Here. As I think I’ve argued somewhere (oh yeah, here, though sketchily), the West has a fair number of cards to play against a revanchist, expansion-minded Russia. NATO membership is one. If it’s as transparently a bluff as Fukuyama says, lay it down and play a different card. Even if we can’t and won’t defend Georgia against Russia, it is in our interest (and that of peace in the world) that the Russians’ opportunity cost for an invasion of Georgia (or any other country along its periphery) remains as high as possible. We need not go as far as the USSR did in defending Castro by building nuclear-missile bases, but just in the basic guns-and-ammo sense, we could provide them with some air-defense systems, anti-tank weapons, artillery, counter-battery radar, and a whole bunch of things that wouldn’t necessarily stop Ivan from kicking Kartlos around Tbilisi if he really wanted to, but which might make him think a little harder before doing so on a lark.
If Russia thinks its in its interest to conquer Georgia, Moldova, or Ukraine, it will. As history’s greatest anti-imperial power, as the world’s primary advocate of liberty, and as a mercantile power that depends upon peace, prosperity, and stability abroad, it is in our interest that they not do so. Realists like Fukuyama argue that we only need stability abroad, and having a single interlocutor in a restored Russian Empire certainly would simplify our diplomacy. However, that confuses medium-and-long term interests. Our long-term interest with Russia is that it abandon military adventurism, that its domestic institutions of property, law , and checks and balances within on the government develop, and that the consequences of its coming demographic collapse be mitigated for all concerned.
These goals are clearly unrealistic in the short and maybe even medium term (and may prove unachievable full stop) but they need to be kept in mind, given the kind of irenic, free, prosperous world America has always advocated. And a Congress of Vienna solution is neither desirable nor possible, carving up spheres of influence and ceding them to various regional hegemons. Particularly the West’s diffidence (decadance?) and unwillingness to take up arms except in extremis (and in the case of Old Europe, perhaps tout court) means that such an arrangement will serve as a mere fig leaf for continued aggression by authoritarian powers and the slow slide into death and slavery of the West which the devotés of soft power seem to subconsciously court and so many on the left desire so ardently. Many in the latter camp, of course, would welcome a catastrophic bloody purification of the sins for which they’ve indicted their civilization, and of course, their installment as the new commissars in the Better World that’s just over the horizon.
Again, remember always and everywhere, that Iran, Russia, and China consider themselves our enemies for reasons almost entirely outside of our control. They will consequently act in ways to damage us everywhere they can, as long as the costs aren’t too high. We should not hesitate to try and make their lives more difficult, as they do to us (without fear of consequence these days), in ways small and large. We shouldn’t be foolishly provocative, but nor should we let paranoid Russian conspiracism deter us from aiding countries who wish to remain outside her control to do so, in whatever ways we can. We need not overreact, as the world’s sole superpower. If, however, the world is evolving in a “post-American” direction, per Zakaria et al., we will need to be more rather than less active in this respect, as even if we’re the leading power, countries like Russia and China will always see us as competitors in a zero-sum game and work to diminish our influence, which while hardly perfect is generally a force for peace, liberty, and prosperity in the world.