The larger strategic goal is to keep the pro-Western independent states on Russia's border in turmoil. As George Kennan said, on its borders Russia can have only vassals or enemies. Russia's neighbors have an incentive to be cleareyed about this, which is why the presidents of the Baltic States and Poland all condemned "meaningless statements equating the victims with the victimizers."
McCain's proposal from a few months ago to boot Russia from the G-8 has gone from seeming needlessly provocative to practically prescient. Together with the surge in Iraq, the Georgian crisis is the second strategic matter on which everyone else has followed the senator's lead. McCain warned of Russian designs on its "near-abroad" when Boris Yeltsin was still in power, and advocated the enlargement of NATO into Eastern Europe -- as a way to cement those countries into the West and check Russian adventurism -- years before the Clinton administration adopted it as policy.
McCain's judgment benefits from years of marinating in national-security issues and traveling and getting to know the key players; from a hatred of tinpot dictators and bloody thugs that guides his moral compass; and from a flinty realism (verging at times on fatalism) that is resistant to illusions about personalities, or the inevitable direction of History, or the nature of the world.
Putin launched his assault on Georgia on the same day the Olympics opened with the theme of "One World, One Dream." Putin put paid to that within hours with steel and blood. All you need to know about his soul is the testimony of the rocket launchers and T-72 tanks still flowing into Georgia.