Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Case for Intervening in Crimea

Business Insider
It is curious how, in all matters of international affairs, a reasonably large and influential portion of our population reflexively chooses to defend the position of America's enemies while ruthlessly criticizing America's own policies. They reach back in the the long-lost depths and annals of time to find historical ammunition with which to vindicate their default defiance with self-righteous certainty, or sometimes they know enough about current affairs to overgeneralize a more recent failure of our government, always infinitely more complex than the simplified theories of intentions imply, and thus prove that the war-hawks running our government are basically a group of psychopaths, gleefully lining their pockets as, with equal glee, they watch the havoc and carnage their plans affect.

The most irksome thing about this group is that I very recently would have counted myself among its number, a symbiotic combination of progressive, libertarian, anti-war sentiments enmeshed in the political psyche of some of our generation. No doubt, there is a romantic attraction to the position of the dissident and the rebel, but notions of civic aesthetics have little to do with the nature of the problem so impulsively opposed, let alone the rightness or wrongness of any proposed action. In this case, the problem is Crimea.

I say the vehement reaction is impulsive and reflexive because the first argument that comes up in casual conversation, without fail, has nothing specific to do with the issue itself. The argument has many names, but equivocation is the most generally accurate one. Sometimes it reaches back to Vietnam, or the Phillipines, or even as far back as the Native Americans. Sometimes the argument is made that Iraq or Afghanistan are essentially Imperialist wars (an untrue statement), which is bad (also untrue, were they correct on the nature of the war), and that therefore we're essentially no better than Russia (granting Russia's guilt on the allegations leveled at America, falsely), and that therefore, we have no right to throw the first stone (pure idealistic nonsense). A straw man this may be to the more sophisticated anti-war intellectuals, but this is roughly the level of dialogue making the rounds on social media in meme form, and actually making a substantial impact. Even if the fatuous premise of equivocation--that only the sinless may throw the first stones--were granted, I don't think America has much to compare with killing off 20 million citizens in a mere few decades, so the anti-war equivocator loses either way. I'm not sure when they stopped teaching the difference between bullying and self-defense to children, but they ought to start again.

The most astonishing argument is the notion that since Crimea voted on who their government ought to be, and 95.5% of the population voted they preferred Russia to be their sovereign owner, we would, in fact, be infringing on democracy in action by intervening on behalf of Ukraine.

Let us be clear here: we do not live in a classical democracy--little more than mob-rule--and we do not support raw democracy in the United States. We live in a particular kind of Republic, a blend of monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy, with the intent of maintaining as many of the benefits of these three different forms of government while minimizing the detriments. This is a very old concept, first put into practice by Lycurgus of Sparta and expounded upon by Cicero at greater length. Ukraine is a Republic too; specifically, a "unitary, semi-presidential Republic," and defending pure democracy as a stand-alone value against the most effective precedent for nations and their society--which happens to include sovereign maintenance of borders, beyond reach of the flimsy and susceptible whims of popular sentiment--is hogwash.

But there's a more telling side of the story: when Crimea voted for the change in leadership, Russia won by 95.5%. No one legitimately wins a 95.5% majority in politics. Sure, Crimea's government is imperfect, and suffers from corruption and mismanagement, but turning administration over to Russia hardly constitutes a step-up on those issues. Such an absurd landslide victory would hardly be more suspicious if the vote was absolutely unanimous.

In a private moment, Vladimir Putin once asked George W. Bush why he doesn't run for office a third time. Bush was, understandably, momentarily speechless at the abject disregard for political ethics and respect for precedent, but more importantly than Bush's lack of speaking (which we all probably wish we had experienced a bit more of in previous years) is the former KGB agent's revealed attitude towards notions of sovereignty, law, and national precedent.

A significant reason why the world is as peaceful as it is right now--arguably among the most peaceful times in history, according to Steven Pinker--is that the United States looms like... well, a hawk, over the world, willing to cut down aggressors who infringe on the sovereign rights of other nations. It would be wonderful if other countries helped us out in this because contrary to the oil-theft hype and speculative garbage half-articulated by some, it's really an enormous economic drain to maintain the largest, most advanced, and most deployed military in the world. But they don't, so we continue because it isn't in anybody's best interest to see a return to pre-Cold War methods of resolving international disputes. Deterrence works, because not everyone else out there has the same libertarian notions of love and peace that you and I do. In fact, many enemies (most recently Bin Laden) are all too happy to take advantage of our magnanimous inclinations and leverage it to attempt to destroy us.

In his writings, Bin Laden told his followers and the world that fighting the Russians had been hard. Fighting the Americans, he said, would be easy, because we didn't have the will to resist. Hitler made the same prediction of France in WWII and won an easy victory because he was correct, in spite of superior French numbers and the advise of all of his own generals not to engage on such a suicidal goal. Unlike France, however, we proved our own bearded Hitler wrong. But it's taken a toll, and our will to fight is diminishing. We have to remember that our security and the relatively peaceful state of the world is very much contingent on our willingness to fight, and when the time arises, we have to demonstrate our willingness by fighting. It is paradoxical, to be sure; to achieve peace by amassing arms. It's easy to see how hippies could conclude that it is roughly analogous to "fucking for virginity," however shortsighted their vision. And there are latent dangers if we do not sufficiently check the military itself. But these claims are not true because they "make sense," but because history has demonstrated that they work.

Vladimir Putin's assertion in the Crimea is not a particularly bold move, but neither is it timid. Imagine a child, carefully and watchfully putting a toe over the line he was told not to cross. Whether we should have gone into Syria or not, we failed to act when we claimed we would, and now our bluff is being called once more. Will we step in and protect little countries from big neighbors? If, in the future, we want our word to be taken seriously, and thus hold violent combat off at superior arm's length, we have to regain the credibility we've lost and reassert our willingness to fight. And our willingness to fight doesn't begin in Congress, but in the people. It's a hard-sell to convince enough of a nation that the willingness to go to war has a pacific effect on the international community, but the alternative is a lot more murderous and bold toe-crossing in the future, when it becomes more certain the the lesser parts of humanity that, no matter the illicit and murderous nature of their actions, no one will stop them because no country has the stomach any longer to do what is necessary to preserve peace.

1 comment:

  1. This article is one the best read in a while. Though it lacks what I would look for economic /personal liberty bent reason to protect countries.