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U.S. Interests and the “Verdict of 1989”

George Weigel makes a ridiculous claim:

But the fecklessness involved in describing the sovereign and territorial integrity of Ukraine as a matter of interest only to Ukraine, Russia, and Europe is a virtual invitation to the Kremlin to, well, “Do what you gotta do.”

What hawks call feckless is what most other people would call accurate. It’s simply not true that Ukraine is a “vital American strategic interest.” This is an example of how the phrase “vital national interests” is so often abused, as Paul Saunders pointed out late last week. The U.S. prefers that Ukraine be stable because of real American interests in Europe, and therefore opposes the violation of Ukraine’s territory and sovereignty, but that doesn’t make those things of vital importance to the United States. Moscow will in all likelihood do as it pleases anyway, and it is doubtful that a sterner warning with more references to America would make much of a difference. More important, because it isn’t true that the U.S. has a “vital strategic interest” in Ukraine, claiming that it does would create an expectation that the U.S. is willing to respond much more aggressively than it will or should.

As for the “verdict of 1989” being threatened, Weigel makes another mistake. The Cold War ended because of the collapse of communism in eastern Europe and the dissolution of the USSR. Communism is not returning to any of these places, and nothing like the USSR is being reconstituted. Russia is wrong in what it has done in the last few days, but that still doesn’t mean that it is reviving the USSR or anything like it. More to the point, if Moscow were trying to undo the “verdict of 1989,” it has been doing so in a very clumsy and confused way. By seizing Ukrainian territory and risking armed conflict, it is actively driving Ukrainians away from it, so that in the future there will be even stronger opposition to being in Moscow’s orbit than there already was. The “verdict of 1989” isn’t in any danger of being overturned, and no one in the West should be panicking or acting as if it were.

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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