We Should Have Seen this Coming



We should have seen this coming.


One of the more important skills I’ve gained here at GW, thanks to a great professor I currently have, is empathetic analysis. In the world of foreign politics and policy, it is too easy to simply view the issues of the world through your cultural lens and engage in a narcissistic policy process. To quote General Sun Tzu, “Know thy enemy, know thyself.”


Some of what has happened on February 24th is in part because the West did not listen to George Kennan. He, the great architect of the Soviet Containment Policy of the Cold War, explained in an interview with Tom Friedman of the NYT in 1998 that allowing Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to join NATO would run counter to the alliance's future interests. The Cold War was over, and as Mr. Kennan describes, there was no need to treat the Russians as though they were the enemy of the next century. This fundamental misunderstanding, that the Russians would go along with the addition of these three bloc nations, play some role in the events in Ukraine. President Clinton, Kennan argued, did not recognize that re-upping a Cold War alliance, while simultaneously stretching the West’s military boundaries, could potentially instigate a future Cold War. Since it is documented that the CIA has been training Ukrainian civilian-military groups on guerilla warfare should the Russians invade (such as this very moment!), then it is possible to see what drove Putin to his madness. Effectively, the West antagonized, albeit indirectly, a madman for more than a decade and thought he would not respond. This is not to say I agree with this worldview, only that I argue this is how Putin has “rationalized” his aggression.

This is about as much empathy as I will grant the Russian state though. The unprovoked invasion of a sovereign state to reform the “Russian Empire” as though it were Putin’s grand destiny is nonsense. The days of Czarist and Communist Russia are over. The Ukrainian people should never have to seek shelter in their subway terminals because of airborne raids and advancing tanks. While the West must be willing to self-reflect on what led to this harrowing moment in history, we need not be apologists. We can be critical of foreign policy but not excuse a tyrant who is willing to invade and authorize combat because of self-righteous insecurities about a minority of ethnic Russians in the Donbas, or that Trotsky failed the great Russian state in 1918. Stalin invaded Finland in 1939 with the very same motivations as Putin; though the Finnish were forced to concede to the Soviets, the aggressors had lost over 300,000 men in the “Winter War”. Is this the legacy Mr. Putin wishes to inherit? These concerns over “Western encroachment” are resolved at the table with ink, not artillery. To choose the latter is to plunge the Russian people into a generation of darkness. The West will re-up its military spending, move troops further east, and will remain galvanized in support of NATO. And for that, Putin can only blame himself.


If these past two days have demonstrated anything to US policymakers, it should be the need to bring back American energy sovereignty. That means the Keystone Pipeline needs to be finished, it means public and private investment in nuclear energy. And, it means selling that energy produced to NATO nations like Germany. There is no reason why allies should be subsidizing the Russian petro economy while the American taxpayer subsidizes the NATO defense budget. The free market of energy production without Russian influence will do the greatest damage than any sanction ever could. Putin seems to have risked incoming sanctions, but what his commodities economy cannot handle is a lack of income. If America can properly execute this energy policy, then the West will truly humiliate the autocrat. Without western customers, he will be a penniless pariah.


In short, the West must not pretend as though this dark day was not foreseeable in 1998. Conflict prevention is always easiest to argue from hindsight, but, maybe, the world would be a little bit calmer had the US headed the words of George Kennan. That being said, there is an opportunity presented to course correct and set America and the West on the right path. Renewal of free-market energy solutions will divert NATO dollars away from Russia and set the free world up for energy independence in the process, thereby killing two birds with one stone.


May God Bless the free state of Ukraine.


Author: Quintin Burian

The views expressed are the author's alone and do not represent the official position of the GWCRs.

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