While American hawks are willing to supply Kiev they have no more intention of sending US troops to join the fighitng than Obama
This article originally appeared at Kyiv Post
Ukrainians often imagine that if John McCain, rather than Barack Obama, were now in the White House, their situation would have been quite different. Russian President Vladimir Putin simply wouldn’t have dared to annex Crimea, and even if he had, the American response would have been so overwhelming that the Russians would have promptly withdrawn with their tail between their legs.
Indeed, the Republican senator from Arizona, a former Navy pilot, a prisoner of war in Vietnam and a son of an admiral, is one of the leading hawks in the American political establishment. He has never met an international problem he didn’t propose to bomb. He’s a staunch supporter of Ukraine - as he was of Georgia in the 2008 Russian invasion - and one of the harshest critics of America’s cautious response to the Russian aggression in Ukraine - in particular, of the U.S. president's reluctance to give Ukraine lethal weapons.
McCain is too old, but his best friend in the Senate and a close ideological associate Lindsey Graham is running in the 2016 presidential elections. Other leading candidates for the Republican nomination - Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Governors Chris Christie and Scott Walker, and even Senator Rand Paul, the son of famously isolationist Texas Congressman Ron Paul - have all staked out hawkish positions on Ukraine. The Capitol Hill, which is now controlled by the Republicans, has voted to provide arms to Ukraine and has exhorted the Obama Administration to act more decisively.
American hawks are surely ready to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian. Behind their insistence on supplying weapons to Kyiv there is absolutely no military commitment and no Plan B - no idea what to do if Putin raises the ante in response and starts a full-scale war. One thing is clear, however: no American troops will be sent to confront the Russians. In this case, my Ukrainian friends, you’re on your own.
America’s recent attempts at muscular foreign policy should be scaring the living daylights out of all Ukrainians. Just look at Iraq. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, but twelve years after its liberation by American troops, Iraq is an unmitigated disaster. Half a million dead, millions of displaced persons inside the country and refugees abroad, political disintegration and the rise of ISIS are the heavy toll already paid by Iraqis - and the bill keeps adding up.
The Bush Administration embarked on its misadventure in Iraq combining supreme ignorance of the realities of that country with supreme confidence that Iraqis will greet American soldiers with flowers and promptly embrace Jeffersonian democracy. While calling themselves conservatives, the Republicans in the United States has become right-wing radicals whose domestic and international policies are driven by ideology, not reality. When things go wrong - as they did in Iraq - ideologues tend to find fault with everybody else, not their ideology.
Of course, the situation in Ukraine is very different from Iraq. What is similar, however, is the American hawks’ willingness to try the military solution first, without any idea what to do if the military solution fails or gets out of control.
The scariest thing for Ukraine in the upcoming U.S. presidential election is the fact that the current Republican front-runner in the battle for nomination is former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the brother of George W. and, as it turns out, an advocate of his brother’s Iraq policy.
There is one other reason why Kyiv should be wary of the Republicans. Ukraine’s future lies in modern Europe, both culturally and economically. This entails not only democracy - which Europe shares with the United States - but other values which make Europe different, such as social democracy, an economic safety net and the enlightened role of the government. The previous Republican administration was at loggerheads with Brussels and it even tried to split the former Warsaw Pact “new Europe” from the supposedly tired “old Europe.”
During the eight years of Obama’s presidency the Republicans, if anything, have become even more radicalized. If the next US president is a Republican, relations between the United States and its European allies are likely to worsen once more.
Putin, meanwhile, is looking forward to a Republican in the White House. And not only because he has good memories of George W. looking into his eyes to take the measure of his soul. The Kremlin believes that historically it has gotten along better with a Republican president than with a Democratic one. Democratic presidents tend to be high-minded and moralistic, and less open to Realpolitik arrangements Moscow favors. Republicans, on the other hand, start out with tough rhetoric but end up being more pragmatic.
It is true that Richard Nixon initiated detente with the Soviet Union and Ronald Reagan worked closely with Mikhail Gorbachev, and that both could afford to strike deals with the Soviets having previously built up their credentials as ardent anti-communists. But it is also true that the Democrats, who were often seen as soft on communism, had to be more decisive in responding to communist aggression. The wars in Korea and Vietnam were started by Democratic presidents.
All this could lead to an ironic political twist. Republican intransigence - and Hillary Clinton’s own role in developing the stillborn “reset” policy with Putin while she was Obama’s Secretary of State - could actually make her tougher on Russia in her election rhetoric, and to develop a comprehensive - and hopefully more effective - strategy of assisting Ukraine if she becomes the next US president.