The U.S. Must Learn to Choose Its Battles Wisely

You win some and you lose some. The key is to recognize which fights you should avoid because you know you are going to lose. For the United States this requires a dispassionate look at whether we are prepared to pay a higher price than the other guy to win.

We have allowed ourselves to buy into the idea that we are exceptional, unbeatable and can force others to do our bidding. Our readers can decide for themselves which past intervention was worth the cost in blood and treasure. Before the rhetoric about the Ukraine drives us down a path of no return, we first need to ask what price we are prepared to pay.

We (Europeans and Americans) appeared genuinely astounded that Russia reacted violently to EU’s attempt to bring Ukraine into its orbit. The EU managed to “win” Kiev, replacing a corrupt pro-Russian oligarch with a provably equally corrupt anti-Russian group.

The EU then stood helplessly by as Russia took over Crimea and now fears Russian President Vladimir Putin may do the same to the eastern half of the country. We had no dog in this fight.

The EU picked it and, once again, dear friends, we have leaped into the breach to defeat Evil. But first let’s ask why Putin moved so decisively, confident that his actions make him a hero in Russia and equally confident that we cannot undo the damage.

We all agree that we have no military option, not even to stop a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Besides 7,000 nuclear warheads, Russia has overwhelming conventional military superiority where it counts: on the ground.

We have threatened major economic punishment but in today’s interconnected global economy (think gas, oil, finance and investments), the West will also suffer. We may hurt relatively less but Putin calculates that we will see it as too high a price for taking Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit. Putin, on the other hand, believes Russia is prepared to pay that higher price.

We are all prisoners of our national mythologies; Americans no less than Russians. Ours starts in 1989. We won the Cold War and the Russians refuse to admit defeat and go quietly into the night. How dare they challenge us?

The Russians start their narrative about seventy years earlier. Russia almost single-handedly defeated the Nazis in World War II but at enormous cost.

The Americans and British never felt the German jackboot on their territories, fought long-distance air wars and, together, and suffered only one 25th of Russia’s casualties. (NB: More Greeks died than either Americans or Brits).

Russia did most of the ground fighting and killed more Germans than all the other allies put together. Russia won World War II but the US and Britain deny them their place in history.

With regard to the Ukraine, Russians remember that many western Ukrainians, mostly Uniate Catholics, welcomed the Nazis, deserted the Russian Army, and joined the German Army.

They assisted the Nazis in killing Jews, massacring civilians and suppressing Russian resistance fighters.

After the War, many Ukrainian collaborators fled to the west and joined other fervently anti-Russian (posing as anti-Communist) intellectuals of East European origin (Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madeleine Albright being two of the most prominent) in American and British think tanks.

They demonstrated their true colors at the end of the Cold War orchestrating the dismemberment of Russia and pushing the boundaries of NATO eastwards. The West – led by the IMF – corrupted post-Cold War Russia and created the environment that grew the oligarchs.

Protestant missionaries went East to “bring Christianity to Russia” while a Polish Pope mounted a full-throated campaign to disestablish the Orthodox Church in Western Ukraine.

To add injury to insult, the Germans and NATO dismembered Yugoslavia, carving out Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. The Americans further threatened Russia by setting up missile bases on its borders, ostensibly to protect against a non-existent Iranian threat, and hypocritically rejected

Russia’s cooperative offer of radars located on Iran’s very borders. Lately, NATO encouraged an arguably insane Georgian President to attack Russia, double-crossed Putin in Libya and encouraged revolution in Syria to undermine Russia’s last foothold in the Middle East.

Russia tried hard to preserve the diplomatic relationship with the United States, collaborating with the Americans to stop Iran’s nuclear program and bailing the US out of a tight spot in Syria but the Americans don’t seem to appreciate it.

Now the EU, with American backing, engineered an anti-Russian takeover of the Ukraine that, besides again humiliating Russia, threatened Moscow’s only naval base in the critically important Black Sea.

This is, as stated, national mythology and not critical history. Like all national mythologies (including our own) one can poke lots of holes in it. But so what? The fact is that the Russians believe it and we knew it, ignored it and now we are surprised?

Even paranoids, as Kissinger so famously said, have enemies. So now, which side do you believe will blink first, we, or the Russians?

Our over-the-top rhetoric, demonizing the Russians and comparing Putin to Hitler, stems, I believe, from a frustrating appreciation that we will not sacrifice to save either Crimea or even Eastern Ukraine. We should, however, exercise some restraint in the hyperbole because it raises unrealistic expectations and could prove a self-fulfilling prophecy.