“…by the promises we keep.”
April 4, 2016
America suffers from a national attention-deficit disorder.
Every time in the 20th century that we have been confronted by a threat to our very existence, we defiantly ignored warnings of the impending doom. The sleepwalking continues in the 21st. ISIS savagery is in-your-face, but ISIS cannot and will not destroy the US. Russia, however, is and has everything ISIS is not and has not. Russia is the largest country in the world. Only one of its sub-regions, Kolyma, is the size of Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan (combined) or, if you prefer, larger than France, Spain, Japan, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Greece, Sweden and North Korea (also combined). And Russia’s conventional/nuclear/biological/ chemical arsenal is the largest--and most heinous--on the planet. Russia’s specifically anti-American vitriol exceeds anything seen in the Soviet Union during the worst days of the Cold War. Russia is aggressively probing Western military preparedness, its cyber warfare is in play, and its global media manipulation and disinformation has no equal. Moscow, moreover, organized and ruled the USSR (now deified) as the quintessential terrorist state. It institutionalized the indoctrination, training and funding for Middle East terrorism. Why don’t we hear about ISIS attacks in Russia?
More than a decade ago, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace concluded: “Whether Russian led integration on the territory of the former USSR will pose a serious, long-term military challenge to the West, depends in large part on the role that Ukraine plays or is compelled to play.” But today, Russia’s invasion, occupation, and war of terror in Ukraine are off the screen and beyond even the periphery of public awareness. Beheadings--with the heads of teenagers sent in a wooden box to their mothers--death for a cartoon, the hacking off of arms, the terrorization of civilians, the use of women and children as human shields, locating active firepower in nursery schools and hospitals, butchery and sadism. No, not ISIS, but more than 9000 innocents killed by Moscow in Ukraine and more than 1,750,000 Ukrainian refugees; unlike in Syria, there is nowhere for them to go. How long-lived was Western horror over the Russian Buk-M1 missile blasting 298 innocents out of the sky? Do we dare to forget so soon, or do we dare not to care?
Russia—a UN Security Council member, no less—invades and occupies Ukraine’s sovereign territory, pulverizing every multi-lateral and bi-lateral agreement in the process. But it’s worse. Upon its independence in 1991, Ukraine surrendered its nuclear arsenal, larger than that of the UK, France and China at the time, in reliance upon assurances by Russia, the US, Britain and others, of its national sovereignty. The U.S. then also ensured that Ukraine destroyed its conventional arms, precisely what Ukraine so desperately now needs to keep Russia at bay.
In signing the Helsinki Accords purportedly solidifying the borders of post-war Europe, President Ford said, “history will judge us not by the promises we make but by the promises we keep.” No starburst of intellectual rigor is necessary for friend and foe to understand what election America has made. It is we, America and the vaunted “Western democracies”, that are the bookend to a catastrophe not yet absorbed. Western sanctions (a) have been pitifully inconsequential given the enormity of Russian savaging of the world order, and (b) have utterly failed to move Russia. Conversely and predictably, sanctions have become dollarized for the constituency of Western politicians, with all the implications. Surrender the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal in exchange for American assurances of your national security, and what do you get? Putin’s cronies are barred from travelling to Disneyworld. Does Washington seriously expect to be taken seriously? Conversely, Russia, which also gave Ukraine those very same security assurances, barreled over them with a tank, forward and back. It’s the ultimate multi-national and monumentally rewarding fraud. What went through the minds of the delegates at the recent nuclear disarmament conference in Washington? Who will ever again dare to roll the dice based on US assurances of their national sovereignty and security?
This Administration has dismissed Ukraine as not being of “strategic interest” to the US. On the Republican side, a presidential candidate, no less, Donald Trump joins in the verdict. But a map would help. Ukraine is the largest country in Europe, larger than England, Germany and Hungary, combined (still, less than 3% the size of Russia). It is the land through which passed the greatest number of people who then settled to become the nations and countries of Europe that we know today. Ukraine saved the life of Captain John Smith, making possible the founding of Jamestown, the first English settlement in the New World. Ukraine established the world’s first democratic standard of governance, separating the three branches of government, limiting the power of the executive, and providing for a democratically elected parliament. This was 77 years before Philadelphia.
After WWI, Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine was pivotal to the formation and viability of the “Soviet Union”, all the while as Ukrainians were warning the West what to expect from Russia. Instead, the West threw Ukraine under the bus; on November 16, 1933, the US extended diplomatic recognition to a tyrannical regime as Moscow starved to death millions of Ukrainians in order to finally break their resistance to Russian communist rule. The “USSR” was to remain impervious for generations. Little wonder that Ukraine’s declaration of independence in 1991 triggered the dissolution of that empire, and the West reaped the dividends. No longer were we to be concerned about learning “duck and cover,” and M[utual] A[ssured] D[estruction] was to be no more, or so we thought. Anomalously, Washington congratulated itself, despite the day before having striven mightily to ensure that Ukraine remained a Russian colony. And Ukraine’s steadfast contribution over the years to American’s war on terror? Well, let’s not bring up awkward arguments.
Paralleling Israel’s role in the Middle East, a secure, independent Ukraine is the West’s single best hope for anchoring democracy in an immense swath of the globe. It is the cheapest investment and carries the lowest risk. But if we turn a blind eye, then the US, bewildered, will increasingly flail about as the world implodes around it. We will have yet again feloniously squandered the most exponentially significant asset to counter Russia’s predatory drive. And what remains of America’s credibility and respect, ironclad certainty about America’s international commitments, will have vaporized.
“The ignorance, the laziness, the pusillanimity, the perpetual fickleness and the credulousness of Western governments enabled Russia to achieve successively every one of her aims.” Karl Marx had it right then. And now?
Past Chairman, Board of Governors
Ukrainian American Bar Association