Home/Daniel Larison/The Cheap Moralizing of the Interventionists

The Cheap Moralizing of the Interventionists

Roger Cohen rehearses a tired, unpersuasive argument for arming Ukraine. Towards the end of his column, he made this ludicrous statement:

Recall that Ukraine gave up more than 1,800 nuclear warheads in exchange for that bogus commitment from Russia back in 1994 to respect its sovereignty and borders. Surely it has thereby earned the right to something more than night-vision goggles [bold mine-DL].

None of this makes any sense. An agreement from 1994 is irrelevant to the question of whether it makes sense to provide weapons to Ukraine’s government now in order to kill Russians and their proxies. Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal over twenty years ago because it couldn’t have possibly kept it anyway. That doesn’t earn its government the “right” to anything, much less to expect that other governments should help to arm it in a conflict it cannot possibly win. Cohen admits that Moscow isn’t prepared to settle for “anything less than a weak Ukraine,” so what does he think providing arms to the Ukrainian government will achieve except to get more people killed and to inflict more damage on Ukraine in the process? He doesn’t even try to answer this question, which is unfortunately all too typical of interventionists in this and most other debates. The interventionist argument is long on cheap moralizing and short on sober reflection.

Cohen blithely says, “There are risks but no policy is risk-free,” but there are clearly policies that are riskier and more irresponsible than others. For whatever reason, Cohen is opting for the most irresponsible policy, and he can’t offer any defense for it beyond saying that “no policy is risk-free.” That tells me that he has not only failed to think through the policy he advocates, but also that he isn’t interested in thinking it through. The illusion here is that the U.S. and its allies can follow through on Cohen’s recommendation without disaster for Ukraine on an even larger scale. Neither he nor any of the other advocates of arming Ukraine is the least bit interested in realism or reality, since that would get in the way of their self-indulgent insistence on meddling in a foreign war.

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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