Perhaps the most important lesson of Russia's military conquest of Georgia is that international politics - especially where great powers are concerned - is an area for cold analysis, not wishful thinking. After the Berlin Wall fell, many Western analysts thought the successor to the Soviet Union would willingly give up its satellite states and move inexorably toward democracy. Many Western pundits felt it was only a matter of time before China, too, embraced democracy. Then-president George H.W. Bush, who had been head of the CIA and ambassador to China, felt we were moving to "a new world order." Francis Fukuyama wrote a book, partially titled The End of History, tracing a straight line to a utopia in which liberalism had defeated authoritarianism. It was as if the messiah had come: America and its allies could now turn swords into plowshares. Many in the State Department, especially secretary of state James Baker, felt that the "end of the Cold War" meant an end to the special status of Israel in Middle Eastern affairs, not dreaming that the rise of radical versions of Shi'ite and Sunni Islam exported by Iran and the Saudis might make the country more valuable than ever. To these Western observers tracing their lines in the sand, history was progressing linearly and clearly. But history does not move in straight lines or dialectical patterns to suit liberal social scientists or Marxist social theorists. Rather, it repeats itself or moves in cycles, based not only on economic factors but those of custom, culture, religion and human nature. Fukuyama was wrong, while thinkers along the line of Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington more correct. This does not mean that there is no place for liberal idealism in international politics, but it does mean that the idealism must be tempered with a solid reading of the international and regional terrain. Since the Enlightenment, intellectuals of the liberal/left have concentrated on the "perfectibility of man," skipping over the cautionary lessons which come more easily to those observers who are often called conservatives. It was conservative Edmund Burke who saw that the light of French Revolution was becoming a fire that would burn into a reign of terror, while two generations later it was Alexis de Tocqueville who explained the advantages of the evolutionary change of the American Revolution versus the revolutionary change that scarred Europe. What they said two centuries ago remains dead right today. Similarly, some of the same arguments were repeated a century later in the dialogue between American presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. Wilson spoke of idealism, the League of Nations and "the war to end all wars." Roosevelt spoke of the need to speak softly while carrying a big stick. Teddy Roosevelt was the first US president to travel abroad, but he did not lose himself in vague notions of international comity. Rather, he fused his idealism with a view of his own national interest and a sober view of the national interest of others. TWENTY YEARS after the fall of the Soviet empire, it is much easier to see that the current Russian regime wants to reclaim great power status. It more resembles the earlier Soviet regime and those of the czars than it does any Middle European liberal state. Indeed, its exploitation of Russian-speaking minorities in the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and Ossetia as pawns is reminiscent of the tactics of the Nazi regime in the 1930s. Russia has invaded Georgia not just to punish Georgia's elected leadership, but also to reclaim Russian control of gas and oil pipelines in the Caucasus region. Russia wants to bully Ukraine and Turkmenistan, which have natural resources and are turning westward, the same way Vladimir Putin bullied and jailed Russian businessmen who had amassed economic power and were Western-oriented. We should keep this in mind as Prime Minister Putin and his puppet president, Dimitri Medvedev, scatter promises around the world, including that of a withdrawal from Georgia. One can expect they will keep their pledges of peace the way Yevgeny Primakov (another Russian prime minister of KGB extraction) and Victor Chernomyrdin promised Bill Clinton and Al Gore to limit arms transfers and nuclear development to North Korea, Iran and Syria during the 1990s. HUGE COMMUNIST dictatorships, like deadly viruses, have mutated, not died. Russia and China wear the trappings of capitalism when it suits them, but they are willing to bludgeon "naughty" neighbors and "delinquent" dissidents at will. Putin, the graduate of the old KGB, has been sending agents to poison or shoot journalists and dissidents at home and abroad. The West has responded with collective clicking of the tongue and spasmodic wagging of fingers. China has outlawed entire religious sects and grabbed entire countries, such as Tibet, working hard to stamp out their identity, even as it sets Olympic records in the profits from the trade in human organs "reaped" from "criminals" it has executed. Both China and Russia have worked hard to prevent international control of Arab-Islamic terror, genocide and weapons proliferation from North Korea to Sudan to Iraq. When Russia and China speak of honoring international law and national sovereignty, their words should be treated gingerly. This does not mean Georgia is without blame in the present case, or that a US plan to station missiles inside Europe was a brilliant idea, nor that Israeli trade in arms to Georgia was always smart. But none of these are at the root of the neo-communist invasion of Georgia nor of the neo-com support for Iran, North Korea and Syria. In recent years, some Western journalists and academics have contended that the greatest threat to world peace was from "war-hungry" neo-conservative thinkers known as neo-cons. Many of these pundits could have spent their time and words better worrying about neo-coms and Arab-Islamic terror. Idealism, dialogue and trust all have their place in international relations, but as president Ronald Reagan said to president Mikhail Gorbachev on more than one occasion: Doveryay, no proveryay - Trust, but verify. Reagan might also have said to Putin and Medvedev: "Nations do not mistrust each other because they are armed; they are armed because they mistrust each other." And for as long as Russia and China continue to act as they do, showing that they are not to be trusted, we would be wise to arm ourselves with knowledge, weapons and with careful stratagems. The writer, a research fellow at the Shalem Center, was the Schusterman Visiting Professor at Washington University in St. Louis for 2007-8. He has also served as a special adviser to Israeli delegations to peace talks in 1991-1992 and as strategic affairs adviser to the Ministry of Public Security, editing secret PLO archives captured in Jerusalem.