Keep the US Out of Ukraine's Mess

It’s about time American politicians saw how their foreign policies look to those on the receiving end.

President Obama insists he does not regard the conflict in Ukraine “as some Cold War chessboard in which we are in competition with Russia.”

He’d be more credible if he were not following his predecessors in acting as though the Cold War still exists. Although the Soviet empire, including its Warsaw Pact alliance, disbanded beginning in 1989, Republican and Democratic presidents have pursued aggressively anti-Russian policies up to the present.

Most glaringly, NATO, the Western alliance created after World War II ostensibly to deter a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, did not also disband. On the contrary, at U.S. insistence and in violation of promises to Russia’s leaders, the alliance has grown and found new missions, such as intervening militarily against Russia’s ally Serbia and in Afghanistan and Libya.

That would have been bad enough, but former members of the Soviet bloc, as well as former Soviet republics, have been admitted to NATO: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Besides that, U.S. officials have talked up two other former Soviet republics, Georgia and — surprise! — Ukraine, as potential members of the alliance.

Moreover, the U.S. government had a hand in the Georgian and Ukrainian “color revolutions,” which brought pro-U.S. politicians to power, at least for a time. The Obama administration is still at it today.

The hostile push of NATO up to the doorstep of Russia (along with other threatening measures) has not gone unnoticed in Moscow. One can imagine the howls we’d hear from American politicians, not least of all the ever-belligerent Sen. John McCain, if Russia were doing something similar in the vicinity of the United States.

The sorry fact is that America’s rulers did much more than spike the football when the Soviet Union peacefully disintegrated. In every conceivable way, they exploited the occasion to assure that the United States would maintain its status as sole superpower and global hegemon. They humiliated Russia’s leadership, apparently not caring that it would never passively accept the insult.

It’s about time American politicians saw how their foreign policies look to those on the receiving end.

What’s happening in Ukraine is sad. The country is divided between those who want closer ties to Western Europe and those who want closer ties to Russia. Since becoming independent of Russia, Ukraine has suffered corruption and worse offenses at the hands of legal plunderers. Now demonstrations in the streets — even mob rule featuring neo-Nazis — have resulted in turmoil and death, and the Russia-leaning president, Viktor Yanukovich, has fled the capital, while the parliament has named an interim replacement. To make things worse, outsiders won’t keep their hands off.

One thing we can know for sure — and one need not be an admirer of Russian president Vladimir Putin to see it — is that the United States should steer clear of Ukraine. It is none of the U.S. government’s business whether that country is economically closer to Russia or the European Union (EU). The Obama administration should not only forswear direct and covert intervention, it should also shut up. American presidents must learn to mind their own business, even where Russia is concerned.

It would be best if Russia and the EU did not press agreements on Ukraine – Europe appears more guilty here than Putin – but that is not for the U.S. government to decide. Someday, if we’re lucky, people will stop thinking of trade as a matter of state policy. Why must Ukraine — meaning its politicians — sign an agreement with either the EU or Russia? Why can’t individual Ukrainians and private Ukrainian companies trade freely with whomever they want? (This question also applies to America and every other country.)

There are many sources of political tension in the world, but historically a principal one has been the idea that governments must set the terms of trade with people in other nations. Bad idea. Free trade should mean individual freedom.

In the meantime, the Obama administration should steer clear of Ukraine. Despite what Americans have believed for over 200 years, the United States was not placed on this earth to right the world. Intervention is more likely to make things worse than better.

This column originally appeared at the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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  • RussianPrimeMinister||

    The credible threat of violence is what we're lacking in America, and would go a long way towards restoring the fear our government is supposed to have in the population.

    Civil unrest like this is terrible, but dictatorships do not bow to any any other form of dissent.

    Also, first!

  • A Frayed Knot||

    I find it ironic that a nominally freedom and liberty loving person always seems to stand on the side of violent authoritarianism. First Iran, and now Russia. I wonder if Sheldon will also call for Putin to have is proxies in Sevastopol stand down. I won't hold my breath.

  • Bookkeeper||

    Conspiracy theory of the day: Reason writers get to appear so much on Russia Today in exchange for letting Mr. Richman push the Russian POV on Ukraine, Syria, and Iran.

  • Sevo||

    "I find it ironic that a nominally freedom and liberty loving person always seems to stand on the side of violent authoritarianism. First Iran, and now Russia."

    I find your supposed argument to be stuffed full of straw.
    Not intervening /= supporting
    Go spend your own life and treasure if it means so much to you, and please do report back.

  • A Frayed Knot||

    I find your lack of reading comprehension and critical thought to be both disappointing and yet expected.

  • DarrenM||

    It sounds like a reasonable interpretation to me. Perhaps you should read your own post.

  • A Frayed Knot||

    Oh look, I'm being tag teamed by dumb and dumber. How quaint. Given the lack of intellectual fortitude on both your parts, I will try to make this deliciously simple:

    When part of Richman's arugment is that we made the poor leaders of the remnants of the USSR feel bad, and when he describes the Iranian leadership as non-violent, it's abundantly clear to all but the most mentally inept exactly who he's supporting.

    There's a large spectrum of options between a full scale invasion of the Crimea and bending over and asking for Uncle Vlad to grace us with the pleasure of accepting his virulent Russian cock. (No doubt you, Sevo and Richman get off on the latter end of that spectrum). But in Richman's world, even looking askance at Putin is a crime against humanity, because in this bizarro world the US government is the prime evil and everyone is a bunch of hapless victims that have no agency of their own.

    The rest of us live in the real world where countries have geopolitical interests that don't necessary jibe with those of the US and the West and said countries will do whatever it takes to pursue those interests. And if applying rhetoric and diplomatic pressure can prevent war from breaking out and producing unforseen consequences, then I don't see the great harm in that.

  • Sevo||

    "(No doubt you, Sevo and Richman get off on the latter end of that spectrum)"

    Hey, cocksucker! Your supposed clarification makes you look more stupid yet!
    Go get fucked with a garden tool.

  • Sevo||

    A Frayed Knot|2.27.14 @ 11:57AM|#
    "I find your lack of reading comprehension and critical thought to be both disappointing and yet expected."

    Real shame when you're called on your bullshit, isn't it?
    Don't like it? Don't post bullshit. Simple; even you can understand it.

  • Bookkeeper||

    We might be able to accept the "individual freedom of trade" argument, if there was even a shred of credible evidence that the Russian Federation tolerated dissent.

    In other news, the Russian state-owned oil and gas company bought one of the last independent radio stations in Moscow last week, replacing its chairman with the former head of Voice of Russia.

    Hands-off foreign policy must be a two-way street, if we consider freedom an abiding national interest.

  • Joao||

    1. It has to start with someone.

    2. The first to allow individual freedom of trade (and make it known that that is what is going on) will have the moral high ground.

  • GILMORE||

    "
    Joao|2.27.14 @ 11:12AM|#

    1. It has to start with someone."

    "I vote you"

    And so I maintain my prisoner's dilemma winning streak!

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Hands-off foreign policy must be a two-way street...

    Except the only actual argument you post is that the Russian government is unfriendly to dissent within it's borders. For your two-way street analogy to apply, you'd need evidence that they were intervening in our politics.

  • Bookkeeper||

    Does espionage within our law enforcement structures count?

    Even if not, Russia has demonstrated that they are ready and willing to use Russophone populations in former republics to start military actions that mostly have to do with maintaining near-monopoly control over oil and gas flow to Europe.

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    The "Cold War" is over, although there are many people in The Government who apparently do not think it is, or perhaps do not want it to be. In any event, the Ukraine is none of our business. Don't forget that the Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire even before the Bolsheviks took it over in 1917, and changed the name of the empire to USSR.

    However, the Ukraine achieved independence as a sovereign nation along with many other areas of the former Russian Empire when the USSR broke up in 1991. The importance of the Ukraine to Russia is not only historical but it is also based on things like Wheat, Natural Gas, and Warm Water Ports on the Black Sea.
    Unfortunately, Ukrainians may look like Russians but of course they are not.

    All this does not make it a U.S. problem. Never has and never will. In addition, why do we still have Armed Forces in Central Europe at all? Yes, I know, because we need U.S. bases close to the Middle East so we can meddle in the affairs of that region, and in no small part because of Israel, which is yet another issue.

    Like it or not, we are going to have to evacuate Europe one of these days whether we like it or not. Maintaining Armed Forces around the globe cost billions. Those who like to rant and rave about national health care reform, Social Security, and Medicare better think about the high cost of defense also. And don't forget that running all over the globe did not prevent 9/11!

  • steedamike||

    "And don't forget that running all over the globe did not prevent 9/11!"

    In some views, this was part of the cause of 9/11.

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    It was a cause of 9/11 but certainly not the only one. The U.S. may have been terrorist attacked anyway no matter what.

  • Bookkeeper||

    We could probably cut our foreign military budget by 25% simply by relocating military outposts currently in Germany to Poland. Still gives us rapid reaction to Middle East problems. The Cost of Living is significantly lower. And we'd have to put up with a lot less EU-kvetching about US military presence.

    Ideally, from a Libertarian perspective, we'd withdraw all foreign military presence. Since that's not going to happen, the least we could do is make it more economical. That we'd antagonize the hell out of Putin is just a bonus.

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    Bookkeeper

    Looks like Gilmore already got on your case for using the words "Libertarian perspective." Be that as it may, this entire business of the United States of America acting as the "Policeman of the World" is really an American problem which should have nothing to do with some politician's agenda or ideology. Going to Poland will not solve anything. The United States simply needs to be gone from Europe in general. We need to start relocating our main concerns to our own Hemisphere, meaning The Americas. Regrettably some country is always going to be attacking another country and we simply can't afford to spend these enormous sums getting involved in all this stuff.

  • Bookkeeper||

    Dissents aside, I feel comfortable stating that the Libertarian perspective generally prefers a non-intervention stance that would withdraw all of our military assets from overseas. I think that idea has a lot of net positives. I also think it will never happen in our lifetimes without near-total economic collapse.

    I agree with your principle of moving out of Europe, but I don't think that happens in the political reality we all live in. If we're stuck with the idea of maintaining a foreign-stationed military, the least we could do is look for ways to make it more affordable. Moving out of Germany is one way to do that.

  • GILMORE||

    "In every conceivable way, they exploited the occasion to assure that the United States would maintain its status as sole superpower and global hegemon."

    ....

    ...is this supposed to be understood as "the wrong thing to do"?

    if the US profited by the collapse of the Soviet Union, are we to suppose that such profit is in some way 'unethical' or 'inappropriate'?

    What is noticeably unmentioned in this left-handed excoriation of US foreign policy following the collapse of the soviet union, is how any of these decisions - here so tut-tutted as being 'unseemly' or 'unsportsmanlike'... or *something* bad.... - were in any way BAD for the United States, either economically or regarding our security interests.

    'Spiking the football' may be considered 'bad sportsmanship', as far as the analogy goes = but it has nothing to do with the important stuff - which is the *score of the game*.

    Needless to say, sporting analogies in foreign policy are roughly the equivalent of gambling analogies as regards financial investment = cheap, insufficient intellectual shorthand used when you have no better argument based on the actual merits of the situation.
    (more)

  • GILMORE||

    (cont)


    And it is only after the preamble of moral hemming and hawing that we get the thesis of the article =

    "One thing we can know for sure — and one need not be an admirer of Russian president Vladimir Putin to see it — is that the United States should steer clear of Ukraine. It is none of the U.S. government’s business whether that country is economically closer to Russia or the European Union (EU)."

    I'm *sure* what follows this is a clear and cogent argument *why*, based on straightforward facts about the principal benefits and liabilities of any diplomatic involvement....

    ...oh, wait. No, its just a continued series of assertions (e.g. "It would be best if Russia and the EU did not press agreements on Ukraine"; "the Obama administration should steer clear of Ukraine." ; Someday, if we’re lucky, people will stop thinking of trade as a matter of state policy." ) without ANY attempt to state any clear reasons *why* these things are the case. Are they self evident?

    We were discussing the '5 paragraph essay' the other day, where one states an argument, offers 3 paragraphs of supporting evidence, then a conclusion.

    The most common criticism made by any teacher is that "you rephrase the premise 3 times, then state your argument as the conclusion, without ever having *validated it*"

    See above

  • american socialist||

    you argue like my freshman elements of grammar teacher in 9th grade. This topic sentence is out of order!

  • GILMORE||

    *footnote =

    Please, stop using the expression "from a libertarian perspective/POV" when you start to try and make a point.

    its effectively saying your argument isn't an argument = its *dogma*

  • Bookkeeper||

    Don't know if this was directed at me or not, but I think non-intervention is a fairly accurate generalization of the Libertarian foreign policy viewpoint.

    Aside from that, I think we're in strong agreement about the substance, or lack thereof, of this article.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    Its times like this I appreciate having a truly inept POTUS. If Dear Clown had the personal competence and equally capable people of, say, any of his predecessors back to Carter, we'd be moving the Sixth Fleet into the Black Sea right this moment.

    Its not feelings of the heart, but capacities of the mind which keep Obama in check. Look at Syria, 'nuff said.

    Hooray for haplessness!

  • american socialist||

    I completely agree with the article. I'm not for standing with the "Right Sector" and neither should anyone calling themselves libertarian.

    I wish I could say I'm shocked at the comments of "libertarians" on this board who want to needlessly provoke a country with thousands of icbms. It's funny how libertarians become militaristic internationalists when it comes to eevvilll countries like china and Russia. I also enjoy the arguments of people with Obama derangement disorder whose present thesis is that Obama is so incompetent that he can't intervene militarily. Someone should mention that to obl. I thought it was a good idea to avoid sending thousands of Americans to their deaths for no good reason, but I see that one good place to find arguments for military action against a country that doesn't threaten us at all is from libertarian commentators. Who knew?

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    "Obama derangement disorder."

    Ha. Ha.

    Nah. He deserves every criticism he gets.

    It's nothing like the stupidity I observed - and still notice - under Bush.

  • GILMORE||

    "I wish I could say I'm shocked at the comments of "libertarians" on this board who want to needlessly provoke a country with thousands of icbms."

    Who the fuck are you talking about? What?!

    BECAUSE ANY DIPLOMATIC ACT IS A STEP TOWARD NUCLEAR WAR /DERPTARDFACEPALM

  • american socialist||

    We must intervene any place and with anyone involved in unrest any where around the globe! I didn't know libertarians were such defenders of American hegemony.

  • GILMORE||

    ""We must intervene any place and with anyone involved in unrest any where around the globe! I didn't know libertarians were such defenders of American hegemony~!!""

    I SHALL BURN THIS FIELD OF STRAW MEN WITH MY FLAMING CANNON OF REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM!

    Shut the fuck up mary.

  • american socialist||

    "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

    Yay! Great slogan!

  • Sevo||

    american socialist|2.27.14 @ 1:19PM|#
    "Yay! Great slogan!"

    Se one post up, dipshit.

  • american socialist||

    i must say that seeing you and i on the same side of an argument immediately caused me to reevaluate my position. what... i'm aligned on an issue with a racist, demagogic, ideologically-blinkered cult member? politics makes for...

  • Libertarius||

    "Racist, demagogic, ideologically-blinkered cult member?"

    The leftoid doth protest too much.

    All I hear from the leftoids is "race race race, race uber alles, integrate race into every subject in the name of non-racism".

    You are clueless, like the rest of the leftoid sheep who infest this once-great country.

  • TheZeitgeist||

    I also enjoy the arguments of people with Obama derangement disorder whose present thesis is that Obama is so incompetent that he can't intervene militarily. Someone should mention that to obl.

    But Obama is incompetent, tremendously so. Bush, that hapless Shrub, sold the whole country a bill of goods on Iraq and politically maneuvered the Donkey clowns Hillary, Biden, Kerry, and Edwards to vote for it.

    If Obama had that kind of political acumen, think of the stupid shit he could pull off. Thank God he lacks such capacities; in himself or the sycophants he surrounds himself with. Again, I point you towards the Syria debacle.

  • Bookkeeper||

    A nation run by oligarchic thugs is unlikely to start a war that ends with their mansions reduced to flaming, radioactive rubble.

    The Russians are dependent on being able to engage only with pissant militaries from former republics.

  • american socialist||

    At this point, We need a ronald bailey article on why libertarians should support a decade long commitment to a country that never attacked us. That guy is like the smartest guy in the room!

    http://reason.com/archives/200.....-one-state

  • steedamike||

    Interesting article. I consider myself a libertarian, and I feel that a typical libertarian stance on foreign affairs is more towards non-interventionism. I personally disagree with the stance or the article that you linked. You can find more libertarian conflicts if you look for articles on immigration and intellectual property issues.

    A quick question, how did you find that article?

  • Rufus J. Firefly||

    "The country is divided between those who want closer ties to Western Europe and those who want closer ties to Russia. Since becoming independent of Russia,"

    People actually side with Russia? Is this a joke? What's the catch? I want names!

    "The Obama administration should not only forswear direct and covert intervention, it should also shut up."

    Tall order from a guy who feels the need to offer his vapid insights on, well, anything.

  • Bookkeeper||

    Unfortunately, he may be right. Eastern Ukraine is full of Russophones who would really like to be a part of Russia again. They voted Yanukovich into power and they're hiding him now.

    The situation in the Crimea is pushing past interesting to worrying. On the other hand, Russia probably would have preferred to have this fight before Spring was right around the corner. Easier to make Europe shut up when you can threaten to freeze them all by cutting off the gas.

  • DarrenM||

    to assure that the United States would maintain its status as sole superpower and global hegemon

    Too bad they are not more interested in maintaining economic power and stability, which is a prerequisite to maintaining 'its status as sole superpower and global hegemon'.

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    HOWEVER (always a great qualifying word) there is always the other side of the coin which tells us that if the United States of America does not "patrol" the world, then some other country or coalition of countries will. World War II should serve as a good reminder of this. To have done nothing about Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan would have meant our destruction. Now China is on the rise, and Japan is rattling sabers again, so who can say that we should abandon places like South Korea?! Allow Russia to do as it pleases? That requires some rethinking also. Remember, everyone hates us and loves us at the same time. Everyone wants to come here to the U.S. of A. so they can praise and bitch about the place simultaneously without fear. One thing for sure, living in the United States of America is still a Hell of a lot better place to be than say The Congo or a few other places one can think of.

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  • american socialist||

    ukranian territorial integrity is vital to american national interest! we must spend billions of dollars, provoke a country with thousands of nuclear weapons, and expand nato into the ural mountains for the sake of liberty. putin is hitler/stalin and we must forever ensure that crimea is ever ukranian for the sake of american democracy. libertarians for armed intervention and limited government everywhere!

  • GILMORE||

    Mary - you make Mandalay look *clever* by contrast.

    Think about that.

  • On The Road To Mandalay||

    GILMORE

    And your point is?

  • Bookkeeper||

    Putin has a demonstrable lack of interest in respecting any nation's territorial sovereignty and Russia has used disgruntled Russophone populations as a wedge to abuse former republics that want to slip the leash.

    To be fair, I'm not sure we ought to have a dog in this fight, but I think the EU ought to be a little more worried than they have been to date.

  • american socialist||

    the thing i've learned from libertarian commentators at reason mag is that libertarianism means that the government should act on things personally preferred by the commentator and not act on things the commentator finds objectionable. you guys should email me at american-socialist@fantasyland.com when you figure out how to work that out.

  • John Aronson||

    What an odd bunch of comments.

    Perhaps libertarians really are nothing more than fascists who like to smoke dope.

    Perhaps their heads were turned by the neo-nazi, skin head regalia favored by the freedom loving Ukrainian nationalists in Euromaidan Square.

    Perhaps they are still pissed off at Vladdy for keeping Snowden out of the Federal Supermax in Colorado.

    If it is the case that the average reader of Reason cannot recognize a transparent coup orchestrated by the US State Department and the EU then Reason has failed.

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