The WSJ Op-Ed page explains things:
How the Georgian Conflict Really Started
By MELIK KAYLAN
August 28, 2008; Page A15
Tbilisi--'Anybody who thinks that Moscow didn't plan this invasion, that we in Georgia caused it gratuitously, is severely mistaken," President Mikheil Saakashvili told me during a late night chat in Georgia's presidential palace this weekend.
"Our decision to engage was made in the last second as the Russian tanks were rolling -- we had no choice," Mr. Saakashvili explained. "We took the initiative just to buy some time. We knew we were not going to win against the Russian army, but we had to do something to defend ourselves."
Everybody knows the best defensive tactic in tank warfare is a failed offensive, especially against Russia. For example, consider how well taking the initiative worked out for Hitler when he started the biggest tank battle ever, the Battle of Kursk, in the summer of 1943.
... "I got a call from the minister of defense [who, by the way, in case I haven't mentioned it before, is 29-years-old] that Russian tanks, some 200, were massing to enter Tskhinvali [capital of the Russian protectorate of South Ossetia] from North Ossetia," Mr. Saakashvili told me. "I ignored it at first, but reports kept coming in that they had begun to move forward. In fact, they had mobilized reserves several days ahead of time."
This was precisely the kind of information that the Russians have suppressed and the world press continues to ignore, despite decades of familiarity with Kremlin disinformation methods. "We subsequently found out from pilots we shot down," said Mr. Saakashvili, "that they'd been called up three days before from places like Moscow. We had intelligence coming in ahead of time but we just couldn't believe it. Also, in recent weeks, the separatists had intensified artillery barrages and were shooting our soldiers. I'd kept telling our guys to stay calm. Actually we had most of our troops down near Abkhazia where we expected the real trouble to start. I can tell you that if we'd intended to attack, we'd have withdrawn our best-trained forces from Iraq up front."
But, as you admitted above, you did attack. You say you "took the initiative" with your "decision to engage." Your tanks crossed the de facto boundary between Georgia and South Ossetia first.
Aren't you saying you hadn't "intended to attack" when you did, in fact, attack? I guess it was like what cops are always hearing, "I didn't mean to shoot him! The gun just went off by itself." Or are you just saying that you wish now you hadn't attacked, at least not in such a stupid manner?
In Saakashvili's defense, he had a legitimate interest in Russian tanks staying out of South Ossetia, since, by crossing the natural boundary of the Caucasus Mountains, they are then positioned to threaten his actual country.
They were especially threatening because he apparently hadn't devoted much of his considerable recent arms purchases to defense, as shown by the complete collapse of his army after its offensive, opening the way for Russia to roll as far into Georgia as it pleased. There are plenty of countries in the world that could advise Georgia on how to resist a tank invasion, but Georgia seemed to get most of its military training from the U.S. and Israel, two countries who have a "shoot first and ask questions later" tradition when it comes to initiating armored warfare.
His less legitimate motivation was apparently fear that if Russia sent 200 tanks into South Ossetia, then he wouldn't have a hope of invading that territory in the future because the Russians would be set up strongly for defense of it, so he had to attack now or forever hold his peace.
But, considering how badly beaten he was, it was, in any case, absurd.
So, this is the NATO partner to whom we are going to hand over decisions about war and peace?