USING BUSH AS A MOTIVATING TOOL…. And here I thought George W. Bush couldn’t possibly be a positive, productive role model on the international stage. I stand corrected.

Nicolas Sarkozy saved the President of Georgia from being hanged “by the balls” — a threat made last summer by Vladimir Putin, according to an account that emerged yesterday from the Elysee Palace.

The Russian Prime Minister had revealed his plans for disposing of Mr Saakashvili when Mr Sarkozy was in Moscow in August to broker a ceasefire in Georgia.

Jean-David Levitte, Mr Sarkozy’s chief diplomatic adviser, reported the exchange in a news magazine before an EU-Russia summit today. The meeting will be chaired by the French leader and President Medvedev.

With Russian tanks only 30 miles from Tbilisi on August 12, Mr Sarkozy told Mr Putin that the world would not accept the overthrow of Georgia’s Government. According to Mr Levitte, the Russian seemed unconcerned by international reaction. “I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls,” Mr Putin declared.

Mr Sarkozy thought he had misheard. “Hang him?” — he asked. “Why not?” Mr Putin replied. “The Americans hanged Saddam Hussein.”

Mr Sarkozy, using the familiar tu, tried to reason with him: “Yes but do you want to end up like [President] Bush?” Mr Putin was briefly lost for words, then said: “Ah — you have scored a point there.”

Noting the report, Glenn Greenwald added an excellent suggestion: “Diplomats and human rights activists could use that tactic for all sorts of noble purposes: ‘You shouldn’t detain people without trials; you don’t want to end up like Bush.’ ‘You shouldn’t torture; you don’t want to end up like Bush.’ ‘You shouldn’t use secret prisons or invade countries that haven’t attacked anyone or spy on your own citizens in secret; you don’t want to end up like Bush,’ etc. This would be the positive converse of the recent trend whereby thugs like Robert Mugabe and even Putin justify their internal repression by pointing to the use of such measures by the Bush administration.”

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.