Georgia on my mind has been a hit song in the US since the 1930's, and has been adopted as the official song of the US state of Georgia. But it is now the former Soviet state of Georgia in the Caucasus region which is on the mind of the world's top diplomats, in the aftermath of its invasion and assault by Russian armed forces. What the Russians did in Gori, Georgia " the birthplace of Joseph Stalin " drew international outrage, which the annihilation of Grozny, Chechnya never did. During a visit to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, several years back, it was easy to visibly gauge the lingering impact of Muslim influence " not surprising given the fact that Georgia was under Persian suzerainty for a considerable period. Today, 10 percent of the total Georgian population of less than 5 million people is Muslim. They have been uneasy by the attempt of President Mikheil Saakashvili to over-Christianise the country by choosing, for example, to affix a cross on the new flag of Georgia. Saakashvili studied at Columbia and George Washington Universities in the US. He flaunted his US connection to the extent of even naming a main road in Tbilisi for President Bush and despatching 2000 Georgian troops to aid the US in Iraq. This overconfidence may have entrapped him into profound miscalculations. The Georgian president was further emboldened by Western encouragement of Georgia's projected inclusion into an expanded NATO " a move that further infuriated the Kremlin as, in effect, it sought to stretch NATO's reach into Russia's backyard. On August 7, the eve of the Beijing Olympics, Saakashvili triggered the crisis by ordering an attack on the pro-Russian separatist enclave of South Ossetia. He perhaps may have surmised that his pro-West posture would immunise and shield him from Russian repercussions. It is conceptually similar to the mistake made by the Shah of Iran, Sadat, Marcos, and rulers in Pakistan. But the West is so obsessively consumed by the War On Terror that it needs Russian cooperation in the Central Asia Republics, adjoining Afghanistan's borders, plus Russian concurrence in the UN Security Council should the US choose to make a military move against Iran. In that sense, America needs Russia more than Russia needs America. Consequently, the rift over Georgia may suit Iran, as it will make it difficult now for Russia to support the US bid to impose stiffer sanctions on Iran. Thirty years after the Soviet march into Afghanistan, the West has again been caught off balance by the scale of Russian military activity in Georgia. Focused as it is on obsessively seeking demons in the Muslim world, the West has been left with dwindling leverage in Moscow. It has been a stunning failure of the Bush-Cheney-Rice policies which, near the end of the Bush presidency, can safely been said to have caused major damage to the US interests worldwide and contributed to the overall decline of US image in the world. The rabidly pro-India Condi Rice already was proven to be clueless on matters appertaining to the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Now, this so-called "expert" on Russia has misread the Russian mindset on what it perceives to be its historical sphere of influence. The US reliance on dunda (stick) in the Muslim world at the expense of diplomacy and dialogue has only ended up inflaming Muslim public opinion, neutering US allies, and encouraging Russia to emulate America's over-reliance on military force. On August 8, Georgian troops entered the centre of Tskhinvali (the capital of the break-away region of South Ossetia). Within two hours, the Georgians were thrown out by Russian armed forces. Georgians are no Chechens, who have writ their name in history and blood in the Caucasus region, through their indomitable resistance to Russian paramountcy. The Chechens have been beaten up by Russians, but they have not been beaten. Georgia adds to the growing pile of White House leadership failures. When the need is to show conciliation, the Bush administration has pursued confrontation, as in the Middle East. When the need was to be firm, as with Russia in the Caucasus region, it was feeble. The writer is a barrister-at-law and a political analyst