Don't Kid Yourself about Ukraine
Say what you will about Vladimir Putin. Some of worst may be true. Say what you will about Kremlin policy. A totalitarian history might still have some traction in Moscow. And say what you will about the Russian majority. They still seem to prefer a strong man at the helm, chaps like Vladimir Putin. But whatever you believe or say about Putin or Russia, you also have to ask: compared to what?
And don’t kid yourself about Ukraine. The issue there is not right or wrong, legitimacy or illegitimacy. Neither side has a sovereignty argument. And the dispute isn’t about democracy or freedom either. The real danger in east Europe is nuclear chicken - a dangerous game with a short fuse. Ukraine has 15 active nuclear reactors.
Ukraine dispute has no moral high ground either. US foreign policy folly has done much to undermine personal sovereignty, national sovereignty, and the good name of democracy worldwide. America has been slicing and dicing polities in East Europe, Africa, the Arab world, and elsewhere for decades pretending that the default setting is democracy. Distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate are now arbitrary, in the end, a function of power. And the first democratic election is often the last.
When US State Department sends Assistant Secretary of State Vicky Nuland to Kiev to stir the pot, posing with neo- Nazis, supporting a pro-EU coup; no one should be surprised when Lavrov gives Kerry and Kiev a bloody nose. Any US ‘diplomat’ who flirts with fascists, or plays with nuclear matches, is looking for trouble.
Victoria Nuland is now the central figure in both the Libyan and Ukraine fiascos. Indeed, she was promoted to Assistant Secretary of State by Barack Obama after the Benghazi charade, a cover-up which tried to whitewash the Islamist role in the murder of diplomats. The irony doesn’t end there; Ms. Nuland claims to be a Jew of Russian descent. She and American foreign policy now enable a neo-Nazi coup and regime in Kiev. With Hillary Clinton in the presidential wings, American policy probably hasn’t heard the last from Nuland.
The American Right and Left now share common ground. Hillary Clinton and John McCain now occupy the same foreign policy turf, sod with more than a whiff of imperialism and anti-Semitism. Strange bedfellows indeed! One of the few sober voices on today’s crisis is Jack Matlock, former ambassador to the USSR. Matlock fingers NATO’s ham-fisted interventions and expansion as the source of Kremlin angst. Progressive imperialism marches under a “humanitarian” flag these days.
Ukraine, like Georgia, is a political cesspool cum economic basket case; civic train wrecks with ready nuclear potential. Loose lips in Kiev are already talking about banning the Russian language, “scorching” the ground under Russians, and rearming opportunists with nuclear weapons. With luck, Ukraine no longer has any nuclear warheads on hand, but Kiev still has a very sophisticated nuclear infrastructure, a support system for 2000 weapons until a few years ago. Half of Ukraine’s electric power comes from nuclear plants.
A dirty bomb might be had in six months or less. Putin and his colleagues, predictably, will not tolerate a hostile, unstable, nuclear armed border state. The possibility that NATO would rearm or fortify a regime sharing power with crypto-Nazis in Kiev is every Russian’s worst nightmare – indeed, an open invitation for Moscow to secure all of Ukraine’s infrastructure in the name of nuclear sanity.
Russia can no more live with a hostile nuclear border state than the United States could tolerate nuclear weapons in Cuban, Venezuelan, or Mexican cartel hands. The crucial distinction between Moscow and Washington at the moment is not policy, however. The difference at the moment is adult leadership.
Russia has been a relative success since the demise of the Soviet Union, because the Kremlin has had a modicum of political stability and just enough natural resources not to mortgage its national integrity to creditors. In the same two decades, America and the EU have done their best to flirt with cross-border chaos, default, and bankruptcy.
The chickens of proliferate social democracy are home to roost too. Political acedia, apathy, and incompetence are ever the ingredients for failure. Domestic malfunction is often the source of manufactured political distractions abroad.
All of this leads to a larger strategic question. Do the EU and America still have game?
If economic, military, and foreign policy performance of the past two decades is evidence, the answer is no! If progress with terror and associated Islamism is a measure, the answer is no! If courageous, moral, or innovative leadership is a metric, the answer is still no!
Does NATO really want to raise the ante with Obama, Kerry, Power, Hagel, Clapper, and Brennan at the helm? A chronically weak American politburo might not be the best team to field in a spat over Ukraine. And a government, nay an administration, which cannot manage a website in the digital age, is not one likely to prosecute a successful economic or shooting war, one with atomic potential.
Also, remember that any US general who might be a tad independent or think for himself has been put out to pasture. There isn’t a serving Obama flag in the Pentagon with a winning record, won a war, anywhere.
The US may have had variety of military adventures globally since the Korean War, but America hasn’t prevailed since 1945. And with general officer honor, measures of military effectiveness, and quaint notions like victory off the table; who wants to double down? Or worse, hazard an economic or shooting war with Russia with team Obama at the helm -- “leading from behind?” Remember any pain from a conflict over Ukraine will be European; and there, Russia has a home field advantage.
Before the White House raises the stakes, or puts another “bailout” on the table, in East Europe, America might want to wait for regime change in Brussels and Washington. At the moment, Europe and the US are playing with bush league coaching and very little game.
Or as a doomed Scottish politician of another day might put it: “Something wicked this way comes ... It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” In the classic tale of regime change, a king literally loses his head. But in the end, Macbeth’s failure, like Barak Obama’s, is metaphorical; a self-inflicted wound. Hubris is a terrible thing to waste.
G Murphy Donovan is a former Intelligence officer with tours at USAF, NSA, DIA, and CIA. He now writes about the politics of national security