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Will Ukraine Push the U.S. Into War?

“Could a U.S. response to Russia’s action in Ukraine provoke a confrontation that leads to a U.S.-Russia War?” This jolting question is raised by Graham Allison and Dimitri Simes in the cover article of The National Interest.

The answer the authors give, in “Countdown to War: The Coming U.S. Russia Conflict,” is that the odds are shortening on a military collision between the world’s largest nuclear powers. The cockpit of the conflict, should it come, will be Ukraine.

What makes the article timely is the report that Canada will be sending 200 soldiers to western Ukraine to join 800 Americans and 75 Brits on a yearlong assignment to train the Ukrainian army.

And train that army to fight whom? Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine whom Vladimir Putin has said will not be crushed, even if it requires Russian intervention. Says Putin, “We won’t let it happen.”

What are the forces that have us “stumbling to war”?

On our side there is President Obama who “enjoys attempting to humiliate Putin” and “repeatedly includes Russia in his list of current scourges alongside the Islamic State and Ebola.” Then there is what TNI editor Jacob Heilbrunn calls the “truculent disposition” that has become the “main driver of Republican foreign policy.” A “triumphalist camp,” redolent of the “cakewalk war” crowd of Bush II, is ascendant and pushing us toward confrontation.

This American mindset has its mirror image in Moscow.

“Putin is not the hardest of the hard-liners in Russia,” write the authors. “Russia’s establishment falls into … a pragmatic camp, which is currently dominant thanks principally to Putin’s support, and a hard-line camp” the one Putin adviser calls “the hotheads.”

The hotheads believe the way to respond to U.S. encroachments is to invoke the doctrine of Yuri Andropov, “challenge the main enemy,” and brandish nuclear weapons to terrify Europe and split NATO. Russian public opinion is said to be moving toward the hotheads.

Russian bombers have been intruding into NATO air space. Putin says he was ready to put nuclear forces on alert in the Crimea. Russia’s ambassador has warned Copenhagen that if its ships join a NATO missile defense force, Denmark could be targeted with nukes.

In coming war games, Russia will move Iskander missiles into the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad on Poland’s northern border. “Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash,” brays the director of the television network Rossiya Segodnya.

As of now, the “pragmatists” represented by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov retain the upper hand. They believe Russia can still do business with the United States and Europe. “The ‘hotheads’ take the opposite view,” the authors write, “they argue that NATO is determined to overthrow Putin, force Russia to its knees, and perhaps even dismember the country.”

In Ukraine, Putin has drawn two red lines. He will not permit Ukraine to join NATO. He will not allow the rebels to be crushed.

Russia hard-liners are confident that should it come to war in Ukraine, Russia would have what Cold War strategists called “escalation dominance.” This is what JFK had in the Cuban missile crisis—conventional and nuclear superiority on sea and land, and in the air around Cuba.

With Ukraine easily accessible to Russian forces by road and rail, sea and air, and Russia’s military just over the border while U.S. military might is a continent away, the hard-liners believe Russia would prevail in a war and America would face a choice—accept defeat in Ukraine or escalate to tactical atomic weapons.

The Russians are talking of resorting to such weapons first.

The decisive date for Putin to determine which way Russia will go would appear to be this summer. The authors write:

Putin will attempt to exploit the expiration of EU sanctions, which are scheduled to expire in July. If that fails, however, and the European Union joins the United States in imposing additional economic sanctions such as excluding Moscow from the SWIFT financial clearing system, Putin would be tempted to respond, not by retreating, but by ending all cooperation with the West, and mobilizing his people against a new and ‘apocalyptic’ threat to ‘Mother Russia.’

As a leading Russian politician told us, ‘We stood all alone against Napoleon and against Hitler.’

As of now, the Minsk II cease-fire of February seems to be holding. The Ukrainian army and pro-Russian rebels have both moved their heavy weapons back from the truce lines, though there have been clashes and casualties.

But as Ukraine’s crisis is unresolved, these questions remain: Will the U.S. train the Ukrainian army and then greenlight an offensive to retake the rebel-held provinces? Would Russia intervene and rout that army? Would the Americans sit by if their Ukrainian trainees were defeated and more Ukrainian land was lost?

Or would we start up the escalator to a war with Russia that few Europeans, but some Americans and Russians, might welcome today?

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority. [1] Copyright 2015 Creators.com.

20 Comments (Open | Close)

20 Comments To "Will Ukraine Push the U.S. Into War?"

#1 Comment By philadelphialawyer On April 17, 2015 @ 1:31 am

“This [bellicose, triumphalist, humiliating] American mindset has its mirror image in Moscow.”

Not really.

Russia is not sending “advisors” to a country in the near abroad of the USA, and that used to be a part of the USA, seeking to keep in office a gang of thugs that it put in power in a coup against an elected leader who was friendly with the USA, with the express purpose being to get that country cemented into a military alliance aimed squarely at, and ever encroaching on, the USA.

A Russian need not be a “hot head,” nor, to use the term so beloved by the militarists in the USA, “a hardliner,” to back tough action against the USA.

There is no equivalence here. One side, the USA, is “stumbling into war” (although that may not be the correct word, as the militarists who run the USA generally want war, and go seeking it intentionally, rather than “stumbling” into it); the Russians are merely trying to hold on to some shred of security against an insane group of war mongers, who are actually, Godwin’s Law be damned, not at all incomparable to Hitler, in terms of their thirst for world domination.

#2 Comment By Miles Pilkington On April 17, 2015 @ 9:55 am

Putin’s intent clearly is to destroy NATO and Europe using nuclear blackmail. Buchanan seems to suggest that the way to peace is to give in to that blackmail. Ukraine is important because if Putin is not stopped there by NATO and Europe indirectly, they will be forced to stop him directly in Narva. And the latter option is obviously less appealing.

#3 Comment By SDS On April 17, 2015 @ 9:59 am

It appears the U.S. is hell-bent on forcing a confrontation….
cui bono??
Certainly not the American people…..
…And I certainly didn’t hire these folks to get us into one more war of choice….

#4 Comment By WillW On April 17, 2015 @ 10:39 am

Any politician that thinks the American people will support a war in Eastern Europe is delusional. Period. Full stop.

#5 Comment By Worried On April 17, 2015 @ 11:03 am

One good reason to believe war won’t happen: the Russian elite keeps its property, assets and kids in the West. Nuking America would mean nuking their own family. Some details:

[2]

#6 Comment By Kurt Gayle On April 17, 2015 @ 12:56 pm

Ukraine is but the latest of a series of important foreign policy issues for which any discussion of the US national interest is made largely subordinate to the narrow, partisan jockeying of the US election cycle.

No matter what foreign policy position an administration-in-power adopts, the opposition party crafts its response based largely upon its perception of what will “play best” in the upcoming election cycle. US national interest be damned!

Meanwhile, the American media — which has long abdicated its duty to keep Americans informed — instead reports what is basically a never-ending food-fight between the two political parties.

Thoughtful Americans know that the American system of government is again and again failing to safeguard the US national interest. Yet we can see no immediate way of changing this failed dynamic.

What’s different re Ukraine?

Russia is the difference.

Russia is a country with 1,780 operational nuclear weapons.

[3]

What we Americans desperately need is a return to responsible, nation-interest-based foreign policy.

#7 Comment By RC On April 17, 2015 @ 3:06 pm

The headline is all wrong, the question is whether the US will push the Ukraine into war. And all signs point to Yeah. (Down to the last Ukrainian as they now say).

#8 Comment By SDS On April 17, 2015 @ 3:58 pm

“Putin’s intent clearly is to destroy NATO and Europe using nuclear blackmail.”

I submit that if NATO had not expanded after (As I understand it)we said we wouldn’t; there would be less belligerence towards it….

I think Buchanan is suggesting we stop poking the bear with a stick and being surprised when it growls at us…

#9 Comment By Potato Soup On April 17, 2015 @ 5:10 pm

I’ve always believed that the best thing that could happen to the US is for it to pick a fight and lose badly against some country. That might cool the heels of the neocon buffoons who run the country. If it doesn’t go nuclear, it could end up being good for the country in the long run.

“Ukraine is important because if Putin is not stopped there by NATO and Europe indirectly, they will be forced to stop him directly in Narva.”

Complete BS. You could easily say the same about the empire: “if we don’t stop them in Afghanistan, they might attack Iraq, Libya, aid Saudi Arabia in illegally attacking Yemen, try to overthrow Cuba’s government in 2010 with a Twitter knockoff, try to overthrow Venezuela’s government, talk openly of illegally attacking Iran, and fund terrorists in Syria…..oh, wait.

#10 Comment By Kolya Krassotkin On April 17, 2015 @ 7:44 pm

Potato Soup wrote: I’ve always believed that the best thing that could happen to the US is for it to pick a fight and lose badly against some country. That might cool the heels of the neocon buffoons who run the country.”

You’re too kind. I’ve always believed that sanity will never be restored until the neocons are hanging from the lampposts of the nation’s capitol…I am, of course, kidding…slightly.

#11 Comment By Rossbach On April 17, 2015 @ 7:53 pm

We will never have a foreign policy that serves the interests of the American people (or a domestic policy, either) as long as public policy is made by the political duopoly that serves the American plutocracy. It is long past time for our nation to abandon the political parties that have abandoned us and that have turned the governance of our great nation into a racket.

#12 Comment By Ken Hoop On April 17, 2015 @ 8:16 pm

Nato should not only have not expanded, it should have been disbanded when the Iron Curtain unraveled.

#13 Comment By Miles Pilkington On April 17, 2015 @ 8:25 pm

“if NATO had not expanded…there would be less belligerence towards it”

Twaddle. NATO expanded without invasion, and at the invitation of countries who rightly feared Russian belligerence. A man who arms himself against a proven belligerent is not guilty of provoking belligerence.

#14 Comment By Tom On April 18, 2015 @ 1:02 am

Ukraine is important because if Putin is not stopped there by NATO and Europe indirectly, they will be forced to stop him directly in Narva. And the latter option is obviously less appealing.

82% of Narva’s population is Russian. If the Estonians are feeling nervous about Narva now, then maybe they ought to have given these people Estonian citizenship back in 1991.

For that matter, there’s nothing stopping them from giving them all Estonian citizenship tomorrow. Show them that they are welcome in Estonia, that their future lies with Estonia instead of Russia.

If Estonia is unwilling to do that, then let them reap what they have sown.

By giving out NATO membership willy-nilly, we have become enablers of their behavior. Patching things up with their Russian population should’ve been a precondition for even allowing them to apply.

#15 Comment By Hibernian On April 18, 2015 @ 8:17 am

@ Potato Soup: “I’ve always believed that the best thing that could happen to the US is for it to pick a fight and lose badly against some country.”

A better alternative would be to take to heart the lessons of a war we lost 40 years ago.

#16 Comment By Hibernian On April 18, 2015 @ 8:22 am

@ Potato Soup:

“…try to overthrow Cuba’s government in 2010 with a Twitter knockoff…”

It’s kind of hard to overthrow a totalitarian government with a Twitter knockoff. It might be a little bit helpful in combination with 100 other actions. You seem to be channeling Michael Moore.

#17 Comment By Mike On April 18, 2015 @ 9:38 am

Demographically, Russia is dying; if we leave Russian alone, it may collapse under its own weight in a few generations. We certainly should not treat Russia as an enemy, much less allow ourselves to be drawn into conflict because we are a member on NATO–a mere husk of what NATO once was. It behooves us to remember that in 1941 Japan, a much weaker nation, attacked us because of the sanctions we had imposed on Japan. If we destabilize the Russian economy sufficiently, Russian elites may conclude that they have nothing to lose by a preemptive war.

#18 Comment By JohnG On April 18, 2015 @ 2:19 pm

Miles Pilkington: Twaddle. NATO expanded without invasion, and at the invitation of countries who rightly feared Russian belligerence. A man who arms himself against a proven belligerent is not guilty of provoking belligerence.

Twaddle. Putin didn’t do much even when the applying (for NATO membership) country’s predominant interest lay in oppressing/abusing its Russian or Russophile population and having NATO implicitly guarantee the “right” to do so (check Tom’s comment on Estonia). BUT, when NATO’s intended expansion included a country in which the legally elected government had no intention of signing on and had to be overthrown via a coup, that was a step too far. I am no fan of Putin but I think he just had to react. If he hadn’t, we’d be facing a real hardliner in Moscow right now, and probably a full-blown war in Ukraine.

PS Like any empire, NATO was bound to become dysfunctional once it absorbed too many states, um, clients. Many of these “allies” are there so that they can oppress or at least mistreat a population without risking a loss of territory, as NATO “guarantees it.” But as the system expands these internal contradictions start to play out. Unfortunately, getting rid of NATO is as difficult as getting rid of any government agency or department, even if completely useless or even detrimental, too many careers are invested and some powerful lobby is benefiting behind the scene.

#19 Comment By Miles Pilkington On April 20, 2015 @ 6:45 am

“If Estonia is unwilling to do that, then let them reap what they have sown.”

Russia has no more right to invade Estonia to defend the rights of ethnic Russians than Mexico has to invade southern California.

#20 Comment By Ira On April 20, 2015 @ 12:39 pm

The EU will not sacrifice for any war over the corrupt Ukraine.