Bismarck allegedly once said that there is a special providence for fools, drunkards and the United States of America. If he did say it then it was because he could see how very lucky the United State was and is: moated east and west by oceans and with harmless neighbors north and south, the United States could always pick and choose which foreign affairs to take an interest in. Meanwhile, Bismarck’s Prussia-become-Germany had to contend with Russia, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Britain and a host of smaller powers all on German’s doorstep or very close by. It was a nightmare maze to navigate through (made more nightmarish by Bismarck, but he didn’t see it that way). Bismarck died in 1898 – which, as it turns out, was the year the United States decided that being blessed by geography just wasn’t going to cut it.
There was nothing particularly wrong with ejecting the Spanish from Cuba and Puerto Rico in 1898. There was also no particular need to do it. But at least it fell in line with the general idea of the Monroe Doctrine and a long-held American ideal that the Americas should no longer be the colonial possession of Europeans. But that wasn’t really why we went into that war: it was merely the excuse. The reason we went into the war was because a segment of American political leaders felt it was vital for America to enter global competition. The concept, boiled down, was that if we didn’t force our way on to the world stage, we’d start to decline as a nation. Cuba was the excuse – but all along what was wanted was Manila and the gateway to China.
And so we did it – and placed ourselves in the position of caring about China and that meant dealing with Japan and Britain and Russia and fussing about who would govern what in the western Pacific and east Asia. I think that most of us were taught that this was fundamentally a good thing – that the USA had to get involved. But now that I think back on those lessons in high school history, they never did get around to telling us why we had to do it. It was just an assertion that as a mature great power, we should be involved and if we didn’t, disaster would follow.
I try to think of what disasters would have been worse than Communist China, the Korean and Vietnam wars (not to mention things like the battles of Okinawa and Saipan) had we stayed home. Remember, Pearl Harbor was struck because it based the American fleet which was set to relieve the American garrison in the Philippines…but if there wasn’t an American garrison there? If the Spanish still ruled Manila or the Filipinos fully ruled themselves at that time? What would be the reason for attacking the American fleet at Pearl Harbor? Can’t really think of one.
Now, one can argue that Japanese rule of the Philippines and Indonesia would be bad. No real argument there. But China’s rule of Tibet is bad – anyone saying we have to go to war with China to free Tibet? The point I’m making: the supposed need for the USA to expend blood and treasure to save foreigners from oppression seems a little selectively applied. Either it is our policy, or it isn’t. If it is, then it is time to war with China. If it isn’t…then what the heck have we been doing for the last century? Being involved. And that seems to be it.
I bring all this up because now people are telling us we have to confront Russia in Ukraine. Saw a Tweet from a bluecheck Neocon today basically comparing the situation to Hitler’s rise to power. I’m really rather tired of that sort of thing – Hitler was a unique threat which will never arise again. The peculiar circumstances of his rise no longer exist and can’t be replicated. Hitler, of course, stepped into the European power vacuum opened by the overthrow of the Hoehzollern’s of Germany and the dissolution of the Hapsburg Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. That particular situation has now been absorbed into the European equilibrium (mostly by Stalin, as it turns out: he moved whole populations around in 1945 to make the nations of central Europe compact ethnic nations no longer having a biological title deed to lands outside their borders: some times brutality can get things done). It should also be noted that the power vacuum was largely created by us – it was our insistence on the overthrow of the Hohenzollern’s and the dissolution of the Hapsburgs which created the vacuum. Had we stayed out, the Franco-British would have had to engage in a negotiated peace in the middle of 1918.
Anyways – we’re once again being told we must get involved. The safety of the world is at stake!
Really? How so?
How, that is, does Putin absorbing the Donbas really alter the world in some intrinsically negative manner? That plenty of people in the area don’t want to be ruled by Putin I take as a given. But I don’t understand our interest in it. Seems to me that if Putin is trying to re-cobble together the Czarist Empire then Ukraine should be looking to Poland and the Baltic States to form a coalition to stop it. I doubt much that Putin wants a general war. He’d like to detach the Donbas with minimal fighting. But Poland and Ukraine with 80 million people against Russia’s 146 million is probably far more than Putin wants to tangle with. Ukraine can probably get at least some interest – if not direct help – from Turkey, Greece, Romania, Hungary, Germany, France and Britain; all of whom have a varying interest in keeping Russia curbed (the closer they are to Russia, the greater the interest). A bit of firm diplomacy by Ukraine should easily be able to get Russia to back off.
That they don’t seem to be able to do this and that they lack sufficient arms to stand up to Russia is a problem. But how is it an American problem? Ukraine has been independent for 30 years: that was plenty of time for them to measure up a possible Russian attack and prepare the means to meet it. I get it that they are wracked by corruption (including corruption where they have paid off Americans – most infamously Hunter Biden – for influence) and have rather floundered around with an aging military force…but, once again: how is this an American problem? In fact – given how corrupt Ukraine is, what benefit to the people of the Ukraine in our propping up their corrupt system which didn’t even prepare the military means to defend Ukraine?
America needs an American foreign policy. That is: a policy which locates what the American interests are and then vigorously defends them. Far more worrisome for America than Russia attacking Ukraine is China buying influence throughout Latin America. It is a problem if, say, Panama’s government is purchased by China and closes the Canal to our ships. It is, then, in our interest to see to is that the government of Panama retains sufficient independence to prevent such an occurrence.
I’m completely done with this idea that America must be involved in this, that or the other foreign land. Outside the Americas, our interests are few and mostly relate to seaborne trade…which is menaced only by China’s rising fleet. We should be working on ensuring we can swiftly put China’s fleet at the bottom of the sea…but we’re working on whether or not to send troops to Ukraine, which doesn’t help us in any way against China. It isn’t like Ukraine will send troops to help us against China. Forget about that. We pull Ukraine’s chestnuts out of the fire here and then ten years from now we go to war with China, do not look for a Ukrainian army to help us out – more than likely we’ll see Ukraine selling war materials to China.
After 124 years, it is time to write off America as a global power. It hasn’t worked out for us. It has cost us a fortune in blood and treasure and those who don’t hate us despise us. Our position in the world couldn’t possibly be worse had we, in 1898, decided to not care about who ruled in Cuba. And it probably would be a lot better. At all events, it is time to give it a try. Try an American foreign policy: cross us in our interests and we’ll kill you. Not attacking our interests? Good luck and God bless.