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July 18, 2018

The Ukraine Was a Test Case of American Foreign Policy Moralism Vs. American Foreign Policy Realism, and Realism Won in a Rout

The basic tension in US foreign policy theorizing is between moralism and realism. Moralism is an idealistic position that urges that we bear any burden in support of liberty. Realism is a far less idealistic position that says we'll ask ourselves -- realistically -- how much of a burden we're willing to bear in support of liberty.

There is virtually no one who is a 100% moralist and virtually no one who is a 100% realist. Virtually everyone is a mix, somewhere on the spectrum between these two poles.

The disputes come not between absolute moralists, who don't exist in any large numbers, and absolute realists, who likewise don't exist in large numbers, but between those who urge a more moralistic foreign policy, and those who ure a more realistic one.

Though those urging for more moralism are still informed by realism and those urging realism are still animated by moralism.

It's a question of degree.

My diagnosis of the foreign policy establishment's and neocons' analysis of foreign policy is that they view things through an almost purely moral lens, as if it's dirty and grubby to even consider pesky little questions like "What realistically can be done to vindicate this moral right? What can reasonably be asked of the American people to vindicate this moral right?"

And I would argue that the foreign policy establishment, and the neocons who dominate the foreign policy establishment's right-hand wing, are far too devoted to a risibly moralistic concept of foreign policy that results in immoral and perverse outcomes.

Let's look at the Ukraine.

Ukraine has always been dominated by Russia. Russia colonized it. Russia annexed it. Russia suppressed Ukrainians' own language as well as its (Christian) church.

I've known some Ukranian-Americans, and they were flag-waving patriots of both America and their beloved Ukraine. They loved Reagan, because Reagan understood Soviet evil -- an evil Ukranians had been suffering under for their entire lives.

The Ukrainians have long wished for true freedom from the bullying (and worse) of their large, powerful, evil neighbor.

And they have every moral right to that freedom.

The trouble is, while they have every moral right, they do not have the physical might to be totally free of Russia's domination.

Ukraine, while formally an independent country since it broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991, continued suffering under Russian domination. Technically they were independent -- but Russia acted as a cynical colonial power interfering in Ukrainian political decisions and thwarting the will of this long-oppressed people.

In 2013, the so-called Euromaidan Revolution began.

You can read up on that as you like, but the major thrust is that Ukraine wanted to join the EU. They wanted to align themselves with free Europe, and distance themselves from Russian control.

So they kicked out the Russian puppet president of Ukraine.

Russia didn't like that. And the threat of a Russian invasion loomed.

The EU and the United States had different reactions to the Ukraine's morally-righteous but politically-provocative actions.

The EU understood that it was a nation of self-interested pacifists who would not under any circumstances do much of anything -- apart from issuing communiques and the like -- to guarantee the Ukraine's political independence and territorial integrity. Basically, the EU counselled the Ukraine to go very slow and not upset too many Russian applecarts.

Cowardly? Maybe. But while they could be accused of physical cowardice they can't be accused of the cowardice of lying to themselves. They knew damn well they would not lift a finger to help Ukraine should Russia invade, and they said so pretty clearly.

So they told Ukraine to not do anything so provocative in declaring their independence from the Russian empire that the Russian empire would reassert its dominance.

They did not lie to themselves about their willingness to fight for Ukraine, and so they did not lie to the Ukraine, either.

On the other hand, there's Barack Obama. The man who would, by the very power of the charisms God granted him, cause the oceans to recede by the power of his arrogant gaze alone.

Remember Victoria Nuland's "Fuck the EU!" phone call that leaked?

Well, the "Fuck the EU" concerned the EU's cautious, go-slow urgings. The US chose to ignore misgivings about a possible Russian invasion and encouraged the Ukraine to get into a fight with Russia that they could not win.

Well, the Ukraine got into that fight -- presumably expecting help from the US, which had encouraged it to get into a fight with Russia.

And guess how much the US helped?

Almost none at all, of course. We did the same things the EU was prepared to do -- issue Stinging Rebukes and Harshly Worded Statements.

But when the Russians began sending mercenaries and special forces troops over the border to pretend to be "native Ukrainians fighting to stay aligned with their historical oppressor Russia," what did we do, beyond offering some sweet words of support?

Nothing. We sent in some medical aid and other non-military aid.

End result? Russian mercenaries and special forces operators faked an "indigenous uprising," killed a lot of Ukrainians, shot down a passenger jet, seized control centers in the Crimea, staged a "referendum" on whether Crimean wanted to stay in Ukraine or annex themselves to Russia.

Spoiler alert on how that turned out: Armed Russian mercenaries were manning the polling places. Do the math.

In the end, the Ukrainian rebellion was met with fire and slaughter and put down. Ukraine's subordinate position to the Russian empire was reinforced. And the most strategically important part of Ukraine decided to re-join Russia in a vote that was totally fair and free of coercion.

The Ukraine is in no better a position than it was before the Revolution, except that more Ukrainians are dead and that a major part of Ukraine is now Russia.

Here's a question: Between the EU response -- go slow, do not start a fight we are unwilling to help you in -- and the US response -- go fast, start a fight, we'll be with you all the way (except we won't be at all) -- which was the more "moral" response?

The EU response looks less moral at first glance. After all, they were basically telling the Ukraine to continue putting up with a substantial amount of Russian interference and domination.

The US response looks more moral, but only at first glance. We pushed for the Best of All Possible Worlds solution. Declare your independence from Russia and align yourself with the peaceful nations of Europe.

But when the perfectly-predictable happened -- when Russia invaded with professional troops pretending to be Ukrainian freedom fighters -- we let them get slaughtered and set them down a path where they actually came out of the conflict in a worse position than they had begun it.

So which was more moral? I know it must have felt super-good when Victoria Nuland said "Fuck the EU!" and urged Ukraine to fight for its independence.

But how did it feel in the months and years that followed, with Ukrainians being bombed and shot and passenger jets being shot from the sky?

A policy impulse -- I think "impulse" is the right word here, because I can't ascribe to it enough actual thinking to call it a "philosophy" -- that felt good when announced, that felt good when it cost nothing at all, actually wound up feeling not so good at all when people started getting killed and Ukraine looked to America for actual support, support that would actually cost America something, and America said, "Here's a sternly worded letter of reprimand for the Russian mercenaries murdering you."

That's not moral.

Morality comes after wisdom, and wisdom can only be had if someone is honest with themselves about what burdens they're actually willing to bear -- not just the burdens they're glad to rhetorically claim they'll bear -- and what costs they're willing to pay.

People who lie to themselves about what they're willing to do are not wise, and, because they're not wise, they also can't really be moral. And their ill-wisdom can often lead to immoral outcomes, as they promiscuously make promises they've never thought very hard about and therefore feel free to shed at earliest convenience.

America has a limited appetite for war. Americans will go to war, but they do reach a point of exhaustion with war after some number of years.

It is silly to pretend this fact away in order to count oneself as "idealistic." People who ignore reality are not "idealistic;" they're just cowards afraid to face reality.

The fact is that Americans are tired of war and it is dangerous to write checks on America's war-fighting account that it might not be willing to cover.

The fact is that one of America's two main political parties is always willing to be part of a war at the Fun Part of the war -- the declaration of war part, the first-easy-victories part -- but which abandons every war it votes for when it sees any small political advantage in doing so.

Joe Biden, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton and many other Democrat Senators voted for the War in Iraq. Within three years, they were screaming that Bush "lied us into war" and that we must withdraw immediately.

It is insane to pretend this away. If you know Democrats will give you initial support for a war they'll happily vote you into, when doing so grants them political advantage, and then savagely turn on that war the moment they get political advantage from that, it is lunacy to even count them as allies in war.

By the way: The NeverTrumpers who sometimes claim "At least Hillary Clinton would have been better on foreign policy?" Yes, of course. The same Hillary Clinton who voted for the War in Iraq to show how tough she would be as a president, and then agitated to abandon troops in the field when she realized that opposing the war would boost her chances of becoming president.

Yeah, we need that kind of patriot as President, rather than the unamerican, immoral Trump.

In 2008, Obama campaigned on the idea that he would somehow both withdraw from Iraq and yet also "win" Iraq by withdrawing.

I was incensed by this; it was so obviously, transparently a lie and a dodge. He wasn't planning to "win" anything; he just wanted to bug out. I was angry at the media for never challenging his "Win by Withdrawing" claims and pissed off at Americans for believing this bullshit.

But they voted him into office anyway, and by decent margins. I realized that Americans weren't really tricked by Obama; rather, Obama told them a lie that they knew was a lie but they wanted some "out" to pretend they were honoring the sacrifice of the already-dead while also bugging out of Iraq.

So Obama pretended he would "win" the war in Iraq, and the American public pretended to believe him.

They really didn't.

But they did want out of the war, one way or the other, either stated forthrightly or crabwalked dishonestly, and they voted for Obama, and they voted for the dishonest crabwalk way of abandoning Iraq.

And it was their right to make that choice. Every people has a right to decide how much of war's burdens it's willing to bear.

But they did make that choice, and we cannot pretend that they didn't, and we cannot pretend that Americans' appetite for war is as limitless as internet bloviators' capacity for self-aggrandizement.

When we think of war, we must assume that Democrats and therefore 45% of the country will turn on that war by the next midterm or presidential election. The war must therefore be either a very short one, all wrapped up before the Democrats execute their predictable turn against it, or slightly longer, but still short enough to keep the support of 55% of the public, most Republicans and most independents too, and the length of the war must not be so long as to cause that support to flee as well.

These are the realistic limitations we face on America's war-making capacity.

Again, it is not "idealistic" or "moral" to pretend these limitations away. Running from reality is like running from any other obstacle: a sign of cowardice (moral, intellectual, and psychological in this case), and not a sign of "idealism" and certainly not a sign of "courage."

Wars are not #Hashtag campaigns, with an almost non-existent cost but a big boost of dopamine for Retweeting Justice. They are not just another venue for Virtue Signalling on Twitter.

I tweeted support of Montenegro on Twitter. Look at what a #Braveheart I am.

Wars have real costs and therefore they have real limitations. We do not do our war-fighters or our fellow Americans any favors by ignoring those limitations and refusing to know ourselves, to know, realistically, what we are willing to do and what we are not willing to do, how long we're willing to fight for and when we're likely to bug out and leave our allies or even our soldiers in the field without support.

I'm not against moralism in foreign policy, but honesty is an important part of morality, and being honest with ourselves about what we're personally willing to do, and what we believe our fellow Americans are willing to do, is a critical part of the candid thinking necessary for a moral, and realistic, foreign policy. One that doesn't start a lot of wars and leave them half-finished.

Wars can be left half-finished, but the dead they leave behind are all-the-way dead. I'd like to avoid more half-finished wars and more all-the-way dead Americans.

And I think an important part of avoiding half-finished, lost wars is admitting that the years between 2003 and 2016 did in fact happen -- they weren't just a bad dream, I assure you -- and we have to heed the lessons that those years taught us.

Or that those years should have taught us, at least.


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posted by Ace of Spades at 06:39 PM

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