July 27, 2014

A Few Random Thoughts About the Ukraine

A spirited discussion on this topic has sprung up in the comments. My latest reply went long so here are a couple of random observations and opinions on the topic..

Russia is being a jackass in the Ukraine. However, their interest in Crimea and Sevastopol in particular is of vital importance to their nation. The Crimea is overwhelmingly ethnically Russian and Cossack so even if we were going by Wilsonian as opposed to Westphalian doctrine the ethnic self determination angle might give Russia a defensible position in that case. 

We don't HAVE a doctrine at the moment , Wilsonian, Westphalian or even Carteresque, so that's irrelevant. 

Which is one reason the parallels to 1930's Chekoslovakia cause concern.

Ukraine has grievances against Russia that are numerous and legitimate, including a large swath of their country that's uninhabitable for extended periods and mass graves filled by by Stalin with their brethren. 

However, Ukraine is not a bunch of angels, with some very vocal members of their polity having anti-semitic and even neo-nazi ties. They have been using the Balkan conflict as a how-to manual rather than a cautionary tale. They are also pretty much a failed state.

We (the US) have, in the 20th century, normally supported self determination as a matter of national policy and a big chunk of eastern Ukraine is ethnically Russian.

Russia, like us, is fighting islamic extremists and would be a natural ally in this endeavor. In fact Russia has given a lot of assistance in that regard including overflight privileges to facilitate our fighting in Afganistan and providing intel on Chechen terrorists in the US which we ignored, thereby facilitating the Boston Bombing.

The plane shoot-down was a dreadful calamity, but the airline ignored warnings not to fly over a FRICKKING WAR ZONE where 3 transports had already been shot down. I don't think that Russia intentionally shot down an airliner. I cannot conceivably have gained them anything.

Is this patch of black earth which is a huge ethnic and political mess a place we want to really get involved in? 

No.

But there is a problem with that. 

We guaranteed The Ukraine that we would protect their territorial integrity  if they acquiesced to our demands that they give up their nukes. So we actually do have an obligation to do something. It is a matter of global interest that we encourage non-proliferation. this is not achieved if a country that gives up its nukes is dismembered by others that did not.

Like, you know, Libya, who we promised not to poke at if they gave up their nuclear program. A promise we honored until the president leveraged the fact that the UK and France wanted to pay less for oil to support Muslim Brotherhood affiliated revolutions. Now North Africa is awash in weapons, thousands of MANPADS are in the hands of terrorists and Boko Haram is spreading pain and woe with weapons they got from Quaddaffi's arsenals. OTOH the oil is not flowing near as  much now.


So the "We gave our word" and "nonproliferation" carts have left the barn. The sort of brinksmanship necessary to protect Ukraine's integrity would be fraught with opportunities for catastrophic, 1914 style miscalculation and tragedy even if we had level-headed, grounded professionals running our foreign policy. 


 via
We don't have that. We have the crew that threw away an admittedly phyrric victory, in the process giving Mesopotamia to ISIS, set North Africa aflame, and has been making fools of themselves in the Levant.  

Given that the Libyan fiasco has pissed away any non-proliferation mojo that might be preserved by an adventure in Ukrania, poking the bear* does not survive even the most cursory cost benefit analysis.  The moral calculus is dubious at best.

The only realistic way to deal with the destabilizing and dangerous situation that is our shattered credibility is to wait two years and say "Sorry...he was a fluke. We're back now".

Even then, our policy in this squalid European mess probably ought to be to bolster our newest NATO allies and provide humanitarian aid. 

*the actual bear

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 03:36 PM | Comments (8) | Add Comment
Post contains 688 words, total size 5 kb.

1 Basically agreed. The Ukraine makes a crappy ally, giving us no additional security or benefits, but legitimizing Russian fears that the US is happy to push the supposedly-not-aimed-at-Russia-anymore NATO alliance right up to Russia's doorstep everywhere.

That said, Russia does plenty of other stuff to tick off the US. Backing Syria, for example, doesn't really give Russia any internal benefits, other than keeping the US and other Western nations occupied with the resulting mess.

So, we can't effectively stop Russia from doing dastardly things in its near abroad, we don't really want to associate ourselves with the people those things are being done to, and we've got other things to worry about with them. Can't we even manage a little quid pro quo?  You know, troll hints that we'll happily sell the Ukranians a thousand MBTs at a discount, then say "you know, if you guys let Syria swing in the wind, we'll back off this one", kind of thing?

The alternative is to quit pretending that Russia is a friendly nation at all - at best an unfriendly rival, at worst still an enemy despite the fall of the Soviet Union. Treat 'em accordingly. Freeze them out of markets, disrupt their supply chains, isolate them politically, maybe even the sort of low-level sabotage that we used to get up to (good luck defending those pipelines, Putin...) Make it clear that pissing us off has a cost and that we're perfectly happy to go on screwing with them. If "well, we don't want to start World War 3" can be used to deter us from taking drastic action, surely it works in the other direction - and if the Soviet Union couldn't manage to win the Cold War, there's zero chance the Russians can pull it off on their own.

If we're not going to go that far, why piss them off at all?

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at Sun Jul 27 21:47:43 2014 (ZeBdf)

2 Another basic unfairness that pisses me off is that we're perfectly willing to sell our best allies, Poles and Czhechs, while sticking our neck out for the useless bloody Ukrainians. It's as if all those Eastern Yrpians are one and the same for the sophisticated oafs in State Dept. and they can't tell them apart.

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at Tue Jul 29 16:07:35 2014 (RqRa5)

3 The basic issue there is that the basic mindset of the administration is that we don't have any enemies; any country that doesn't like us either has legitimate grievances caused by past imperialistic behavior (and thus can be appeased via good will and understanding). The security situation of the US is an artifact of past imperialistic actions and is thus shameful, yet also a basic fact of life which requires absolutely no effort to maintain and in fact draws money away from desperately needed social services for destitute women and children and toward corrupt white men in charge of defense industries.

Given that we don't have any enemies, nothing is an actual threat, and actually fighting is just an unjustified and barbaric use of our illegitimately-gained imperialistic power anyway, we don't actually have any use for allies. Unlike those who are opposed to us, who have legitimate grievances which we can appease, allies have interests in common with us and thus are fellow illegitimate imperialists, and also at fault for communism not taking over the world and even failing in Russia, where it would have worked except that we were too busy fighting it in order to preserve our own illegitimate imperial power. Furthermore, allies often have their own grievances which, while illegitimate, get in the way of us appeasing those who mistakenly think themselves our enemies except that they just haven't been fully appeased yet.

Eastern European allies are the worst, because their specific grievance is against communism, which is the worst of both worlds - their anti-communist attitude works directly against the idea that communism was a voluntary alignment which its peoples were happy with, and implies that other countries besides the US and its allies can be illegitimate imperialists instead of perfectly rational actors with legitimate historical grievances against Western imperialist offenses. Further, their embrace of Western capitalist values and forms of government and subsequent success can be taken as an implied endorsement of responsible and frugal government, and of capitalism as superior to communism, and is thus bad and shameful.

The Ukrainians don't have this issue because their government is hopelessly corrupt and a perfect example of why democratic and capitalist values are bad. But having them conquered by Russia is bad, because an expansionist Russia (despite having a historic grievance) makes our Eastern European neighbors nervous and they start demanding less appeasing and more concrete actions, which might put us in a position where appeasing the perfectly legitimate historical grievances of others would be politically difficult. Further, armed conquest of the Ukraine begs the question of why the Ukraine broke away in the first place, which goes to all sorts of places no liberal of good understanding wishes to pursue (especially as they relate to atrocities committed by the USSR and resolutely ignored by the left since). How much happier if the Ukrainians were to merely appease the Russians by simply ceding their entire territory, which would both appease the Russians and allow the spread of Putin's regime to additional area, further discrediting capitalism since everyone already knows how corrupt it is.

Furthermore, it's drawing political attention away from Israel, where the Palestinian tactic of using civilians to screen its rocket attacks will only work if people pay attention to the dead civilians that pile up after, and since the Palestinian cause is of course the world's Super Most Important Historical Legitimate Grievance, that's bad in and of itself. How can the evil Israelis, who of course have no legitimate historical grievance because they're allied with the West, possibly be pushed into the sea if nobody is paying attention to their atrocities while studiously ignoring the morality of firing unguided rockets vaguely in the direction of civilians due to your simmering legitimate historical grievance?

Good lord, that hurt to write.

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at Wed Jul 30 03:48:08 2014 (ZeBdf)

4 Avatar - basically, it's a case of "No worse friend, no better enemy."

The appalling thing is that what you say isn't an over-the-top parody of government incompetence; it's how the present administration (and a significant proportion of the Western world) seems to think.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at Wed Jul 30 04:08:35 2014 (PiXy!)

5 That was the hurty bit, yes.

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at Wed Jul 30 15:40:04 2014 (zJsIy)

6 Avatar, that was fantastic -- especially the first two paragraphs. I really do think you have nailed it.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at Wed Jul 30 23:18:57 2014 (+rSRq)

7 Avatar:
http://brickmuppet.mee.nu/images/af5.gif

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at Thu Jul 31 01:03:09 2014 (DnAJl)

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