Why Ukraine Matters: A Response to Andrew Bacevich


For decades Andrew Bacevich, Professor Emeritus of History and International Studies at Boston University, has written compelling warnings about the militarization of US foreign policy.  In books and articles that persistently echo Dwight D. Eisenhower’s cautions against the military-industrial complex (MIC), Bacevich has shone a revealing light on how the corrupting militarization of politics during the Cold War has resulted in such military follies as Vietnam as well as the more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The fact that Professor Bacevich lost a son in Iraq adds an element of personal tragedy to the national tragedy that the Bush Administration inflicted upon on the United States and Iraq.

However, in his recent article in The Nation magazine entitled “America Has its Own Problems to Worry About,” Bacevich utterly fails to appreciate the dire threat that Vladimir Putin poses to representative government in the world.  Putin’s massive incursion into Ukraine on February 24 of this year is merely an extension of Moscow’s systematic intervention on behalf of Donald Trump in the 2016 election.  The story of the post-Cold War era is quickly becoming the story of how the Kremlin exploited the inherent corruption of US political culture and the vulnerability of its ignorant public in order to install a palpable absurdity like Donald Trump into the highest office in the land.  The main point here is that the problems of America are inextricable from the broader formation of the far-right Christian Nationalism that is the organizational force of fascism in the world today.  Despite its inherent connection to nationalism, fascism was and remains an international movement, a global phenomenon.  Putin’s Kremlin is its principal sponsor.

The timing of Putin’s attack on Ukraine intended to throw the NATO alliance into chaos and confusion while attempting to undermine the efforts of Ukraine to build a representative government under the extraordinary leadership of Volodymyr Zelensky.  Fortunately, Putin has so far failed at both.  The NATO alliance has not only held it has strengthened.  Bringing Finland and Sweden into the fold will further enhance the democratic credentials of the alliance despite the insidious role played by Hungary and Turkey. 

As for Zelensky, he can be credited with saving global democracy twice in the last few years.  By refusing to succumb to Trump’s efforts to extort an investigation into Hunter Biden in exchange for weapons needed to defend his country, Zelensky wisely understood that there were larger principles involved than the immediate interests of his country.  Had Zelensky succumbed to Trump’s extortion, Trump would likely have won a second term.  It should be clear to everyone by now that a second Trump administration would have ended our constitutional republic.  The second time that Zelensky saved democracy is his refusal to abandon his country at this time of crisis. Specific evidence of Zelensky’s courage and leadership will be addressed in later postings.

Putin has unleashed the dogs of war on Ukraine.  His hope is that this will erode the cohesion of the complex nation that is Ukraine as well as the global support for Ukraine that his attack has generated.  Putin and his acolytes in the corporate and political world assume that the supporters of Ukraine will lose interest over time and begin to fret about the costs of this war to their economies.  Putin and his collaborators will wait while western intellectuals and pundits question not only the costs of the war but also whether devoting so much attention to an imperfect democracy on the “eastern fringes of Europe” is advisable.  Putin will watch as the pundit class blames Biden for a failure to unite the country while the Kremlin continues to fund and promote politicians and media that challenge the results of the last election.

The United States, with all its myriad problems, is at its best when it embodies its core ideas and ideals.  When a country like Ukraine attempts to embrace those ideas and ideals, it is not on the periphery of anything.  It is at the core of who we are as a people.  The United States is not a place, it is a people who share a vision.  Sadly, there are precious few Republicans who share that vision any longer.

There are many elements of Professor Bacevich’s analysis of the Ukraine situation that are fundamentally mistaken.  Because what is happening in Ukraine is so important to the future of the democratic experience in the world, there will be subsequent postings to this that will address those misunderstandings in his article.  In a haphazard manner, Professor Bacevich engages the key themes facing democracy in light of Putin’s attack on it.  Among those themes are the reemergence of fascism, appeasement, the end of the Cold War, and the deep divisions in society that make a coherent response to the very real challenges of the present moment difficult.

The dictatorships in Russia and China are awaiting our response.  They assume that our societies are too selfish and divided to offer a sustained response to the Russian assault on Ukraine.  It is hard to read the last paragraph of Professor Bacevich’s article and not hear echoes of Neville Chamberlain.  There is one major place where our tolerance, compassion, generosity, and understanding should focus and that is on the victims of Putin’s aggression.  This is our Munich moment.

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