Russian troops have pulled back in Georgia, but this friend of America is still under siege.  Russian soldiers remain on Georgian territory and Moscow apparently intends to annex the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Moreover, the Russian military is free to return whenever it wants to create more havoc.

It’s important for America to stand by this ally, who stood by us in Iraq.  If we won’t defend democracy and freedom in Georgia, who will?  And what of the recently liberated states in Eastern Europe?

I have a personal interest in Georgia.  My organization, the Independent Women’s Forum, has worked with the New Economic School of Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, a forward-looking, pro-freedom group.  A war halfway around the world means a lot more to you when you know people potentially in the line of fire.

The New School is interested in many of the same issues as IWF including political and economic freedom.  Our collaborative project involved the status of women in Iran.  We at IWF were impressed that citizens of a relatively new country, with so many of their own problems to deal with, were interested in helping people in another land.

We’ve also watched with appreciation the willingness of Georgians to enhance the role of women in their own society.  As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice observed at IWF’s Woman of Valor Award dinner in 2006, “When we talk about respect for women, we are referring to a moral truth.  Women are free by nature, equal in dignity and entitled to the same rights, the same protections and the same opportunities as men.”

Early in our nation’s history, America struggled with women’s equality; however, our failures in this area are dwarfed by those of totalitarian states like the Soviet Union, which fell far short of protecting the human rights of everyone, especially women.  Today, Georgians are moving to rectify these wrongs even though their independent nation is not yet two decades old.

Two years ago the United Nations praised Georgia’s efforts.  Despite enormous challenges at home and abroad-especially Russian interference even then-Tbilisi “had introduced substantive reforms to ensure that democratic development was tangible and irreversible” and “recognized the internationally acclaimed principles of gender equality.”

Georgia still has more to do-on treatment of women, promoting democracy, and many other issues.  But the Georgian people are moving in the right direction.  And one reason they are doing so is the positive influence of the U.S.

America remains a model for the world.  U.S. businessmen visiting Tbilisi, American soldiers training Georgian personnel, and leading politicians in Washington befriending Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili have encouraged the development of a liberal and democratic society in a region devoid of functioning free societies.  Obviously, there’s a lot that goes into U.S. foreign policy decisions, but our role in encouraging positive development highlights why foreign policy decisions are so important.

No one wants war with Russia-least of all the Georgians.  But if we don’t want war with Russia, the U.S. and its European allies must make it clear to Moscow that it cannot violate the territorial integrity of sovereign nations without consequence.  If Russia instead learns that aggression pays, it is likely to commit more aggression.

There is much that America and Americans can do.  The first is to clearly stand with Georgians in their time of trial.  We are united by a commitment to liberty and human rights.  We must make it clear to Moscow that Georgia is not alone.

The U.S. also should help rebuild Georgia.  The economy is a wreck.  There are tens of thousands of refugees.  The military has been decimated.  The country’s future is uncertain.  The U.S. government and private groups should aid Georgia’s reconstruction.  The best rebuff to Russia would be a confident, thriving Georgia.

Finally, NATO must embrace Georgia.  We cannot allow Moscow to determine who enters the Western alliance.  And it is obvious that Georgia alone is helpless in the face of Russian aggression.  Georgia should be granted membership as quickly as possible.

Beyond that, the U.S. must reconsider its relationship with Russia.  Moscow’s membership in the G-8 and application to join the World Trade Organization should be suspended.  Washington should consider controls on Russian investment in America.  We must make it clear that there can be no “business as usual” with Moscow when it invades other nations.

The world may be changing, but America remains the indispensable power, the only guarantor of a safe and free world.  The crisis in Georgia forces us to lead again.  After all, if the U.S. does not lead, who will?

Michelle D. Bernard is the president and CEO of the Independent Women’s Forum and Independent Women’s Voice.  She is the author of Women’s Progress: How Women and Are Wealthier, Healthier and More Independent Than Ever Before.