Hell no, we won’t go!
The notion occurred to the young head groundskeeper that he was missing the defining moment of his generation. He told his college dorm mates that he would give up his draft deferment and enlist in the military for Vietnam. Like trained emergency first responders, the men of Breese Hall inserted a lit hash pipe into the crazy man’s mouth, ending notions of heroism.
All these years later, even the gray lab coats at the Policy Werkes are given to wonder: What WAS America thinking? Vietnam?!
We still thrill to JFK’s “bear any burden … in the defense of liberty.” But that burden is subject to load limits when it comes to Ukraine — a name that itself translates as “borderland.” Sanctions? Sure. Hardware? O.K., but make certain their check clears.
Ukraine’s problem is geography. No major river, ocean, mountain range, or desert to separate it; shares a broad (but fertile) plain with its neighbors. Borders more malleable than silly putty.
“So near to Putin, so far from Washington D.C.,” they say. Which is why Russia insists on its own version of the Monroe Doctrine over a neighbor — poor and corrupt — with which it shares a land border of 1,226 miles. Thirty percent speak Russian — most of the rest as a second language. They share a religion and a history. Russia began in the 800s as the Kievan Rus. That history and determinative geography is the subject of a must-read book, Prisoners of Geography:
A generous view is that the United States and the Europeans were looking forward to welcoming Ukraine into the democratic world as a full member of its liberal institutions and the rule of law and there wasn’t much Moscow could do about it. That is a view that does not take into account that geopolitics still exists in the 21st Century and that Russia does not play by the rule of law.
Their equivalent of Cuba
Geographic uncertainty is coded into the Russian gene. Russia was invaded by the Poles in the 1600s, the Swedes in the 1700s, Napoleon in 1812, and Germany twice in the last Century. Russia suffered more casualties in WW2 than Germany. St. Petersburg and Stalingrad were eating rats. The last time the U.S. was invaded? The War of 1812, in a limited way. Two oceans to protect us, while Russia shares the same geography as Ukraine.
America condemns Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 without acknowledging that 60% of its population is ethnic Russian. Or that Khrushchev “gave” Crimea to Ukraine in 1954 — primarily to destabilize their neighbor. Russian czars wintered at the Livadia palace in a place called Yalta. Prisoners of Geography reports:
Given that he was dealing with the geographic hand God dealt Russia … [Putin] would not be the man who ‘lost Crimea’ and with it [his] only proper warm-water port. … For Russia this was an existential matter, they could not cope with losing Crimea, but the West could.
Which is why Michael Brendan Dougherty writes in National Review, “As a potential NATO member, Ukraine is basically all liabilities and no benefits.”
Acknowledging these facts doesn’t “concede” or “grant” a sphere of influence to Putin; it is just a matter of consulting an atlas. And understanding what is close, dear, and near to Moscow and what is peripheral, unfamiliar, and treacherous terrain for America to defend from Moscow. If we’re not willing to go all the way for Ukraine, what does leading Kyiv on accomplish?
Blaska’s Bottom Line: Putin is a snake but he’s not flying planes into the World Trade Center.