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DeMint and the “Chicken Kiev” Speech

Jim DeMint must be kidding:

President Obama, having thrown away George W. Bush’s gains in the Middle East [bold mine-DL], should not now also waste Ronald Reagan’s success in Europe.

DeMint happens to be complaining about U.S. reaction to the protests in Ukraine, but he is also perpetuating two myths: that the U.S. actually “gained” anything in the Near East under George W. Bush, and that Reagan was chiefly responsible for the collapse of communism in eastern Europe. The first is more obviously ridiculous, but both stem from a serious misunderstanding of the political realities of the regions they purport to describe. At least in the case of Reagan, DeMint is not turning the record completely upside down to suit a partisan purpose, but he is recycling the extraordinarily exaggerated claim that eastern Europe’s liberation was in large part the result of U.S. policy decisions. Taking this exaggerated claim as fact, he then assumes that the U.S. is in a position to influence events in the region in a similarly decisive manner, which is what leads him to think that there is something that the U.S. could do in Ukraine that would yield the result that he and some other hawks want.

While DeMint insists that the U.S. “could have done much more” recently in Ukraine, the practical suggestions he offers wouldn’t have made the slightest difference. He writes that U.S. officials could have reaffirmed Washington’s support for the association agreement with the EU and could have met with Tymoshenko. Maybe they could have done that, but neither of these things would have swayed Yanukovych to accept the agreement. DeMint is on more solid ground when he says that Western governments could have provided “tangible incentives,” but as has been pointed out many times Western governments were not and are not prepared to provide enough aid to equal the economic cost of Russian punitive measures.

No bad hawkish argument about Ukraine would be complete without the obligatory derisive reference to George H.W. Bush’s speech in Kiev, and DeMint delivers:

The Obama administration should remember the scorn that was poured on President George H.W. Bush after he, too, decided that having a Ukraine that was basically a vassal state to Russia was in our national interest. His 1991 speech in the Ukrainian capital to that effect, widely known as the “Chicken Kiev speech,” remains an indelible stain on Mr. Bush’s record.

I don’t know if DeMint has ever read the speech that supposedly left this “indelible stain,” but if he has then he is lying about its content. Bush never said anything like what DeMint claims, and a fair-minded appraisal of the speech would recognize that it expressed many of the same ideas that informed the elder Bush’s generally wise, sober handling of the demise of communism and the eventual dissolution of the USSR. Reacting responsibly to some of the most significant events of the last century, Bush avoided needlessly provoking and antagonizing Moscow, and thereby helped to oversee a relatively peaceful end to the Cold War. He succeeded in that largely by ignoring those like DeMint that hated his Kiev speech, and he was right to ignore them.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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