It was characteristic of Bush’s secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, to refer to Eastern Europe’s oldest Byzantium regions as “New Europe.” This was the kind of oxymoron and conspicuous make-believe that marked the all hat, no cattle Bush administration. What was a little spooky about it all was that when they pretended to tell the truth with fixed jaw and flat eyes, people pretended to believe them.

When these states of Europe’s oldest soul — Kosovo, the Czech Republic, South Ossetia and Georgia among them — were released from the grip of the Soviet Union, they had little in common with Catholic and Protestant Europe, but they wanted to join NATO. They did have the experience of television and radio. And they had cousins in America, some of whom were senators. What they really wanted was to become secondary American states and have America defend them against their closest and oldest cultural relative, Orthodox Russia.

What they wanted, it was said at the time, was not Trotsky and Lenin. They wanted America. And not just Jefferson and Lincoln. They wanted Michael Jackson and Calvin Klein. They wanted Frank Zappa.

Not long ago they began to realize that the price of being American pseudo-states could be high: Rumsfeld would need them as soldiers in his war on Iraq when no one else in the world but England — our own trusty Gurkhas who would follow us loyally to hell and back — would join him. And he would need Poland and the Czech Republic as military bases for his anti-Russia missile project. The conspicuous, shared delusion reached farce level when he claimed it was to defend against Iran. When they signed on, Russia was sickly and they were told it was dying. But then overnight, it was stronger than ever; rich in oil wealth and the ruble was booming.

At the beginning, way back say 20 years ago, Russia was weak and the neocon apparatchiks hoped to kill it, advancing the very unique theory of the end of time; the United States being the center of a clock, with everything else descending into hinterland and Russia at the farthest edge of nowhere. They came to that because they studied public policy at Yale and Harvard instead of Gogol and Tolstoy, which guys like George Kennan had studied in what Paris Hilton calls the olden days.

Taunting Russia when it was sick and weak became regular practice for the last two presidential administrations, Henry Kissinger said recently, hoping to advance more mature foreign policy in the near future. Back in 1997, the Senate, egged on by Vice President Al Gore, voted to expand NATO to include Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary even though a group of elder statesmen, led by Susan Eisenhower, called it “a policy error of historic proportions.”

Under the new NATO agreement U.S. troops would be committed to respond to conflicts involving any of the new member nations of Central Europe. But even Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina, the dean of Cold Warriors, asked President Clinton, “What would be the impact of extending coverage of the U.S. nuclear umbrella to them?”

Helms, who had about as much affection for Russia as General Jack D. Ripper, asked in a letter to President Clinton: “Is a border dispute involving one or several of the new NATO members so vital a national security threat to the U.S. that we are willing to risk American lives?” Nevertheless, buoyed by a sense of infallibility at a time before dot-com stocks came crashing down and claims were made that the Dow Jones index would soon hit 35,000, almost 90 senators voted for the resolution.

Gogol and Tolstoy would have taught them that Russia never actually dies; it just sleeps for a long period, like a bear. And every time Hitler or Napoleon or Rumsfeld thinks that this time the bear is really dead, it wakes up.

This week the bear woke up.

George W. Bush will be remembered as a gatekeeper in a number of ways. But most importantly, what Bush did for the first time since Eisenhower threw England and Anthony Eden out of the Suez in 1956 was to legitimize the use of military force as an everyday tool of diplomacy. In 2005 he virtually declared war on any place in the world that had a dissident who would invite him to challenge its enemy.

A clever and seasoned political operative like Vladimir Putin, a mirror to Bush just as Stalin was a doppelgänger in the witch mirror during America’s rise to power under FDR, would immediately see the advantage.

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