and Cheney are now getting a glimpse of a multipolar world in which other powers can adopt their modus operandi with impunity. Bush's rhetoric may have sounded like that of President Woodrow Wilson, but his policy has often been to support the overthrow or hobbling of elected governments that he does not like -- and that has not gone unnoticed by countries that also count themselves great powers and would not mind following suit.
The problem with international law for a superpower is that it is a constraint on overweening ambition. Its virtue is that it constrains the aggressive ambitions of others. Bush gutted it because he thought the United States would not need it anytime soon. But Russia is now demonstrating that the Bush doctrine can just as easily be the Putin doctrine. And that leaves America less secure in a world of vigilante powers that spout rhetoric about high ideals to justify their unchecked military interventions. It is the world that Bush has helped build.