Ukraine

America Is Irrelevant in Ukraine

In Washington, many politicians assume the world revolves around us. The people in Moscow think it revolves around them.

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Ukraine flags
Vladimir Yaitskiy

The Russian invasion of Crimea occurred in a place little known to Americans, for reasons rooted in a tangled and bloody history. The showdown between President Vladimir Putin and the new Ukrainian government is a fight about tangible matters of intense mutual interest.

But many Americans can't address international crises without sounding like a Toby Keith song: "I Wanna Talk About Me." If bad things are happening anywhere in the world, it must be something we caused and something we can fix.

Listen to John McCain, the Arizona Republican senator whose current mission in life is to confirm the wisdom Americans showed by not electing him president. "Why do we care?" he thundered in a speech this week in reference to the Russian invasion. "Because this is the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy in which nobody believes in America's strength anymore."

This will be enlightening to Ukrainians who cherish democracy and human rights and thought our attention stemmed from shared values and concern for their welfare. No, we care about what's happening there because it proves the ineptitude and impotence of Barack Obama.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., insisted the Russian aggression came because "we have a weak and indecisive president." Sarah Palin crowed that she had predicted that if Obama were elected president, Russia would invade Ukraine because of his "indecision and moral equivalence" when Russia invaded Georgia.

Both of them seem to forget that Putin brazenly attacked Georgia during the presidency of George W. Bush, who had gone to considerable trouble to prove his "strength" by invading Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama, of course, has not been averse to using force abroad—mounting a surge that more than tripled U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan, bombing Libya to bring down Moammar Gadhafi, ordering the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and approving drone strikes that have left some 2,400 corpses.

True, Obama did stupidly threaten retaliation if the Syrian government used chemical weapons—a threat he proved unwilling to carry out. But the belief that the KGB veteran who rules Russia would have behaved differently had Obama launched some missiles at Syria is a risible delusion.

In this instance, Putin perceived that measures of toughness were irrelevant, because no American president was about to use military force to reverse an occupation of Crimea. Even McCain lamely agreed, "There is not a military option that could be exercised now."

The only humor in this situation is the dark sort, which consists of contrasting the hard rhetoric of Obama's critics with their pillow-soft recommendations. An editorial in The Wall Street Journal mocked Obama's stern condemnation of the attack: "That will have the Kremlin quaking."

It argued that, instead, "all trade and banking relationships with Russia ought to be reconsidered." Trade and banking relationships? All of them? Reconsidered? Oooh. That's going to leave a mark.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., offered eight steps Obama should take to punish Putin, none of which involved the use of military force. He did propose an offer of NATO membership—not to Ukraine, strangely, but to Georgia.

Putin used force because he thought the fate of Ukraine was too important to leave to Ukrainians. That's not exactly a new policy for the Kremlin. The notion that a great power is entitled to respond militarily to unwelcome events in its backyard has a long pedigree in Washington, too. Ask the Cubans. Or the Nicaraguans. Or the Dominicans.

What was obvious to Putin is also obvious to just about everyone in American politics: A violation of Ukraine is not important enough to the U.S. or its allies to elicit a military response. It didn't matter what Obama did in Syria—any more than it mattered for Georgia what Bush did in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It wouldn't have mattered if Obama had not tried to "reset" relations with Russia. It wouldn't have mattered if Palin herself had had her finger on the nuclear button.

What mattered, as University of Chicago defense scholar John Mearsheimer puts it, is that "Ukraine is of enormous strategic importance to Russia" and that "we have hardly any good cards to play." In this scenario, Obama's policies were as irrelevant as Bush's were in 2008.

In Washington, many politicians assume the world revolves around us. The people in power in Moscow have a very different and puzzling trait: They think it revolves around them.

NEXT: Obamacare is 'God's Work' Says First Lady, CPAC Kicks Off With Christie, Crimea Votes To Join Russia: P.M. Links

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  1. “The Russian invasion of Crimea occurred in a place little known to Americans”

    I think Americans know about Iron Maiden

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWoiw-nltSc

    (h/t some commenter whose handle I forget)

    1. I wonder how many people who listened to “the Trooper” Actually know it’s about the Crimean War?

  2. True, Obama did stupidly threaten retaliation if the Syrian government used chemical weapons?a threat he proved unwilling to carry out.

    Strange, I remember it more like threatening retaliation and then being told “hell no” by congress.

    1. And then having Putin give him a less-embarrassing exit.

    2. “Strange, I remember it more like threatening retaliation and then being told “hell no” by congress.”

      Except, like in Libya, he could have done some bombing without prior Congressional approval. That he declined to “exercise” this “power” is pretty demonstrative that it was his choice.

      As people have said, he could have done something. He chose not to – largely because this country doesn’t want another war. But the problem is that he has giving the impression that this country has no appetite to back up its threats.

  3. What about the promise we made to Ukraine in the Budapest Declaration, to defend their territory in exchange for them giving up their nukes?

    If we’re not going to keep our pledge, maybe we should ship a few of our nukes to Kiev. It’s not as though we’re running short of them.

    1. The Ukrainians were very foolish to give up the means of defending themselves for the promise that foreigners would defend them.

      There is a lesson here about relying on others for your protection.

      1. Second Amendment forever, bitches.

      2. I’m thinking after this is over, and the Russians have taken Crimea, the Ukrainians should probably strongly consider starting a nuclear weapons program post haste. It certainly doesn’t seem to be in their best interest to rely on the kindness of their neighbors anymore.

    2. The Budapest Memorandum does not include a promise that we will “defend” their territory; rather, we promised to recognize their sovereignty and to avoid initiating force, or threatening force, against them. We have honored that promise; Russia appears not to have.

    3. “What about the promise we made to Ukraine in the Budapest Declaration, to defend their territory in exchange for them giving up their nukes?”

      http://www.youtube.com/embed/z…..autoplay=1

  4. Bomb Bomb Bomb,
    Bomb Bomb Iran Sevastopol

  5. This is new =

    “The notion that a great power is entitled to respond militarily to unwelcome events in its backyard has a long pedigree in Washington, too. Ask the Cubans. Or the Nicaraguans. Or the Dominicans.”

    So = Chapman is a Monroe Doctrine Interventionist?? Who knew. This is the first case I’ve seen of a “libertarian” rationalizing Russian military interventions by saying, “Well, it was OK when we did it in our own region, so….”

    Or is he NOT saying that, really?…and just using that as a rhetorical device?

    Your guess.

    Given that there were no ‘unwelcome events’ in Crimea to speak of, I’m unsure what the comparison *really is*.

    Or, given that the United States has never actually made efforts to *annex* any of the above-mentioned places, I’m not sure the attempt at equivocation really even works as a rhetorical ploy.

    Still, this effort is marginally better than Walker, Richman’s stuff. I’m noting a gradual process of getting towards having ‘reasons’ for not wanting to get involved, as opposed to saying, “because nonterventionderp” over and over and over in different ways.

    1. Yup. Hey, maybe — just maybe — we might get a full-on “fuck Russia for being an aggressive interventionist” column sans equivocation, followed by some thoughts on how/if the US should respond!

      We can always dream, anyways.

    2. “Or, given that the United States has never actually made efforts to *annex* any of the above-mentioned places, I’m not sure the attempt at equivocation really even works as a rhetorical ploy.”

      Well those places didn’t contain America’s only warm water port, or were filled with Americans waving American flags. If they were I have a feeling annexation would have been far more likely.

      1. Maybe, but I think we all know what the reaction from the Reason crowd would be if the US invaded based on such a scant rationale. Hell, the Mexican-American War had more justification than Russia’s war with the Ukraine, and that was about as nakedly imperialist a war as the US has ever waged.

        1. that was about as nakedly imperialist a war as the US has ever waged.

          I would argue that the Philippine-American War takes that title.

          1. …good point.

            1. Honestly, I would rather we act as a true imperialist power than the feel good bull shit wars we fight now where there is no economic or territorial benefit. I wish Iraq was about the oil, and we plundered everything they had to compensate for the loss of lives and treasure. Instead, we get all high and mighty, showing how good and pure we are while Chinese Companies mine the significant mineral resources in Afghanistan.

              Would prefer honesty and profit over bullshit and poverty.

              1. And, when you get right down to it, it didn’t take all that long for post-colonial genocide and kleptocracy to make old fashioned Colonial Imperialism look pretty goddamned good.

            2. Or virtually any war the US fought against Native Americans

          2. We still have the chunks we tore off Mexico…

    3. But we did try to annex Cuba, several times. We only gave up when get got a sweeter deal after the Spanish-American War where we traded any claims over Cuba for Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. However, even after that, the US strong-armed Cuba into accepting a treaty that allowed the US to intervene in Cuba if the government wasn’t to our liking. We also forced Cuba to “lease” Gitmo.

      1. Sure, and is that behavior typically applauded by libertarians? Besides which, whatever else you can say about those conquests there is an actual case that can be made that the US government really was better for the people there than the government ruling those areas, and that the US has made good its promises to those people* and on raising them up to an equal status as a member of the community of peoples. In contrast, I am not familiar with any region which did better after either Tsarist Russia or Soviet Russia conquered them, than before. I don’t see why we should be celebrating moves which mimick and supercede US actions which were among the most imperialistic in our history.

        *Personally I think it has mostly done well in the case of PR, that it fucked up the Philippines, and that its treatment of Cuba is more or less in between those two but that is a bit of a digression.

    4. “Still, this effort is marginally better than Walker, Richman’s stuff.”

      Really? It seems to me to be the same ol “Throw any ol argument against the wall and see what sticks” silliness that Reason contributors always seem to use when arguing against a war.

      It reminds me of how the anti-immigrant think tank, Center for Immigration Studies tries to make arguments based on labor wage control, climate change and others to stop immigration. In their case, I can kind of understand because they are anti-immigration first.

      But Reason- and Libertarians- should be Libertarian first, not Anti-War first. If you have to betray your principals to make excuses for Russia, then you are coming off as a standard blame-the-west-anti-war asshole.

      1. “If you have to betray your principals to make excuses for Russia,”

        Cite missing.
        I see perhaps two people making excuses, one of whom’s claim to being for liberty is suspect to say the least.

    5. Or is he NOT saying that, really?…and just using that as a rhetorical device?

      It’s Chapman, do you have to ask? Of course it’s a rhetorical device, and a sloppy one at that. He’s pretty much making a classic tu quoque fallacy.

    6. Does Chapman even claim to be libertarian?

  6. The problems in Ukraine, and Obama’s response to them, may be intertwined with Obama’s, likewise, silly response to Syria and his blundering in regards to Iran’s nuclear program.

    Obama should never have made his stupid red line statement on Syria, and trying to make good on that threat was doubly stupid. The only thing that could have been dumber–from the perspective of Obama’s own personal interests–was agreeing to put himself in a position where he had to depend on Putin to save him…

    The summit on Iran’s nuclear program (which coupled with Iran’s long range missile program is no joke) is scheduled to start in about a week, and, again, Obama is depending on Putin for leverage with the Iranians…

    Seeing Obama threatening Putin with sanctions against that background probably means one of two things: either Obama has already thrown the towel in on Iran, or Obama is so dumb, that he doesn’t realize how important Putin’s leverage is–at this remarkably important moment in history–to America’s long term security interests.

    Bottom line: Ukraine is important to American interests, but that’s only because Obama’s blundering made it so. Why can’t the fool sit on his hands and breathe through his nose when all logic and common sense says that he should do so?

    1. Because he’s a College Educated Liberal Intellectual, One Each. He hasn’t GOT any logic or common sense.

    2. …”Why can’t the fool sit on his hands and breathe through his nose when all logic and common sense says that he should do so?”

      People might not forget about O-care.

  7. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., offered eight steps Obama should take to punish Putin, none of which involved the use of military force.

    Did one of them involve this?

  8. If bad things are happening anywhere in the world, it must be something we caused and something we can fix.

    The Left thinks America causes everything – bad.

    The Right thinks America can fix everything (closer to true, though very expensive and hard).

    There are, as mentioned up-thread, excellent reasons to think that American actions and attitudes are relevant here and in world geopolitics in general.

    The US is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, so to speak.

    And here, specifically, if the Budapest Memorandum doesn’t involve the US in Ukrainian territorial integrity, what does?

    1. REAL LIBERTARIANS DONT BELIEVE IN TREATIES

    2. “The Budapest Memorandum was negotiated as a political agreement. It refers to assurances, not defined, but less than a military guarantee of intervention.[2][8]

      According to Stephen MacFarlane, a professor of international relations “It gives signatories justification if they take action, but it does not force anyone to act in Ukraine.”[7]

      In the U.S. neither the George H. W. Bush administration nor the Clinton administration was prepared to give a military commitment to Ukraine, nor did they believe the U.S. Senate would ratify an international treaty, so the memorandum was agreed as a political agreement.[8]”

      in short, it really doesn’t mean anything

      but its still a very relevant point of interest, as far as the Reason.com endless-repetition of “we aint got no bizness in Ukraine” goes

    3. “The Budapest Memorandum was negotiated as a political agreement. It refers to assurances, not defined, but less than a military guarantee of intervention.[2][8]

      According to Stephen MacFarlane, a professor of international relations “It gives signatories justification if they take action, but it does not force anyone to act in Ukraine.”[7]

      In the U.S. neither the George H. W. Bush administration nor the Clinton administration was prepared to give a military commitment to Ukraine, nor did they believe the U.S. Senate would ratify an international treaty, so the memorandum was agreed as a political agreement.[8]”

      in short, it really doesn’t mean anything

      but its still a very relevant point of interest, as far as the Reason.com endless-repetition of “we aint got no bizness in Ukraine” goes

      1. We have no “bizness” in Ukraine. This isn’t a monarchy (yet). The president can’t unilaterally make treaties

        1. You don’t understand the agreement.

          Under this framework, the parties to the agreement already have – under ‘international law’ – authority to use military force if necessary to enforce Ukrainian security and indepedence.

          to wit

          “The memorandum included security assurances against threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine as well as those of Belarus and Kazakhstan. As a result Ukraine gave up the world’s third largest nuclear weapons stockpile between 1994 and 1996.[2][3]”

          They have to *want to* first, however. unlike a proper ‘treaty’ there is no obligation by any party. Its ‘feelgood’, ‘just in case’ type of litigation.

          however = and interestingly, it DOES give some justification for action that wouldn’t require any UN authorization or anything for the US to take action if it thought necessary.

          In this sense, its NOT ‘meaningless’ as I said before. Only in the sense that the US or anyone else is never going to do anything about it.

          1. “however = and interestingly, it DOES give some justification for action that wouldn’t require any UN authorization or anything for the US to take action if it thought necessary.”

            Somehow, flimsy excuses for going to war are never thin on the ground.

          2. “The memorandum included security assurances against threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine…”

            That’s a rather deceitful characterization. The security assurance is that the parties to the Memorandum will not INITIATE threats or use of force, not that they will defend Ukraine from threats or use of force. The Memorandum could act as justification for American intervention only if it was because the U.S. took offense that a fellow party to the agreement, Russia, had violated it. The “assurance” is not an assurance that we, or any other party to the agreement, would act in defense of Ukraine.

            1. “The Memorandum could act as justification for American intervention only if it was because the U.S. took offense that a fellow party to the agreement, Russia, had violated it. “

              Right.

              I’m glad you made the ‘technical’ correction there, but the example you give is in fact *exactly* the current case. So, uh…. duh?

    4. It sounds like the Russians breached the agreement even before invading Crimea. From the wiki link above:

      “Refrain from using economic pressure on Ukraine in order to influence its politics.”

      But treaties don’t really matter. The only thing that matters is what congress votes on to do, which is probably nothing, so you know, whatever.

  9. “all trade and banking relationships with Russia ought to be reconsidered.”

    “Good luck getting your astronauts too and from the ISS then.” – Russian Space Agency.

    1. Really, how long before SpaceX could get Dragon ready for manned flight? In a pinch, they could probably do it this year, but I think they still need to build a docking system. Maybe a year for that? If we were in haste?

      1. They’ve delivered cargo to the ISS, so they already have a docking mechanism. They probably could, in a pinch, perform a manned flight just about anytime. They’ve already demonstrated all the necessary capabilities, including return and recovery.

        I’m not sure if there’s any specific changes to the Falcon 9 LV or Dragon that NASA would require to make them “man rated” or if they just want a few more unmanned flights before they put astronauts on board at launch.

        1. Forgot to add a link to Spacex pron.

        2. I thought they didn’t have a direct docking process–they just parked Dragon and then ISS Canadian-armed it the rest of the way. I guess that could be done with a manned vessel, but I thought they were building something different for manned Dragons. I don’t really know.

          1. they just parked Dragon and then ISS Canadian-armed it the rest of the way

            Correct. I’m assuming that would work for a manned Dragon as well. I can’t see any safety issues doing it that way. If it’s safe for the astronauts on the ISS, I’m not sure how it would be any less so for astronauts on a Dragon capsule.

            And if you think about it it’s probably safer overall doing it that way than having the docking craft approach the ISS all the way in using maneuvering thrusters throughout the docking sequence. But I don’t know what NASA’s plans are, and they don’t always do what makes the most sense. In fact, they rarely do.

            1. NASA is clearly the problem here. I’m sure we could probably do a manned mission via Dragon within months. SpaceX would be crazy not to have a contingency for a rush job. It wasn’t exactly unforeseeable that we could have political problems with the Russians, or that the Russians might jack the price to something even more unreasonable.

              1. Now that I think about it, I think the main technical hurdle left is the development of a Launch Abort System to pull the Dragon away from the LV in case of an emergency. NASA’s not going to allow astronauts to fly on it without that.

                Which isn’t a small thing by any stretch, but not impossible to develop and test within a couple of years either.

  10. “America Is Irrelevant in Ukraine”

    Which, if true, makes the Ukraine the perfect “issue” for politicians to expend their time and energy upon. If they can’t affect it, they can’t make it worse.

    Sadly, I fear this is not the case.

  11. Chapman is probably my least favorite Reason writer, he has an annoying tendency to oversimplify and not check his facts.

    In this case, he claims that “Putin brazenly attacked Georgia during the presidency of George W. Bush”. From what I recall – and for what it’s worth, Wikipedia seems to back me up on this – the war was started by Georgia, not Russia.

    That war is a prime reason why we should never, *ever* grant NATO membership to Ukraine or Georgia. That would give a two-bit despot the power to drag the U.S. and Russia into war with each other, over land where the U.S. has no national security interest. I really don’t think Putin/Russia wants another Chechnya, but if they do, I’d be perfectly content to let ’em have it.

    1. My question is why NATO still exists?

      1. Institutions take on a life of their own.

        If I were in charge of U.S. foreign policy, one of the first things I’d do would be to withdraw the U.S. from NATO.

      2. NATO still exists because the US is now incapable of declaring victory and going home. I’ve never been a fan of neocons – but that is the one thing I really remember fondly about Jeanne Kirkpatrick. She wrote an article in 1990 or so called – Normal Country Again – or something. Basically – the long Cold War mobilization is over. We won. Now we can get back to ‘normal’.

        Unfortunately, by that time no one under the age of 70 knew what ‘normal’ was – and a lot of careers in DC depended on making sure that wasn’t the outcome.

    2. Why would anyone pay any attention to wikipedia?

      1. I’ve actually found Wikipedia articles to be amazingly accurate and useful summaries of whatever I happen to be looking up… more so than any other source.

        Of course, you shouldn’t rely on Wikipedia alone in your research, but it’s almost always an excellent place to start.

        1. They did enlist a thousand “enforcers” in recent years, and at the very least, we get handy notes at the top of every article to point out what’s missing from questionable entries. It’s been a while since I’ve encountered any blatant falsehoods, and as former Georgia Supreme Court justice Leah Sears can tell you, people notice when you write about yourself.

    3. No. Georgia shot first, but that is not the same thing as starting the war.

      The logistics for Russian armored divisions are fairly complex, and the result is that mobilization of them takes substantial time and is very obvious to observers. So the Georgians (and US/NATO) knew a Russian armored invasion was coming, just as sure as if you see a thunderstorm in the direction the wind is coming from you know you’re going to be rained on.

      The Georgian government, more concerned about what Russian soldiers might do to Georgia than making the PR easy for NATO, tried to defend their country. They sent in light, quickly-mobilized forces to try to grab control of the Roki Tunnel, in hopes they could, at that pinch point, stop the Russian tanks. This necessarily meant fighting the Russians who were already “peacekeeping” in South Ossetia.

      The Georgians knew they were at war with Russia; the Russians had launched, indeed, a brazen attack. So they made a desperate defensive ploy in a “if we do something we’re probably screwed, if we do nothing we’re definitely screwed” situation. It failed. They never got through the Russian “peacekeepers”, and so failed to seize the Roki Tunnel. The Russian armored forces got through, and Georgia had no possibility of defense at that point.

      1. I still say Georgia started the war.

        According to Kitsmarishvili [Georgia’s former ambassador to Russia], Georgian officials told him in April 2008 that they planned to start a war in Abkhazia and that they had received a green light from the United States government to do so. He said that the Georgian government later decided to start the war in South Ossetia and continue into Abkhazia. According to him, “Russia was ready for the war, but the Georgian leadership started the military action first”.

        After the war, Irakli Okuashvili, who served as Defense Minister of Georgia, claimed that he and President Saakashvili had drawn up plans to retake South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2005, Abkhazia being the strategic priority. The alleged plans called for a two-pronged offensive into South Ossetia aimed at taking Tskhinvali, the Roki Tunnel, and Java, and an offensive into Abkhazia. The capture of the Roki Tunnel might have prevented a Russian response. However, Saakashvili believed that the United States would block a response by Russia through diplomatic channels, so he did not order the taking of the Roki Tunnel. When Russian forces responded, Georgian forces raced to contain them, but were outmaneuvered by the Russians. The Georgian Army could have defended a few key towns from the Russians, but President Saakashvili “let the Russians in to avoid criticism and appear more of a victim”.

  12. Let the people of Crimea vote. If the want to join Russia, fine. I’m sure the economic results of making themselves the only warm water port in Russia would be pretty good. Russia would provide economic and political stability, and that is a strong incentive.

  13. Yet another international even that is simply none of our business, but the powers that be feel the need to stick their noses into it.

  14. Thanks for the article. Pro-Libertarians in Ukraine are working both for EU integration and secession for anyone unhappy e.g. Crimea.

    For more on the 8 million participant world Libertarian movement, see http://www.libertarianinternational.org the non-partisan Libertarian International Organization.

  15. When was the last time we as citizens fought back for anything? Besides holding protests signs and attending rallies which they aren’t even remotely listening to. That’s what Americans are going to need to get. Congress isn’t listening. You have a Marxist in the Oval Office that isn’t listening.

    They are now treasonous. They are now sending our economy into a collapse. They are knowingly and doing it deliberately,falsely inflated on the indexes today to appear it isn’t so. They are talking amnesty for foreign invaders. Not legal immigrants. Illegal invaders. The Colorado Patriots, Oathkeepers, Minutemen and all the other reliable citizens might want to take a look at the people of the Ukraine. Because in the end asking nicely isn’t going to accomplish anything. We’ve been doing it the civil Bill O’Reilly way for two decades. And look where we are at today. But we have the Second Amendment. And Jefferson suggested emphatically that one day we would have to use it. The Ukraine people may very well be the example we need to follow.

    Charles Hurst. Author of THE SECOND FALL. An offbeat story of Armageddon. And creator of THE RUNNINGWOLF EZINE

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