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Post The West DID Goad Ukraine--But This Does Not Justify Putin's Brutal Invasion
Created by John Eipper on 02/28/22 10:36 AM

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The West DID Goad Ukraine--But This Does Not Justify Putin's Brutal Invasion (Cameron Sawyer, USA, 02/28/22 10:36 am)

I'm not sure about "realists" in general, but Mearsheimer's arguments stand for themselves.

Is Francisco Wong-Díaz suggesting that we don't need to pay attention to Mearsheimer's arguments, because he belongs to this or that school of thought? In fact these ideas are not the property of any one school of thought in national security. The idea that NATO expansion ad infinitum (or, ad Russia's borders anyway) is foolish and would end badly is and has been shared by a large number of important thinkers, ranging from Noam Chomsky to Henry Kissinger.

Back in the 1990s, when NATO expansion was first being considered, none other than George Kennan, the author of our Cold War strategy, wrote:

"Why, with all the hopeful possibilities engendered by the end of the Cold War, should East-West relations become centered on the question of who would be allied with whom and, by implication, against whom in some fanciful, totally unforeseeable and most improbable future military conflict?

"[B]luntly stated...expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era. Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the Cold War to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking..."

In the New York Times, cited here: https://comw.org/pda/george-kennan-on-nato-expansion/

Kennan is also on record as saying:

"I think it [NATO expansion] is the beginning of a new Cold War. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the founding fathers of this country turn over in their graves.

"We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a lighthearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs. What bothers me is how superficial and ill-informed the whole Senate debate was. I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe.

"Don't people understand? Our differences in the Cold War were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime. And Russia's democracy is as far advanced, if not farther, as any of these countries we've just signed up to defend from Russia. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are - but this is just wrong."

Recounted by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times last week: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/21/opinion/putin-ukraine-nato.html

Kennan was one of the signatories, together with a long list of foreign policy experts and eminent Cold War hawks, like Paul Nitze, Robert McNamara, Sam Nunn, Richard Pipes, Bill Bradley, Stansfield Turner, Paul Warnke, and Mark Hatfield, of an open letter to then-President Clinton, stating:

"June 26, 1997

"Dear Mr. President,

"We, the undersigned, believe that the current US-led effort to expand NATO, the focus of the recent Helsinki and Paris Summits, is a policy error of historic proportions. We believe that NATO expansion will decrease allied security and unsettle European stability . .. In Europe, NATO expansion will draw a new line of division between the 'ins' and the 'outs,' foster instability, and ultimately diminish the sense of security of those countries which are not included."

Cited: https://www.armscontrol.org/act/1997-06/arms-control-today/opposition-nato-expansion

Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense in both the GW Bush and Obama administrations, wrote:

"[T]he relationship with Russia had been badly mismanaged after [George H.W.] Bush left office in 1993." Among other missteps, "US agreements with the Romanian and Bulgarian governments to rotate troops through bases in those countries was a needless provocation." In an implicit rebuke to the younger Bush, Gates asserted that "trying to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO was truly overreaching." That move, he contended, was a case of "recklessly ignoring what the Russians considered their own vital national interests."

Cited here: https://www.cato.org/commentary/ignored-warnings-how-nato-expansion-led-current-ukraine-tragedy#

It doesn't matter whether you are a "realist" or whatever you are--it was objectively erroneous for us to deal with Ukraine as we did, interfering egregiously in the internal affairs of the country, participating in the overthrowing of a democratically elected government (in elections judged as "reasonably free and fair" by international observers:  https://www.cato.org/commentary/americas-ukraine-hypocrisy# ), encouraging the Ukrainians with unrealistic promises of NATO membership to tweak the Russians' noses, and then standing by while the country was, predictably, wrecked over what we light-mindedly, ignorantly, failed to recognize as what they considered to be "their own vital national interests," as Robert Gates said.

If we considered it worthwhile to "peel Ukraine away from Russia" (as Mearsheimer called it) and make Ukraine part of the West, something at the time desired by maybe half of Ukrainians (who are we to decide for the other half, by the way?), then it was imperative for us to (a) understand the cost and risks of doing that; and (b) be prepared to take those costs and risks on board. We did neither. We ignored the Russians when they told us that this is a red line for them, and so ignored the costs and risks which resulted from our policies, and did nothing at all for Ukraine, nothing to protect them from the inevitable storm, so the cost and risks of our foolishness fall entirely on the Ukrainians. And so we just stand by and watch the country being destroyed! Eternal shame on us! Of course it's of a piece with our entire foreign policy track record of this century so far.

As Mearsheimer said prophetically, back in 2015, almost seven years ago: "The West is leading Ukraine down the primrose path, and the end result is Ukraine is going to get wrecked." https://twitter.com/i/status/1485729483151880194 . And so it was.

See the whole talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrMiSQAGOS4 which is essential viewing for anyone interested in this question.

I will say it again, that nothing we did excuses Putin's brutal, criminal, and exceptionally foolish invasion of Ukraine. But we had better look in the mirror and try to understand what we keep doing wrong over and over again, before we completely destroy our geopolitical position, and thus our power in the world. I said it before--this is how empires end.

A PS for Francisco:  I am not "on the ground" in Russia. I haven't lived there since 2014.

Finally, Silvia Ribelles de la Vega in her post of today asked a number of good questions:

1.  "At some point, Trump decided to give weapons to Ukraine. Why? If they were seeing eye to eye, why did Trump allow that to happen?"

Why did Trump do anything? I long since stopped looking for any logic or plan in any of Trump's apparently impulsive moves.

2.  "Why then doesn't Putin explain this to the rest of the world openly? Why is he appearing on TV saying that he wants that band of neo-Nazis and drug addicts out of Ukraine? His diatribes make him sound like a madman, not like a serious politician with a sensible argument."

Putin did explain the background of all this openly, and fairly coherently. He and other figures in the Russian government have been telling us all this clearly since 2013--that their interest in Ukraine is one of vital national security, and that they will do anything to prevent us from peeling Ukraine off and turning Ukraine into an enemy of Russia, with foreign troops arrayed against them. We ignored these warnings. We somehow think that Russia is not entitled to vital interests of its own; we don't even recognize that they feel entitled to vital interests of their own. Ignoring this is why we are surprised that he did something like this. In fact it was entirely predictable, and was indeed predicted years ago.

As to Putin's "diatribes"--they are actually worse than it sounds in translation. During the last week or two, Putin really does increasingly "sound like a madman." His rambling one-hour speech about Ukraine's not being a country, given the day before the invasion, seemed completely unhinged. This is worrying--the last thing we need is to be facing a madman.

3.  "Professor Mearsheimer affirms categorically that Putin will stop at Ukraine, that he does not want to bring back the old territories of the USSR under the wing of Moscow (or its boot, rather). Yet, on my way to Costco to get gasoline (a whopping $4.35 a gallon, by the way), I was listening to the news on the radio, and the political analyst Chuck Todd from NBC was affirming categorically that Putin's intention was not to stop at Ukraine, that Poland and the Baltic States go next.... Who is telling the truth?"

We goaded Ukraine to go out on a limb without providing them with any protection--a crime on our part. This is not the case with Poland and the Baltic States who are full members of NATO. We are obligated to use military force to protect those countries in case of attack, and I have no doubt that we will fulfill that obligation. I think the Russians have no doubt of this either. Even if Putin has gone a little crazy, I don't think he's that crazy (and I hope I'm not wrong!), to start a war with NATO, which he could never win. Like us, he only fights countries which can't fight back (or who it seemed to him, couldn't fight back--the Ukrainians are doing better than expected so far). Attacking NATO would be suicidal, and Putin doesn't seem that crazy to me. Poland and the Baltic States are lost forever to Russia, just like Crimea is lost forever to Ukraine. These are immutable facts. I agree with Mearsheimer.

JE comments:  I'm quite sure that Francisco Wong-Díaz was endorsing Mearsheimer's view, realist or not.  Cameron, I'm impressed how you negotiate the thin line of simultaneously helping us understand how we got to this point, while not "justifying" the unjustifiable act of Putin sending in the rockets and the tanks.

News coverage of the war is short on facts and long on speculation.  The latest hypothesis to hit the airwaves:  Putin's invasion may lead to the fast-tracking of Ukraine joining the EU.  How desperate may he become as his war seems to be stalling, and his worst fears fulfill themselves?

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