I swear I'd like to smack some of y'all's heads...
The best intel I've seen suggests that Putin goaded Shakisvili into a trap, and Shakisvili fell for it. I can't find the damn link right now, but it's from a good source (as I only read good sources
Step 1: Stage a few dozen aircraft, and what amounts to basically a US armored strike team north of Ossetia.
(Georgia did not notice, or did not care - we don't know at this point)
Step 2: Have the South Ossetians fire off a few heavy caliber mortar salvos at Georgian neighborhoods in South Ossetia, or into Georgia itself (I forget which the article claimed, but in either case, the South Ossetia, pro-Russian armed "enemy combatants" fired off some rounds, precipitating a Georgian response.
Step 3: Watch as Georgia launches a "quick strike" of its own, over-extending a small, yet competent military force (as is Georgia).
Step 4: Launch Russian armored strike team into Georgia using what amounts to a modern (i.e. Iraqi-Freedom) war of maneuver, over-running Georgian supply lines and using air power to engage maneuver elements and staging areas.
Putin is no dumb-ass, folks. He is mentally disciplined and systematically competent. He is not evil
Your enemy is never a villlian in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend. If not, you can kill him without hate--and quickly.
And he played George Bush like a mother-fucking FIDDLE.
The Bush administration encouraged Georgia, over a matter of several years. All the while, Putin bided his time and waited for the over-reach first of the US (which gave overtures of promising to get S. Ossetia back into the fold), and then for Shakisvili to add a spark to a (relatively small) powder keg.
Had the US any competent strategists, this might have been seen coming. But we don't.
Georgia has lost those territories, and no chain of events that we can even remotely guess or set in motion will get them back. As I view geo-politics, I say this is how it should be. The US gambled, and lost, and now they've got to play a new hand with new money. To Russia I say "Well played, Ivan". Seriously - you should admire Russian strategists.
What this does NOT do (unless the US is dumb enough to elect McSame) is refuel the Cold War.
There are some pretty easy geo-political cards to trade to get the table back to friendly relations.
A new administration makes "concessions" to the Russians about abandoning SDI, or at the very least, installations in Poland, in return for agreements on Iran.
We stand down on the Ukraine entering NATO in return for agreements on Azerbaijan, or something else of interest to us.
We encourage the reunification of Beloruss (the area north of Ukraine and east of Poland) with Russia (which both parties are having discussions about, as Beloruss is the most iridentist former Soviet republic) for other guarantees about Ukraine/Poland.
It is foolish to think we can make some sort of philosophical Maginot Line around the Ukraine, and we should tread carefully there. It's as dumb as sticking a "Free Tibet" bumper sticker on your car and expecting China to change.