Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Why Ukraine Needs Obvious American Support

A couple of days ago, my brother Nate sent me a link to Scott Beauchamp’s Baffler article about the “hawkish cabal of elites that run our foreign policy establishment” and their desire, as yet unmet, of sending weapons to Ukraine, which policy he ardently opposes, contending “no vital American interests are at stake”.

Beauchamp’s assessment of John McCain’s position as “he’s never met an international crisis that he didn’t think he could solve with bullets” is a fair summation of the Senator’s policy tendencies, and his default to a call to arms clearly isn’t a help to legitimize the Ukrainian cause (can anyone cite an international situation where McCain’s not reacted thus? I am curious.). That Pat Buchanan opposes intervention is, however, hardly a strong argument against it, particularly as Mr. Buchanan cites the often-used phrase “an area Russia has controlled since the days of Catherine the Great.”
The historical argument for present occupation is one that is thorny, to say the least—for what purpose was the land controlled, and how?—and it ultimately comes down in fact, if not in law, to the question of who can effectively occupy.  The Empress Catherine II reigned from 1762-1796.  The British, French and Spanish had controlled all settled portions of what comprises portions of the present-day United States at the beginning of her days, and much of it at the end of them, as they had for several hundred years previous. Do let us exercise our moral duty (which many groups, from retroactive monarchists to First Peoples rights organizations, can argue is considerable—after all, native Americans occupied the territory for millennia before the Europeans barged in) and return to the status quo ante. But we’ve had an operational self-governing state here for more than 200 years now, so when does the statute of limitations run out?  Ukraine’s been a free and independent state for more than 20 years, with a population that is making considerable efforts to expand the democratic qualities of its governance, from adamantly opposing corruption to allowing the voices of many disparate groups, religious and social, to be heard--an enormous contrast to the growing authoritarianism in the Russian Federation.  But yet the RF has the greater claim on the Ukrainian land?

Also, Mr. Beauchamp ignores the fact that Russia is actively sending arms and materiel to the “rebels” in Ukraine, using a hypothetical scenario where Mexican anti-American rebels were suddenly supplied by another nation-state, and the "offense" it would be to us.  But his illustration is painfully incomplete. Why, if the United States had already invaded and incorporated the Yucatan Peninsula (offering automatic American citizenship as an incentive to shift a “free plebiscite in favor of joining the US” in its favor), and was now actively sending weapons and supplies into the northern Mexican states to “arm insurgents” who wanted to see that country become part of the Yankee government, should it be at all “offended” if another country wanted to help Mexico to maintain its hard-won sovereignty?  It’s not as if the Americans or Europeans would be funneling supplies into a zone otherwise untroubled.  Russia is the aggressor here. Crimea has fallen, and Putin is actively seeking to acquire more Ukrainian territory.  Ironically, too, referencing the Mexican scenario, one could in fact argue that Ukraine is even now a more stable democratic state than Mexico is, since domestic gangs are not kidnapping ordinary people throughout provinces in Ukraine and mass graves aren’t found by grieving poor relatives several times a month in the provinces around Kiev.  Cumulatively, the Mexican gangs have brutally beheaded more people than ISIS (not that the latter, through sheer determination, won’t soon surpass them), but since they’ve no splashy internet video campaign, this has been largely ignored by their northern neighbors.
Mr. Beauchamp makes a connection between arming Ukraine and that 1980s clandestine operation recorded in Charlie Wilson’s War.  I think this comparison is both unfair and fair. It’s unfair because it’s not like the discussion of whether to send billions of dollars in arms to a ragtag crew of bearded tribalists who hated everyone, (just the invading Soviets in particular at that time), who would (gladly, as we have amply seen) turn the leftovers back on the “infidels” who supplied them, was ever played out effectively on the public stage during its pivotal years.  Too, the Afghans did not even pretend to a democratic Western system prior to the Soviet invasion.  Yes, when you supply arms to an insurgent group, you can never be sure what or who will control them long-term, but Ukraine is a country trying to defend itself based on its democratic sovereignty, the principle of self-determination; the Ukrainians are not possessed of an ideology that makes them fundamentally incompatible with American mores.  And, truth be told, Russia is not good at maintaining control of its weapons stockpile either (Beauchamp says the missile that shot down the Malaysian airliner was stolen from a Ukrainian arms depot). For years after the collapse of the Soviet state, the United States actually paid for the securing of RUSSIAN arms depots, lest they end up in even less savory hands.

I see more similarities between Ukraine now and Britain during the early air battles of the Second World War and South Korea during the fateful summer of 1950 than commonalities with Afghanistan (at any time). Mr. Beauchamp says that “no vital American interests are at stake” in Ukraine. In this, he is absolutely wrong. The most fundamental American interest is at stake, but it is not the economic interest that has been amply criticized for inspiring our last several Middle Eastern wars.  This interest is the defense of extant democracy and the honor of the American state’s promise to assure the territorial integrity of a state that voluntarily gave up nuclear weapons (to the very country which is now at war with it).  If we do not honor that commitment when it is tried, on what basis will any other state have reason to trust us as we discourage nuclear proliferation?  By not “offending” another great nuclear power, we will have made nuclear arms an even more attractive object for smaller nations.

Ukraine needs a Lend-Lease Act.  The Americans were not directly militarily involved in withstanding the Nazis for two years after the invasion of Poland; the British alone were able to hold out against the Axis, displaying incredible bravery and endurance.  The American provision of physical aid to the UK under Lend-Lease was a vital contribution to their success—not only did the aid itself keep the island strong, the encouragement of knowing they were not entirely alone in the world when the days seemed darkest was a buttress for morale.  I am pleased to hear that the British are actually sending troops to Ukraine, if the Kiev Post article is accurate. I hope that even if the United States limits itself militarily, making the excuse that Russia hasn’t physically threatened our homeland, that it will provide the material support to this beacon of light on the edge of Europe, so that they will know our democracy stands with theirs.

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