The Two Viktors

Do you know who Viktor Yanukovich is? Do you know who Viktor Yushchenko is? Do you know what either man stands for? Could you take a blank map of Europe and draw in the boundaries of Ukraine?

For most of us, the answer to all of the above is "No." The two Viktors are rivals in the disputed contest for the presidency of Ukraine. We don’t know because it does not concern us. According to superficial news reports — and "superficial" is the operative word in journalism — one man is alleged to be pro-Western, and the other, pro-Russian.

If true, it still does not concern us, and the U.S. government ought to get its nose out of the business of Ukrainian politics. It is more important for the United States to have good relations with Russia than it is to have good relations with Ukraine. Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union for decades, and it lies on the border of Russia. It is therefore rationally of great interest to Russia to have a friendly government in power. What kind of government Ukrainians have doesn’t concern us at all.

The reason is quite simple: At the end of the Cold War, the Russians withdrew all of their nuclear weapons from Ukraine. Our relations with Russia matter because they concern the question of war or peace; our relations with Ukraine don’t matter because there is nothing Ukraine can do for us or to us.

One of the flaws of the Bush administration’s foreign policy is the belief that we are the world’s last remaining superpower, and therefore, might making right, we can shape the entire world to our liking.

That is flawed for several reasons. One is that whether we are the sole superpower depends entirely on one’s definition of "superpower." Russia has the nuclear capability of wiping us off the face of the Earth. The Russians could do that in about 30 minutes. True, we could wipe them off the face of the Earth in retaliation, but that would be of little comfort to the survivors in either country.

A statesman must always look at capabilities, not at intentions. Intentions can change in minutes. Capabilities cannot. So long as Russia has the capability of destroying us, it is of paramount importance that we not allow political disputes to escalate out of control. We would not like it if Russia decided to play a role in the elections in Canada or Mexico, and the Russians don’t like it, for the same reason, that we are attempting to play a role in Ukrainian elections.

A second flaw in American imperialistic foreign policy is that we are, frankly, incompetent. Our government has designated as "pro-Western" some of the worst human beings ever to walk on this Earth. We have installed far more dictators than we have democrats, and every time the blowback has cost us. The Iranians don’t like us because we deposed their democratically chosen leader and imposed on them the dictatorship of the Shah of Iran.

Surely most Americans realize that the unusual amount of hostility toward us is not because the rest of the world consists of New England liberals. Even the Pentagon has finally come up with a study that says exactly what I, the rest of the world and even al-Qaida have been saying: The world hates our foreign policy, not us, and not because we are free or rich but because we are arrogantly attempting to dominate the world.

I see in the Bush administration the same arrogance that led to the demise of the British Empire. Arrogance leads you to underestimate your opponents and to overestimate your own capabilities. It is a dangerous trait for a head of state.

God knows we have serious domestic problems that need our attention. Still-porous borders, a record federal deficit, a record trade deficit, a falling dollar, a health-care crisis and a failed public education system are more than enough for us to deal with without worrying about who gets elected in Ukraine.

President George II should beware of emulating the mistakes made by King George III.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.