First Principles: Russia

We are experiencing a national vexation about our response to Russia’s growing adventurism in the former Soviet Republics because we have ignored the region for so long and so completely that we have no vision for its future. Doubtless the current occupant of the Kremlin understands this, and has taken advantage of our national strategic drift to start his campaign.

And let’s be very clear: what Russia did in the Crimea, and is doing in the Ukraine, is wrong by any common definition of the word. The minute you arm militants, deploy spetsnaz, line tanks on a border, and encircle political rallies with armed thugs, you have the antithesis of self-determination. Forget about democracy: the will of the people in choosing their own future is irrelevant.

Which leaves us with a question: what then must we do?

We must begin by establishing a grand strategy that matches our priorities and our capabilities. Can we, will we stand for Russia doing whatever it wants in the republics of the former Soviet Union, or do we see those republics as real countries who, like Kuwait, need defending? Can we practically do anything about it with any hope of changing the situation long-term?

We can, and likely will, debate this at length in the editorial columns, the floor of Congress, the Pentagon, and the White House Situation Room. In the end, we are likely to find ourselves facing the brutal truth is that what happens with Russia and the former Soviet Republics is, first and foremost, a problem for Russia’s neighbors. Do Europe, Iran, Syria, India, China, and the former Soviet republics have any desire to send Russia a clear message about this kind of behavior? Or have they decided that the price of freedom is gas pipeline?

America standing alone against Russia when Europe lacks the testicular fortitude to take a stand in its own defense is just plain foolish. I would not place a single American life in danger to defend the freedom of a people who themselves did not value it. Was that not our mistake in Vietnam?

I am no fan of isolationism, but our choice is not binary: it is not to either be isolationists or be the world’s policeman. We have another choice here: make clear to Europe that it must take the stand, and we are prepared to provide diplomatic and moral support. We cannot provide the cash or the kinetic muscle to push Russia back into line, especially when Europe won’t do it first.


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