Ukraine’s agony: Obama oblivious to Cold War’s final episode
by George Will
February 20, 2014 12:00 AM | 1022 views | 2 2 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
One hundred years ago this coming Aug. 4, the day Britain declared war on Germany, socialists in the German Reichstag voted for credits to finance the war.

Marxists — including Lenin, who that day was in what now is Poland — were scandalized. Marx had preached that the proletariat has no fatherland, only a transnational class loyalty to proletarians everywhere.

“In 1918,” wrote Louis Fischer, Lenin’s best biographer, “patriotism and nationalism, born of the ‘subjectivism’ Lenin so disliked, were ideological crimes in Soviet Russia.”

These are history-shaping virtues in Ukraine today. Because the nation-state is the necessary framework for durable political liberty, nationalism is a necessary, although insufficient, impulse sustaining liberty. Marx, whose prophesies were perversely predictive because they were almost invariably wrong, predicted the end of nationalism. Economic forces, he said, determine political, cultural and psychological realities. So capitalism, with its borders-leaping cosmopolitanism, would dilute to the point of disappearance all emotional attachments to nations. Ukraine’s ferment is an emphatic, albeit redundant, refutation of Marxism.

The political elites who cobbled together the European Union hoped that the pooling of national sovereignties would extinguish the nationalism that, they think, ruined Europe’s 20th century. They considered the resulting “democracy deficit” — the transfer of national parliaments’ prerogatives to Brussels bureaucrats — a price well worth paying for tranquility.

Now comes turbulent Ukraine, incandescent with nationalism and eager to preserve its sovereignty by a closer relation with the EU.

Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, is resisting the popular desire for constitutionally limited government, and for a national existence more independent of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s presence. Yanukovych wants to trade Ukraine’s aspirations for Putin’s billions.

Russia is ruled by a little, strutting Mussolini — the Duce, like Putin, enjoyed being photographed with his chest bare and his biceps flexed. Putin is unreconciled to the “tragedy,” as he calls it, of the Soviet Union’s demise. It was within the Soviet apparatus of oppression that he honed the skills by which he governs — censorship, corruption, brutality, oppression, assassination.

Remember when President George W. Bush peered into Putin’s eyes and got “a sense of his soul” as someone “very straightforward and trustworthy”? Remember when Putin fed the world the fable about rushing naked from his burning dacha — the fire started when Putin was in a sauna — before the rescue of his cherished crucifix that had belonged to his sainted mother? Ukrainians, whose hard history has immunized them against the folly of wishful thinking, see in Putin’s ferret face the cold eyes of a prison warden.

Ukraine, whose population (46 million) and size are approximately those of Spain, is a potential economic power. Russia remains what the Soviet Union was, a third-world country with first-world military technologies. Its hunter-gatherer economy — name a Russian consumer good other than vodka and caviar you might want — is based on extraction industries (oil, gas, minerals).

Putin’s contempt for Barack Obama is palpable. Russia’s robust support of Bashar al-Assad is one reason Assad has, according to the Obama administration’s director of intelligence, “strengthened” his position in the period since Obama said Assad should “step aside.” Russia has been less than helpful regarding U.S. attempts to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Where, exactly, has Obama’s much advertised but never defined “reset” of relations with Russia been fruitful?

Yet Obama seems so fixated on it that he will not risk annoying Putin by voicing full-throated support for the Ukrainian protesters. Obama participated in waging seven months of war against Libya, a nation not threatening or otherwise important to the United States. Yet Joe Biden’s Tuesday phone call to Yanukovych is, as of this writing, Obama’s strongest response to the Ukraine crisis, which matters to the political trajectory of the European continent.

Europe, which for many centuries was a cockpit for many fighting faiths, is now politically vanilla. And as a military or diplomatic power, “Europe” remains more a geographical than a political term. Still, the pull of European political culture has not lost its power. And if Europe’s historical amnesia is not complete, it should hear echoes of 1848 and 1989 in the voices of Ukrainians today.

The Soviet Union — “one of modern history’s pivotal experiments,” in the weasel words of NBC’s Olympics coverage — existed for seven miserable decades. Ukraine’s agony is a reverberation of the protracted process of cleaning up after the “experiment.”

So, this is perhaps the final episode of the Cold War. Does America’s unusually loquacious 44th president remember how the words of the 40th — “Tear down this wall!” — helped to win it?

George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post.
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Kelsey Aho
|
February 23, 2014
Today the Ukraine experiences an internal divide, leanings towards the Kremlin for economic reassurances, due to its growing economy and minimal debt, and others toward the EU for backing on transparency and Human Rights. But where Russia’s adept economy and the EU’s post-WWII democratically elected Parliament emerged from is not news today, but history.

The cultural divide in the Ukraine that drives the state away from categorization as a nation-state has been infused with politicians from the EU, Russia and yes, the United States of America. Contrary to the Will’s terse description on the White House’s influence on the future trajectory of Ukraine, the US acted in every way, except sparingly [Note the US sanctions including asset freeze and travel ban on the Ukraine, Kerry’s dialogue with Yanukovych on negotiating a settlement, and the leaked conversation between the Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s and US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt on 7 February]. The Ukraine lacks a majority. The Ukraine is having an identity crisis, not an eager and incandescent skip in the park with nationalism.

Therefore, Ukraine’s agony should not be solved by the US even if our GDP per capita and technological infrastructure far exceeds that of the Ukraine because we, like the Ukraine, are not a nation-state. We are complex societies that comprise of minorities, multiple political parties, and a people that cannot be represented by a single political leader, or leaning. So yes, Will, as citizens on a different continent we should support the citizens of Ukraine whether they choose to tear down the wall or construct something entirely new, even to those instilled with righteous truths of capitalism.

But, this is not an historical event the US should try to ‘win’."
Kelsey Aho
|
February 22, 2014
Today the Ukraine experiences an internal divide, leanings towards the Kremlin for economic reassurances, due to its growing economy and minimal debt, and others toward the EU for backing on transparency and Human Rights. But where Russia’s adept economy and the EU’s post-WWII democratically elected Parliament emerged from is not news today, but history.

The cultural divide in the Ukraine that drives the state away from categorization as a nation-state has been infused with politicians from the EU, Russia and yes, the United States of America. Contrary to the Will’s terse description on the White House’s influence on the future trajectory of Ukraine, the US acted in every way, except sparingly [Note the US sanctions including asset freeze and travel ban on the Ukraine, Kerry’s dialogue with Yanukovych on negotiating a settlement, and the leaked conversation between the Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s and US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt on 7 February]. The Ukraine lacks a majority. The Ukraine is having an identity crisis, not an eager and incandescent skip in the park with nationalism.

Therefore, Ukraine’s agony should not be solved by the US even if our GDP per capita and technological infrastructure far exceeds that of the Ukraine because we, like the Ukraine, are not a nation-state. We are complex societies that comprise of minorities, multiple political parties, and a people that cannot be represented by a single political leader, or leaning. So yes, Will, as citizens on a different continent we should support the citizens of Ukraine whether they choose to tear down the wall or construct something entirely new, even to those instilled with righteous truths of capitalism.

But, this is not a historical event the US should try to ‘win’.

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