Monday, February 09, 2015

Drifting into the next war in Ukraine?

The U.S. is currently party to several wars in the greater Middle East -- against ISIS, against (someone) in Yemen, against (someone) in Somalia -- and probably some more in that area. We've indicated we'd like to stick a toe in against Boko Haram, but so far the Nigerian government is resistant. We aren't really out of Afghanistan, though the remaining U.S. sacrificial targets are ordered to keep their heads down.

We make war on the cheap these days: we infiltrate our spooks and/or mercenary contract killers; we blast the unlucky (and occasionally guilty) with drones; we only show the country's colors when these little wars pull in the full panoply of bombers and cruise missiles.

And now the usual suspects -- John McCain, various other neocons and apparently Obama's nominee to be War (Defense) Secretary Ashton Carter -- think throwing advanced U.S. arms to the Ukrainian government in Kiev would be a great idea.

Sensible people keep trying to explain to our more foolish rulers why this is stupid (in addition to pointing toward a criminal escalation of human misery). Here's University of Chicago international relations professor John J. Mearsheimer in the New York Times:

... the United States cannot win an arms race with Russia over Ukraine and thereby ensure Russia’s defeat on the battlefield.

Proponents of arming Ukraine have a second line of argument. The key to success, they maintain, is not to defeat Russia militarily, but to raise the costs of fighting to the point where Mr. Putin will cave. The pain will supposedly compel Moscow to withdraw its troops from Ukraine and allow it to join the European Union and NATO and become an ally of the West.

This coercive strategy is also unlikely to work, no matter how much punishment the West inflicts. What advocates of arming Ukraine fail to understand is that Russian leaders believe their country’s core strategic interests are at stake in Ukraine; they are unlikely to give ground, even if it means absorbing huge costs.

Great powers react harshly when distant rivals project military power into their neighborhood, much less attempt to make a country on their border an ally. ...

Yeah. Think how we'd react if some European power tried to arm Cuba against us ... how long has getting over that one taken?

And here's Stephen M. Walt from Harvard pointing out that jumping further into this conflict, in addition to amounting to poking a hornet's nest with nukes, is a recipe for failure and humiliation:

Ukraine’s fate is much more important to Moscow than it is to us, which means that Putin and Russia will be willing to pay a bigger price to achieve their aims than we will. The balance of resolve as well as the local balance of power strongly favors Moscow in this conflict. Before starting down an escalatory path, therefore, Americans should ask themselves just how far they are willing to go. If Moscow has more options, is willing to endure more pain, and run more risks than we are, then it makes no sense to begin a competition in resolve we are unlikely to win. And no, that doesn’t show the West is irresolute, craven, or spineless; it simply means Ukraine is a vital strategic interest for Russia but not for us

Among others who know better can be included the Germans.

The German foreign minister [Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier] recalled that a Canadian colleague at a NATO meeting last summer had asked whether Russia should be seen as “a friend, partner, enemy or opponent to us.”

“Perhaps,” Mr. Steinmeier said, “this is easier to answer when you are further away from the conflict region. Our experience in Europe — in good times or bad — is that Russia remains our neighbor.”

This would be a great moment for President Obama to apply his most sophisticated policy principle: "Don't do stupid stuff!"


Rain Trueax said...

The frustrating part is who is running for president who won't keep this up and more? Maybe Rand Paul, who is an abomination to me on other grounds but would he actually avoid wars once he got in? Candidates say a lot but what they do usually suits the military/industrial complex :(. Most of them are war hawks if not chicken hawks. I am still having a hard time getting past Lindsey Graham wanting to run for president...

Hattie said...

Jan: Right on, as usual. I would add that most of us are invicibly ignorant about Ukraine. And this is a situation where it is almost impossible to figure out the truth of the situation. So why jump in? We can't get the straight story, even if we try.

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