No sooner had Russia taken a page out of its Soviet playbook to carve up Georgia than Washington responded by turning back its calendar. Seizing on advice to re-create Harry Truman's Berlin air lift, President Bush dispatched military cargo planes to the beleaguered Georgian capital of Tbilisi with food, medicine and other supplies.
In quick order, the administration and presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama raced to update the moves and rhetoric of every President through Ronald Reagan in a bid to show spine against Russia without actually provoking a military conflict.
The Cold War is back, right down to references to the "Evil Empire" and fearful talk of nuclear strikes. But before we rush back into our dusty air raid shelters and teach schoolchildren to duck and cover under their desks, we would do well to remember this is 2008, not 1948.
Just as generals tend to make the mistake of fighting the last hot war, many politicians and pundits are gearing up to fight the last Cold War. By all means, we must stand firm - and demand that Europe do the same - against Russia's brutal land grab and naked threats.
But America also needs to get its own act together if we have any hope of rallying the world against the new rise of totalitarian regimes. Russia was clearly emboldened not only by its newfound oil and gas wealth, but also by our obvious weakness.
We are hobbled in the world and divided at home, dependent on others for our energy, much of our food, manufacturing, and even for our financing.
We are going deeper into debt with each passing day, our future mortgaged with commitments we cannot possibly keep. And yet the solutions our leaders offer are no match for the scale of the problems. We don't even demand that Obama and McCain offer honest ideas that would halt our alarming decline, let alone put us on the path to security and prosperity.
One result is that, if this is the start of a new Cold War, we're in no position to fight it with even the same commitment and resources we used to win the last one.
Meanwhile, the new world order we face is worse than the old one. From the rise of Islamic terrorism to the spread of nuclear weapons, the planet is a far more lethal place. It is made more complicated by new powers that, like Russia, are fueled by petrodollars and grievances.
Worst of all, America is sagging just when the free world needs our leadership again. Even our military might has been sapped by the long slog in Iraq.
Take the most obvious example of how the world has changed - the Russian invasion of Georgia came as the Olympics were being held in China. That would be the same China that was sealed against the West until Richard Nixon's visit "opened" it in 1972.
Now China is wowing the world with its rapid industrialization and spectacular growth. Yet because it is one of our most important bankers and trading partners, we cannot afford to offend it, even though it protects Iran and North Korea.
Our weakness ties our hands with others, too. Bookstores are filled with accounts of the staggering wealth produced by what Wall Street calls the BRIC economies: Brazil, Russia, India and China. "The rise of the rest," as author Fareed Zakaria calls it, has scrambled all the assumptions and rules that shaped the last Cold War. Even India felt strong enough to scuttle world trade talks.
If there is nostalgia for a Cold War, perhaps it's because we won that showdown so convincingly. Most of the old Soviet-controlled states are capitalist democracies or are on their way. A handful, such as Poland and Latvia, are members of NATO.
With Georgia and Ukraine hoping to join, Russia increasingly saw itself being surrounded by our allies. Its pushback was, in hindsight, utterly predictable, but Bush failed to connect the dots.
Fortunately, the wakeup call has been heard and the West is at least momentarily united in the alarming realization that Vladimir Putin is determined to reestablish Russia's global prominence, if not the Soviet Union itself.
We must worry about the next move of this would-be czar. But even more, we must worry about whether America can again summon the will and the skill to lead in such perilous times.
For if not us, who?