Ukraine: Who will bear the cross?

Ukraine, the conflict now rages while it is more apparent that this is a proxy war fought at the doorsteps of Russia and Europe.

A comedian kickstarts his career with a parody. The story runs thus, a schoolteacher accidently getting himself elected as the President of his country when his students post his rant against the government online and crowdfund for his election. The show is so successful that four years later, the comedian really lands up in the top office. The plot doesn’t stop there, he takes on a feared, despised, and evil dictator, who decides to invade his country and …. (wins?). World leaders who tolerated the evil dictator and his evil, sidekick corrupt billionaires for decades rally with the upstart and move to send weapons and medicines to the besieged population while government employees in various countries which welcomed the evil empires evil money go to confiscate their yachts and arrest the billionaire cronies.

This isn’t the plot of “Argo returns” or a B-grade Hollywood film, but of the state of the world’s geopolitics. The script seems to have been written in the Obama White House in 2014 as an afterthought to the Maidan revolution, which brought western democracy to Ukraine and brought Ukraine to “NATO-sphere”.

Kissinger, Merkel and Obama

While I’m quite sure the ending is written somewhere, neither the authors nor I are sure it will end as expected. Very few ideas that started in the Obama White House did end as expected. Arab spring, peace in the middle east, the Pivot to Asia to name a few. Of course, Ukraine, the withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, Syria are a part of the list of Obama’s famous idealistic foreign policy disasters.

This isn’t a justification for Vladimir Vladimirovich’s invasion of Ukraine. Putin is a dictator, who should not have invaded Ukraine no matter what. The waste of life and completely unnecessary destruction was completely avoidable. The entire blame for the deaths of Ukrainian civilians, armed forces as well as young Russian soldiers serving as cannon fodder, rests squarely on the shoulders of the man once admired for having rescued Russia from the spiral an alcoholic Yeltsin had condemned it to.

But the international community must start shouldering its share of the blame for the conflict and be careful when scripts and ideas like this rollout of Washington DC or Langley or whichever bar on embassy row where such bad ideas are conceived.

We also need to have a short tolerance for dictators, not letting them rule for decades, because our companies make too much money in their markets, or because they “serve a purpose”. Appeasing a dictator ends badly, the longer he is in power the more difficult and bloodier it is to get him out. Much like a stain. Hilter, Gaddhafi, Saddam Hussein, Assad (still around)…

In this case there are three people who bear some responsibility for the state of affairs in which Ukraine and the world find themselves. The first is Henry Kissinger. It’s easy to find fault with the only centenarian who has seen World War II and shaped US foreign policy since. Technically you can blame almost everything on Henry. Unfortunately, this issue is a double-edged sword. Kissinger wrote his famous Washington Post op-ed in 2014 and was very clear that Ukraine needed to remain neutral. His argument on the historic and practical significance of Kiev-Rus to the Russian people was a simple coherent argument that should have been heeded at its time and later. For all practical purposes, the man predicted, nay, warned the US administration of the consequences of their actions of baiting Putin on Ukraine. Kissinger’s fault lies however on his obstinacy on his legacy, China. Much like Obama continues to meddle to preserve his legacy(ies)…the Iran agreement, Russia etc.

It’s easy-to-understand Kissinger’s trauma with Asia. But for the relationship with China, be it Vietnam or the Korean war, he has always been in crisis mode on the continent. Therefore, it’s easy to understand that he would promote the idea that US and China must eventually divide the world into a Sino-sphere and a US dominated area of course promoting US dominance of Europe and NATO. Kissinger has a lot of die-hard followers who are still influential and a part of the US system who were appalled with Trump’s idea of pulling the US out from the NATO.  It isn’t surprising while Biden focused on combatting China and ignoring NATO at the start of his term, suddenly NATO, almost dead, is now the cornerstone of US foreign policy. Kissinger’s cross will be leaving the US establishment still ambiguous on its policies towards the People’s republic. One of the reasons why the US establishment may have wanted to goad Russia into a conflict that never should have happened. Losing NATO and Europe would have been too scary. Pivot to Asia, was a non-starter. Where Obama had failed, Biden could not succeed. 

Obama’s love of replacing dictators with revolutions and online perception management is historical. When he was drawn into a conflict in Libya and Syria he was quick to withdraw. He was quick to start the US retreat from Afghanistan and Iraq which eventually ended with Trump and Biden following through with the retreat. But none of Obama’s efforts to spread peace by turmoil were successful. What started as “Yes, we can!” ended up as “Oops we did it again!”.

In Egypt, Arab spring deposed Mubarak and after a brief flirtation with the Islamic brotherhood at the helm, the US had to get a military dictator to preserve order. So it went with the rest of the Arab spring countries. Arab spring’s gains have become the world’s nightmare. Yemen today is a wasteland, Tunisia a constitutional mess.

Obama’s role in not heeding to good advice in Ukraine is again a cross he must bear. While the Maidan revolution followed the script of the Arab spring and brought “real” US approved democracy, he neither armed Ukraine nor included it in NATO nor did he encourage their neutrality and a truce with Russia.

Finally, Angela Merkel. If there is anyone guilty of knowing what men like Putin are capable of and continuing to appease them, it is “muti”. Despite her experience with East Germany and the horrors of Soviet rule as well as stories and first-hand experience of the KGB and FSB, Merkel continued to increase Germany’s dependance on Russian oil, gas and coal. She allowed the EU to be a welcoming place for corrupt Russian billionaires as well as Putin himself. All her foreign policy in 16 years has had to be undone by Scholtz, her successor, in two weeks. In her last few weeks, she tried to push the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment with China, a real feat, aimed at appeasing Xi Jinping and China.

The world has changed and whether we misjudged Ukraine’s ability to resist, or the continuing war is just a part of the script, we shall see. While Putin’s apparent endgame is to replace Zelensky in Kiev, it is possible that the US endgame is replacing Putin in Moscow. Or forcing his own people to do it. Meanwhile the Biden administration does it best to stay out of the conflict while pushing European allies in the path of danger.

For the sake of the argument what happens if Putin is ousted? Do we deal with another dictator? A wild, wild west Russia of the 1990’s? What happens to all the arms we are sending Ukraine? Do they end up in Somalia, Yemen, Lebanon or Afghanistan? With all our good intentions, are we arming the Islamic jihadists of the future in today’s war against Russia at Europe’s doorstep?

 All this while Ukrainians senselessly die on a cold war chessboard which should have been thrashed decades ago with the Warsaw pact. Yeah and we need a new world order.

Original published at the Jerusalem Post 20th March 2022