With Ukraine in the news I’ve been pondering a lot about our general view of the world. One thing that has been striking a jarring note for me is the assumption that we bear some sort of responsibility for Ukraine. That Ukraine as an independent nation is something that we must secure.
To be sure, some say that in Ukraine’s deal to give up nuclear weapons, we pledged ourselves to Ukraine’s defense. But, we really didn’t: we pledged to rush right off to the UN if Ukraine was attacked – a UN which, of course, has a Russian veto and so the whole thing was quite toothless from the get-go. But even supposing we had an agreement to come to Ukraine’s defense, does this then relieve Ukraine from the obligation to defend herself?
Seems to me that if I were a Ukrainian patriot with a neighbor like Russia, I’d put a high priority on national defense. I realize that Ukraine is poor, but the Israelis were dirt poor in the 1950’s and their first priority was a military second to none because they had hostile neighbors who could attack at any moment. A Ukraine filled with people committed to the Ukrainian national ideal would have a very powerful army, thickly layered defenses and a reserve force made up of the entire adult population in arms. You know – be so well armed that even a successful foreign invasion would drown in blood. Do that, and the chances of that foreign attack diminish remarkably.
Ukraine’s active military is a little more than 200,000. Reserves about 250,000. To defend 230,000 square miles and 41 million people. That’s not a lot. That’s not nearly what you need. It isn’t nearly what you’d have if the Ukranian people really gave a damn. To give you a comparison, when Israel was attacked in 1973, out of an Israeli population of about 3 million, the Israelis mobilized about 400,000. That’s 13 percent. That can’t be sustained for long (your civil economy starts to collapse), but when your life is on the line, you do it. You’d think that 41 million Ukrainians could have 4 million ready to mobilize in a life-and-death emergency. And they would, if Ukrainians really cared – because Russia is right next door and the President of Russia believes that Ukraine is an integral part of Russia.
And if the Ukrainians won’t do it – won’t even show willing to do it – why in heck does anyone else have to care? Because wars of aggression are wrong? Well, yes they are – nobody ever has a moral case for starting a war, or setting things up so that the only way out is for someone to start shooting. But lots of things are wrong – the way some Arab countries treat women is wrong. What China is doing o the Uyghurs is wrong. The slave trade in Africa is wrong. The drug lords running rampant in Mexico and Central America are wrong. Lots of things are wrong which war, successfully prosecuted by good guys, could set right. But do you want to?
Who wants kids from Ohio and Alabama to head off to the Donbas to keep the Russians out of lands largely populated by ethnic Russians? Or send them off to Xinjiang to liberate the Uyghurs from China? Or even clear out the drug lords from Ciudad Juarez? If anything, I’d rather help the Mexicans dispose of the cartels – but before I hazard American blood on anything, I’d like to know for certain why we’re doing it and what we get out of it.
The first thing to keep in mind about the world is that it isn’t neat and tidy. There isn’t a completely right answer in purely human affairs. Often, there’s just a least-bad answer. The unification of Italy and Germany into nation-States was an utter disaster for the world and, most especially, Italy and Germany. The freeing of the peoples of the Austrian Empire was a disaster for the peoples of the Austrian Empire. I mean, I dig that Poles didn’t like officious Austrian overlords (who would?) but the officious Austrians kept a cavalry barracks at Oświęcim, not a death camp at Auschwitz. I guess what I’m saying here is think carefully about what you want before you act.
What I want, first and foremost, is a free and independent United States. If I’ve got that, then I am very satisfied with the world. Naturally, I understand that the United States cannot live in isolation from the world. People and trade flow around and ambitious people with wicked minds are here, there and everywhere. I do have to keep an eye on things. I will, at times, be forced to fight. But when I fight and how I fight must refer back to my first principle: a free and independent United States.
Now, as I consider Ukraine I note that it was firmly under Russian rule from 1776 until 1917 and then, again, from 1921 until 1991. At no time during those periods was Russian rule in Ukraine a threat to American freedom and independence. It just wasn’t. Sure, from a geopolitical standpoint it would have been advantageous to the US to have an independent Ukraine all through the Cold War…but it wasn’t a necessity as proved by the fact that all through the Cold War we didn’t have an independent Ukraine. If Russian rule is reimposed in Ukraine, what ill effect will this have on American freedom and independence? I can’t see any.
“But Russia might go on and attack more!”
They might. Baltic States, Poland. On and On. I note that Poland was under Russian rule from 1791 to 1918 with no ill effect on American freedom and independence. I’m very sympathetic to the Poles as they have put up with a lot. But does my sympathy for Poland extend to sending American kids to die there? Make your case, if you’ve got one. I can’t. I could not look an American kid in the eye and tell him that his death along the Bug River will keep America free and independent. I couldn’t say it because it wouldn’t be true.
Don’t get me wrong, there can be existential, global threats. Communism was such, as was Nazism. They both proposed the whole world as their jurisdiction. Fantastic as it sounds, the USSR considered the American Communist Party as the legitimate American government and Hitler had named Goebbles to be Gauleiter of America. Fighting such things anywhere is what you have to do because if they win anywhere, they are step closer to overthrowing American independence and freedom. But Putin is no Hitler or Stalin. He does not represent a global ideology at permanent war with all dissenters. He may be a bastard twenty different ways, but he’s not an existential threat.
I agree there are non-existential threats which still must be confronted. Radical Islam. Chinese imperialism. And even a bit of Russia’s aggression are causes of concern, sometimes grave concern, which could make fighting them necessary. While I don’t think Ukraine rises to such a level, I do hold that Russian meddling in the United States is a problem. But far more than Russian meddling I find the threat in Chinese and Islamist meddling to be a huge threat – especially given how much money Islamists and Chinese have to bribe Americans to betray their own.
In wanting to contend with such threats, I can agree to enter into mutual defense pacts with other nations. I can agree to military action and even full scale war. I do believe that if China attacked Taiwan, that is worth us going to war over – because of China’s meddling in the United States such a conflict, successfully concluded by China, would simply put us in a worse position vis a vis China and so allow them to interfere in our internal affairs even more.
It would, naturally, be to Taiwan’s advantage to accept our aid against China. If we win, they win. But even in such a clear cut case of fighting for American interests, I still want a clear goal and a clear payoff for our expenditure of treasure and blood. We can’t go out to bleed and die just to help – we have to be compensated for our efforts.
Suppose we had to go to war with China. Fine. It would be a years long and very expensive war in blood and treasure. I believe that even as ruined as we are right now, we would prevail in the war (China isn’t nearly as powerful as advertised). And that would be good. But we can’t do it like we did after WWII. That was a horrendous mistake: we helped our defeated enemies return to the world of competition with us. No. No, no, NO!. They had to pay. Heck, that war cost so much they should still be paying. We go to war with China and win, then for a century China should be paying us.
I’m deadly seriously here – after a war with China, I’d want every bit of gold and silver and art turned over to us and a 10% tax on China’s GDP for a century paid to us. Maybe even take some land from them: move the Chinese out and Americans in. The main thing is that they pay us for putting us through the trouble. We do not want to own the world. We do not want the world to do what we say. Yeah, maybe from mid-century on we’ve had some jerks who dreamed of such, but that wasn’t the American people. We just wanted to be left alone to hold our own. My view is that if you do things to us which force us to go fight you, then you’re going to pay. You’re not just going to lose the war, you’re going to be humiliated and then forced to work very hard to send money to us for a very long time.
It is time we got out of the dream world. All this UN, NATO, treaties and arms limitation garbage since WWII has been the answer provided by dimwits who never understood the world. The world is a real place. People do things in it. Good and bad. We can’t cure all bad and we don’t have the right to, anyway. Our primary duty is to look after ourselves – to make only temporary alliances at need, to make sure they are reciprocal (our blood to defend them, their blood to defend us) and when we defeat an enemy we don’t occupy and rebuild them…but we do make them pay. Through the nose. With usury. In blood and treasure.