We all heard former Ukraine Ambassador William B. Taylor at the impeachment hearings say — as so many do daily — that “Ukraine is on the front line in the conflict with a newly aggressive Russia.”
The U.S. is a vital ally for Ukraine and its security, we’re taught, and conversely Ukraine is a vital ally for us. Tucker Carlson of Fox News wasn’t buying it, singularly mocking the notion: “So we need Ukraine like a drowning man needs a life ring — or more precisely like an alcoholic needs a drink.” He explained, “We’ve been doing it this way for so long that we are addicted. Too many careers depend upon keeping our assumptions exactly what they were in the fall of 1977.”
Ukraine isn’t vital to American security; it’s vital to Russia‘s, and that’s why we’re exploiting a rift between neighbors, as we like to do. More accurately, as the entrenched Washington that President Trump is taking on likes to do: pit brother against brother, a la dismembered Yugoslavia, then feign horror at fratricide by the “aggressor,” our designated bad guy.
But Russian security was once — in a bout of rationality in the early ‘90s — generally thought to be consistent with ours and something to be preserved. After 1991, analysts across the board spoke of a new era of friendship and cooperation against a common global threat: something now only Mr. Trump seems capable of uttering — radical Islamic terror.
There was a time when we all gave a thought to infidel unity and security against a rising caliphate, rather than do the “divide” part of divide-and-conquer for it. Underwriting a coup to replace a Moscow-friendly government in Ukraine would have stumped most Americans in the early years after 9/11. But inexplicably, this is where we are, with added effects such as feigned shock and panic that Russia did anything but lie prostrate.
Before the inmates running the asylum had lost the last of their marbles, it was widely understood that strong and intact European countries are better for American and international security than dismembered, war-torn ones divided into smaller, less powerful and more penetrable statelets. Particularly in the midst of a holy war declared on us, in the long run it was also better for preserving and spreading our values.
But “defending our values” is what President Clinton told us we were doing in Kosovo in 1999, in an American intervention that has disoriented some of us for the better part of 20 years: NATO attacking Belgrade for responding to domestic terrorism that it had been sweeping under the rug for decades in order to preserve the “Brotherhood and Unity” ideal. We head-scratchers couldn’t figure out what America’s national interest was there; if anything, our play seemed to contradict it.
The smaller, more porous statelets we created in the Balkans were promptly flooded by Wahhabis, madrassas, sex traffickers, and drug-runners and gunrunners — all having waited on their haunches for the disunited West to activate its stupid button.
Sure enough, the domestic terror against which we stayed Belgrade’s hand didn’t stay domestic, as we found out when federal investigators flew to Albania in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Never mind the Kosovo Albanians and Bosnian Muslims who have been disproportionately filling up Islamic State roles, or “Kosovars” like the one who killed American servicemen in Frankfurt in 2011.
But bound by blood lies, we and the Albanians became “indispensable allies” in an oft-cited “eternal friendship,” reinforced by mutual bribes and threats.
More recently there was the 2017 spectacle of NATO’s oh-so-momentous admission of “vital” tiny Montenegro, another Yugo crumb that no American heard of. Having set disorder in motion, the West now needs “vital” Ukraine.
“OK, you need to get a pen,” Mr. Carlson quipped on his show. “The territorial integrity of Ukraine is essential to America’s national interest. Now, our own borders mean nothing, of course; defending them is racist, and it’s immoral. Everyone in Washington … will remind you of it …. But Ukraine‘s borders — and by the way the borders of Crimea and Donbass, wherever those places might be — those are vitally important matters and have been, George Kent tells us, for 75 years or so.”
Indeed, they are all indispensable — for poking Russia in the eye. Free-world history has no example more barefaced than a distant West siphoning Russia‘s like-blooded neighbors, one after the other, to NATO’s umbrella. This is what’s bringing us to the brink of war, and that’s the opposite of U.S. security.
A semantics trick has been played on us, an inversion of words like “American values,” “American interests,” “aggressors,” “allies” and “adversaries.” Why is the Ukraine vital for U.S. security? For the purpose of encircling Russia; why are we vital to them? For the purpose of encircling Russia. That’s offense, not defense.
“There is nothing more unnatural than the borders between the Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus,” the late poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko told a press conference in 1996. At Queens College where he was teaching, he expressed optimism about the day’s news of possible reunification between Russia and Belarus (notice this wasn’t taken as “Russian resurgence”). “I have Belorussian blood. I have Ukrainian blood and I have Russian blood. Where are the borders inside me?” he asked.
Yevtushenko — who wasn’t Jewish but whose name in the 1960s became synonymous with anti-anti-Semitism — is best known for his poem “Babi Yar,” a ravine not far from Kyiv, which 30,000 Jewish people were machine-gunned into by Nazis and Ukrainian militia in 1942 and which became a grave for 100,000. Thirty years later, despite being surrounded by several Brooklyn-bred Jewish bodyguards at a New York reading, the poet was beaten to the ground by Ukrainian nationalists whose parents had been fascist sympathizers in the USSR.
Thankfully, there are still some Americans with long memories. Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy is one. At the height of this month’s impeachment hearings, he told commentator Laura Ingraham of Fox News, “The president has a different view of Ukraine … [W]e are hearing fantasy about the Ukraine that’s been built over the last number of years …. Ukraine is pervasively corrupt and there are really troublesome elements in the government that we are funding including neo-Nazi groups.”
In case anyone doubts that this Ukraine/Russia fixation is a Yugoslavia redux, recall that we backed, against Belgrade — with training, personnel and weapons — the WWII-unrepentant not-so-neo Nazis of Croatia, who proceeded to bloodily and pyromaniacally “cleanse” 300,000 Serbs while opening fire on U.N. peacekeepers who stood in the way. (Much like our somewhat Hitler-beguiled Albanian “allies” later did under our auspices in Kosovo.)
Deign to recall that our Balkans misadventures were heavily media- and Democrat-driven. Today we again find ourselves trapped in a debate puppeteered by Democrats, clawing our way not out but around: Republicans won’t dispute the Democrat-spawned narrative of Ukraine/Good, Russia/Bad, so there has been little argument that denying lethal weapons to Ukraine was a threat to U.S. security. Republicans are stuck protesting only that Mr. Trump delaying the (wrong) move doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment.
Republicans are playing into Democrats’ hands, trying to win the skirmishes but losing the war to not go to war. We have all been recruited into avenging Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential defeat, just like we were recruited to Bill Clinton’s philanthropic war to overshadow his philandering.
If the question is about U.S. security, as we engage in these great power rivalries and pit neighbor against neighbor, think of the fact that — just as anti-Semites cheer Jewish infighting and the KKK cheers black-on-black violence — the unsleeping enemy takes a break to say, “Good, the infidels are fighting.”
⦁ Julia Gorin was a Soviet Refusenik who came to the U.S. in 1976. She is editor of “Hillarisms: The Unmaking of the First Female President.”