- - Friday, February 20, 2015

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine should be undisturbing to the United States. It will prove Mr. Putin’s sepulcher. Let’s not stand in his way.

Mr. Putin has learned nothing from then General Secretary Leonid Breshnev’s objectless invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. It proved the beginning of the end of the Soviet Empire. (The mujahideen would have prevailed even without U.S. arms, as North Vietnam whipped the United States with substantially inferior weaponry.)

Mr. Putin has learned nothing from the Soviet Union’s post-World War II occupation of Eastern and Central Europe. It bankrupted the USSR, hastened its dissolution, and did nothing to bolster the Red Army.

He has learned nothing from his own military suppression of Chechen’s independence. It has provoked continuing Islamic terrorism targeting Russia and staggering subsidies to prop up Chechnya’s decrepit economy.

These serial military blunders diminished the Soviet or Russian threat to the United States by dissipating their military assets and funds on fool’s errands.

Russia’s current military success in Ukraine is the child of Ukrainian weakness, not of Russian strength. Since its independence in 1991, Ukraine has been governed by a succession of lawless, corrupt, self-aggrandizing, or inept leaders who alienated the Ukrainian population and drove its economy into a ditch: Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma, Victor Yushchenko, Yulia Tymoshenko, Victor Yanukovych, and current “Chocolate King” President Petro Poroshenko.

Virtually one-half of the Ukrainian economy is underground to escape the bribes necessary for legitimate operations. it is difficult to awaken enthusiasm to fight for a government that is robbing you.

Mr. Putin’s state-controlled economy is reminiscent of a petrified forest.

Innovation and risk-taking — the alpha and omega of capitalist prosperity — are non-existent. Ownership is dependent upon Mr. Putin’s will. Law is something he administers to his enemies and from which he exempts his friends. The plunging price of oil is racing Russia toward insolvency. And the monumental costs of occupying and subsidizing Ukraine may push it over the brink.

Russia is beset by other afflictions: a dwindling population; rampant alcoholism; low military morale; and, escalating emigration and a brain drain.

In sum, Mr. Putin’s Ukrainian adventurism might be likened to Napoleon’s return from Elba for one last fling at military success before expiring at Waterloo.

All empires are money-losing operations. That is why Great Britain voluntarily renounced its vast imperial possessions after World War II despite Winston Churchill’s signature boast that, “I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.” Mr. Putin’s occupation of Ukraine would be similarly self-defeating.

The John McCain-Lindsey Graham-Hillary Clinton-Jeb Bush perpetual war axis bugle that the United States is saddled with a moral obligation to rescue Ukrainians from Mr. Putin’s despotism. But they are wrong. The moral imperative of the United States is to act exclusively in the best interests of its citizens, not to play Don Quixote on a world stage. They pay the taxes. They obey the laws. They elect the government. They fight to defend its sovereignty.

The moral equation may be different for individual Americans acting in their private capacities, including Mr. McCain, Mr. Graham, Mrs. Clinton, and Mr. Bush. They may choose to volunteer to fight or give other material assistance to Ukrainians confronting Mr. Putin’s forces, just as the Abraham Lincoln brigade fought for the loyalists against Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War. They may win Nobel Prizes or otherwise earn a place in history for their ostensible altruism. The U.S. Constitution protects their liberty to act as a Good Samaritan abroad. But their personal moral code should not propel the United States into military conflict with Mr. Putin.

A nation at war is vastly more dangerous than individual choices to fight abroad. Executive power becomes limitless. Secrecy is substituted for transparency. Liberty and due process are compromised. What is customarily first-degree murder becomes legal. And the law is silent. That is why the Constitution and international conventions envision only wars in self-defense.
In doing nothing to prevent Mr. Putin from digging his own sepulcher in Ukraine, the United States would honor both its constitutional mission and moral duty to its citizens.

For more information about Bruce Fein, visit brucefeinlaw.

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