Of course Vindman deserved to be fired
During his testimony at the House impeachment hearing, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman said Oleksander Danylyuk, the chairman of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, offered him the job of Ukrainian defense minister. Vindman treated this as a comic opera episode, but he is a bit ambiguous about whether he regarded it as a real offer.
Danylyuk confirms that the comment was made but says it was only, and obviously, a joke.
That the offer was meant as a joke seems clear, but jokes often hide important truths, and the reading-between-the-lines implications of this one are disturbing. What Danylyuk meant, in all probability, was that Vindman was so favorable to Ukraine that he was indistinguishable from a Ukrainian official.
Such a position is not appropriate for a staffer of the U.S. National Security Council, who should be advising the president on the U.S. national interest with regard to the Ukraine, not lobbying for the Ukrainians.
The propensity of members of the foreign policy establishment to go native and become advocates for whatever nation they deal with is well known. This creates problems enough among the diplomats in the State Department, and one major purpose of having a White House staff is to counter this going-native bias. Reinforcing it is a bad idea, indeed.
The damage caused by bad staffing is well illustrated by the incoherence of U.S. policy vis-à-vis Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine have a long, bloody, and tragic history, of which we have little grasp.
Most important, the U.S. has no vital interest in Ukraine. Whatever we may think about Russian actions with the respect to the Crimea, the Donbass, and the 2014 coup (and strong arguments exist on all sides), none of the issues is crucial to the security of the U.S.
Consequently, our war-hawk response to support Ukraine risks serious embroilment with Russia, perhaps to the point of nuclear war, to no good purpose. Lest this seem fanciful, remember that the two world wars of the 20th century were triggered when great powers gave war guarantees to weak and irresponsible allies (
Austria to Serbia Germany to Austria in 1914 and England to Poland in 1939).
If one adds another layer of complexity to the analysis, the situation becomes even more dangerous. The Russians know we have no vital interest in the Ukraine, so our policies must puzzle them. For example, given that the Crimea was not part of historic Ukraine, and that most of its inhabitants want to be with Russia, why is preventing this a major U.S. policy goal? Perhaps it should be, but I have yet to hear a persuasive reason.
The reality that U.S. policy is driven by ignorant politicians seeking domestic political advantage must seem too bizarre to be credible, so the Russians seek more rational explanations. Their logical conclusion would be that we are actually motivated by hostility toward Russia and that Ukraine is a useful pawn. In this scenario, our aid would be a bribe to Ukrainian officials to keep Ukraine and Russia from reaching a settlement of differences. And their response would be to send us a message by causing trouble for us in other areas, a message we would not get because our policy is in fact venal and incoherent.
In this jungle of misapprehension, mendacity, and political corruption, the president badly needs good staff work from officials who have no doubt that they work for him and for the U.S., not for any foreign client.
Vindman, it is clear, did not pass this test.
James V DeLong lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He also wrote There’s More to Russia Than Meets the Eye.
Image: C-SPAN via YouTube.