Michael Rubin recites one of the dumbest talking points on Ukraine available:
In the process of these outrages, Moscow demonstrated that the Budapest Memorandum in which the United States, among others, gave Kiev security guarantees [bold mine-DL] wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.
Russia ignored the commitment it made in the Budapest memorandum when it intervened in Ukraine, but the U.S. and Britain never really made security guarantees to Ukraine. Like Russia, they pledged not to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, but they promised nothing in the event that another government did so. In the event that Ukraine suffered an attack in which nuclear weapons were used, the signatories committed to seek “immediate United Nations Security Council action to provide assistance to Ukraine.” This provision is obviously irrelevant to the current conflict. The value and purpose of the memorandum was to provide Ukraine with assurances as part of a deal to get it to relinquish the nuclear arsenal it inherited, and that is exactly what it did. To complain now that the U.S. has somehow failed to keep its end of the bargain is to demonstrate either total ignorance of the contents of the agreement or to seek to mislead Americans into believing that the U.S. has obligations to Ukraine that it never actually took on.
The obsession with “credibility” rears its ugly head later on in Rubin’s post. He asks, “So what to do to restore credibility?” Leaving aside that there has been no real loss of credibility, Rubin gives an utterly predictable answer:
There really is no option other than the military: Russian planes bomb targets close to those forces aligned with the United States? Then U.S. forces should bomb Syrian targets close to the Assad regime.
This is pure stupidity. Why should the U.S. escalate a conflict on behalf of ramshackle proxies in a foreign civil war? So that we can say that we have “restored credibility” with the Russians? That assumes that there is something in Syria important enough to the U.S. to justify escalating our role in the conflict. There isn’t and never has been. It also assumes that the Russians will take U.S. attacks on Assad’s forces as a warning rather than as a provocation and then decide to leave at least some of Assad’s enemies alone. There’s no reason to believe that Moscow would respond to an attack on its clients in this way. Regardless, doing as Rubin suggests would put the U.S. at war with the Syrian government, which would put U.S. pilots in greater danger and would greatly increase the chances of a clash with Russian forces. It’s entirely unnecessary and potentially very dangerous.
That isn’t the only place where Rubin wants the U.S. to take provocative action:
At the same time, it’s essential to arm the Ukrainians with enough lethal goods to help them roll back Russian proxies and send Russian forces home in body bags.
Other than making hawks in the U.S. feel better, it has never been clear what this measure is supposed to achieve besides riling up Moscow and putting Ukraine in renewed danger of a larger, bloodier war. The cease-fire in Ukraine is largely holding at present, so sending arms to Ukraine in order to “send Russian forces home in body bags” would require encouraging a collapse of the cease-fire and a new offensive against the separatists. That sets up Ukraine for a fight that it can’t win, and ensures that many more Ukrainians will also be sent home in body bags. It’s a foolish and reckless policy that makes less sense now than ever.
Rubin’s recommendations are a useful reminder that there is virtually no conflict that hawks don’t want the U.S. to join, and once joined there is no conflict that they don’t want to escalate. Because no U.S. interests are at stake in these conflicts, they are forced to rely on bogus appeals to “credibility,” and those appeals fall apart under the most minimal scrutiny. As ever, hawks propose more aggressive measures not because they will produce a more desirable outcome for the U.S. or its would-be clients (they usually don’t), but because it satisfies their need to “take action” regardless of what the consequences may be.