With Vladimir Putin having bloodlessly annexed Crimea and hinting that his army might cross the border to protect the Russians of East Ukraine, Washington is abuzz with talk of dispatching U.S. troops to Eastern Europe.
But unless we have lost our minds, we are not going to fight Russia over territory no president ever regarded as vital to us.
Indeed, should Putin annex Eastern and Southern Ukraine all the way to Odessa, he would simply be restoring to Russian rule what had belonged to her from Washington’s inaugural in 1789 to George H. W. Bush’s inaugural in 1989.
This is not an argument for ignoring Russia’s conduct.
But it is an argument for assessing what is vital and what is not, what threatens us and what does not, and what is the real deterrent to any re-establishment of the Soviet Empire.
Before we start sending troops back to Europe, as we did 65 years ago under Harry Truman, let us ask ourselves: Was it really the U.S. Army, which never crossed the Elbe or engaged in battle with the Red Army, that brought down the Soviet Empire and dissolved the Soviet Union?
No. What liberated the nations of Eastern Europe and the USSR was the determined will of these peoples to be free to decide their own destinies and create, or re-create, nations based on their own history, language, culture and ethnic identity?
Nationalism brought down the empire. And Mikhail Gorbachev let these nations go because Russia was weary of maintaining a coercive empire and because Russia, too, wanted to be part of the free world.
While Putin may want the Russians of Ukraine and Belarus back inside a Greater Russia, does anyone think he wants Rumanians, Bulgarians, Poles, Hungarians, Czechs or Slovaks back under Moscow’s rule?
Putin knows that his own popularity, near 80 percent, is due directly to his being seen as a nationalist willing to stand up to the Americans and their claim to be sole architects of the New World Order.
And it is nationalism, not a NATO full of freeloaders, that is America’s great ally in this post-Cold War world.
It was nationalism that liberated the captive nations, broke apart the Soviet Union, split Czechoslovakia in two and divided Yugoslavia into seven countries.
Nationalism drove the Chechens to try to break from Moscow, the Abkhazians and South Ossetians to secede from Georgia, and the Crimeans to say good-bye to Kiev.
And as nationalism tore apart the Soviet Empire and USSR, nationalism will prevent their recreation.
Should Putin invade and annex all of Ukraine, not just Crimea and the East where Russians are in a majority, his country would face the same resistance from occupied Western Ukraine Russia faces today in Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya. Putin knows that.
But if Eastern Ukraine in the May election should indicate a will to secede and join Russia, or become a separate autonomous state, why would we automatically oppose that? Are we not ourselves the proud descendants of the secessionists of ’76?
If we can view with diffidence the drive by Scotland to secede from England, Catalonia to secede from Spain, Venice to secede from Italy, and Flanders to secede from Belgium, why would the secession of the Donbass from Ukraine be a problem for us, if done democratically?
Nationalism is the natural enemy of empires, and it seems on the rise almost everywhere.
An assertion of Chinese nationalism — Beijing’s claim to islands Japan has occupied for over a century — has caused a resurgence of a Japanese nationalism dormant since World War II. Japan’s nationalist resurgence has caused a rise in anti-Japanese nationalism in Korea.
China’s great adversary today is Asian nationalism.
India resents China’s hold on territories taken in a war half a century ago and China’s growing naval presence in the Indian Ocean.
China’s claims in the South China Sea have revived anti-Chinese nationalism in Vietnam and the Philippines. In Western China, Uighurs have resorted to violence and even terror to break Xinjiang off from China, which they hope to convert into their own East Turkestan.
Kurdish nationalism, an ally of America in Desert Storm, is today a threat to the unity of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
Elections for the European Parliament in May are almost certain to see gains for the Ukip in England, Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, Geert Wilders Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, and other nationalist parties that have lately arisen across Europe.
These parties in a way echo Putin. Where he wants Ukraine to stay out of the EU, they want their countries to get out of the EU.
Secessionism and nationalism are growth stocks today. Centralization and globalization are yesterday.
A new world is coming. And while perhaps unwelcome news for the transnational elites championing such causes as climate change and battling global economic inequality, it is hard to see any great threat in all this to the true interests of the American people.