Dan Simpson: Stay out of Ukraine

It’s a family affair between the Russians and Ukrainians

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The effort to demonize — to Saddam-Hussein-ize — Russian President Vladimir V. Putin in the eyes of Americans should serve as ample warning that some of the people who run this country see an opportunity in the Ukraine-Crimea problem to start a profitable new war to take the place of the recently ended Iraq war and the winding-down Afghanistan war.

Interviews with people such as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, an understated hawk, aged Cold Warriors like Sen. John S. McCain, R-Ariz., and his chirpy Pony Pal Pokey, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., reveal a gleam in their eyes as they lick their chops at the thought of America being dragged back into confrontation with Russia in Crimea.

The Pentagon budget just happens to be on the table at the moment in Washington. The Department of Defense has proposed cuts, as it was obliged to if it didn’t wish to openly defy the Obama administration and some in Congress. At the same time, its senior officials and, more importantly, the big defense contractors who will help finance this year’s campaigns and the 2016 presidential campaigns, are more than aware that a hostile situation with Russia would open the floodgates to unrestrained spending for their favorite weapons programs.

These weapons made them rich across the Cold War years but, without a new, fabricated “threat” from Russia, are no longer necessary for America’s defense. The idea that American rearmament in Europe is necessary for the defense of Poland and other NATO allies is just silly. The Russia-Ukraine quarrel is a local, family affair. Mr. Putin is fully aware that Poland and other former satellites of the old Soviet Union have been out of his sphere of influence — except in economic terms — since 1990.

Americans should thank the majority of Ukrainians as well as the gods of war and peace that Ukraine is not a member of NATO nor of the European Union. This makes it harder for American war hawks to drag us into combat with Russia over Crimea.

The bleating of some American leaders, including President Barack Obama, allegedly a student of constitutional law, over the illegality of the popular referendum that the Crimean regional parliament has scheduled for March 16 on whether Crimea should be part of Russia or Ukraine is startling in its lack of recognition that the government now sitting in power in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, overthrew a duly elected president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, and has no claim on legitimate authority.

Recent U.S. governments’ approach to democracy and legitimacy in a number of foreign capitals suggests that, if we had any shame or sense of hypocrisy we would shut up about democracy and substitute on the dollar bill something like “In Arms and Coups We Trust” for the current inscription.

In Iraq, our government lied about weapons of mass destruction and about the Hussein government’s ties to al-Qaida, invaded the country, overthrew its leadership, turned it upside down, occupied it for eight years and then withdrew after installing an unstable government in power.

In Libya, we supported former African colonial powers Great Britain and France in backing Libyan rebels to overthrow a legitimate if brutal and unjust government, creating conditions under which Libya would descend into chaos. The latest abomination brought about by the absence of government there is that militia forces are trying to export Libya’s petroleum, its only asset, to their own profit, completely outside governmental control.

In Afghanistan, following up on our legitimate intervention to put al-Qaida and the Taliban out of business in retribution for the 9/​11 attacks, we’ve stayed on for nearly 13 years to try to remake the place in our image at great cost in money and lives. At present, having set the end of this year for our departure, we are trying desperately to stay even longer, presumably to protect the contractors who profit from our military presence there.

Souring U.S. relations with Russia and deepening involvement in an inhospitable, divided Ukraine also could juice the profits of American fracking and energy-producing companies.

Ukraine and much of Europe depend on Russian natural gas for energy and to keep warm in the winter. The United States is promoting economic sanctions against Russia as a means of trying to get it to step back in Crimea. That would include asking Ukraine and other Europeans to boycott purchases of Russian natural gas. To achieve that, the United States would have to offer them American natural gas to replace their imports from Russia. The U.S. government would quickly find itself in the position of providing export subsidies to American natural gas producers, refiners and haulers to make up the difference between Russian and U.S. gas prices. Guess who would get to pay for that?

So, Americans who think the conflict in Ukraine is an in-family matter between different groups of Ukrainians and the Russians and, on that basis, oppose further American involvement are faced by the warmongers, a Department of Defense in pursuit of a reinforced budget and the U.S. natural gas lobby as well. The latter is a formidable group of wealthy companies already busy messing up the environment for their profit who now would like the string of “national defense” added to their bow for supposedly enabling America’s loyal European allies to resist Russian expansion led by the 21st-century’s own Vlad the Impaler.

We need to step back sharply, now, from this 2014 big muddy before it goes any further. Let the Russians and the Ukrainians sort out their quarrels, as they have for hundreds of years.

Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a Post-Gazette columnist (dsimpson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1976).

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