For a man willing to blame Britain for World War II, this is an easy call. Kevin Drum has already addressed the stupidity of the idea that the U.S., in Buchanan’s words, might have given Georgia “a green light” to invade South Ossetia, so read him for that. I’m more interested in the two strands here. One is the isolationist point that it’s foolish and dangerous for the U.S. to commit itself to defending foreign powers by admitting them to NATO; whether NATO membership for Russia’s neighbors would increase or actually reduce the risk of war is debatable, but on its own terms that point is fair enough. It’s the second strand that carries the distinctive Buchanan odor. Tell me if I’m wrong to read this — particularly the tender description of Putin as a “Russian patriot” — as a none-too-veiled attempt to defend Russian expansionism:

Should America admit Ukraine into NATO, Yalta, vacation resort of the czars, will be a NATO port and Sevastopol, traditional home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, will become a naval base for the U.S. Sixth Fleet. This is altogether a bridge too far.

And can we not understand how a Russian patriot like Vladimir Putin would be incensed by this U.S. encirclement after Russia shed its empire and sought our friendship? How would Andy Jackson have reacted to such crowding by the British Empire?

As of 1991, the oil of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan belonged to Moscow. Can we not understand why Putin would smolder [Feel his pain. — ed.] as avaricious Yankees built pipelines to siphon the oil and gas of the Caspian Basin through breakaway Georgia to the West?…

Vladimir Putin is no Stalin. He is a nationalist determined, as ruler of a proud and powerful country, to assert his nation’s primacy in its own sphere, just as U.S. presidents from James Monroe to Bush have done on our side of the Atlantic.

A resurgent Russia is no threat to any vital interests of the United States. It is a threat to an American Empire that presumes some God-given right to plant U.S. military power in the backyard or on the front porch of Mother Russia.

Whereupon he lurches into a climactic perfunctory sneer about getting Saakashvili a job at AEI and calls for Joe Biden to hold public hearings on whether Bush Knew. There’s no reason I can see why anti-NATO isolationists can’t also be pro-Georgia: Restricting the use of U.S. military force to our own “sphere” isn’t inconsistent with wanting to help fledgling former Soviet satellites protect their independence through trade, military training, foreign aid, and diplomacy. Buchanan seems to be saying otherwise, that not only should we get out of Putin’s way, we should actually informally (or formally?) recognize Russia’s dominion over those satellites. How else to read the creepy nostalgia about Yalta being a resort for Russian aristocracy or the suggestion that Putin, a guy known for bumping off journalists who cross him, reached out to the U.S. in good faith by nobly “shedding” his empire before the evil neocons slapped his hand away? (PB must be the only person left in the world who thinks Bush’s infamous assessment of Putin’s soul was correct.) To put it another way, just what does he mean by Russian “primacy” and how far exactly does its “sphere” extend? If we’re supposed to stand idly by while Moscow all but reabsorbs its neighbors, then never mind Cold War II — we’ll be right back to Cold War I. And that actually will be our fault.

What kind of isolationist apologizes for another country’s expansionism, anyway? Answer: The same kind that thinks Churchill was the chief warmonger of the early 1940s, I guess. Exit question: For people who complain so much about neocons dramatically overstating the threats from foreign powers, Birchers like Buchanan and Ron Paul sure aren’t above dramatically understating them, are they?

Update: Headlines comments imported.