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Some Thoughts about the War in Ukraine

War is always a horrible thing – and the war in Ukraine is bringing that home to us in a way that is impossible to ignore.  Moreover, I have friends and people I have worked with, fellow libertarians, in both Ukraine and Russia.  As the war grinds on, and the Ukrainian people continue to suffer, I think it time to offer a few thoughts.

The case for staying out of the conflict is not an unserious one, and the concerns shouldn’t be dismissed lightly.

To start with, it takes more than a bit of gymnastics for the U.S. to claim the moral high ground on matters of war and peace.  It’s not just the U.S. invasion of Iraq, it is decades of propping up dictatorships and/or supporting regime change in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.  Even now, we continue to provide military support for Saudi Arabia’s barbarous war in Yemen. 

And, we probably should have been more sensitive to Russia’s geopolitical concerns in our race to expand NATO.  Russia may be paranoid, but that’s a long-standing condition of Russian foreign policy, and we knew it going in.  Moreover, there are still questions about whether the defense of Europe might better be accomplished through some-sort of EU-linked force rather than through an organization that by its nature threatens to drag the United States into a wider war.

Nor is our assistance to Ukraine cost-free.  The most recent package of military and economic aid runs to $40 billion on top of what we’ve already spent.  We will almost certainly end up spending even more before it’s all over  That’s real money, even by Washington standards.  The Biden administration may spend like there’s a magic money tree out behind the White House – but there’s not. 

Finally, the risks of our being drawn into a direct, shooting conflict with Russia are real and could be catastrophic.  If Russians and Americans start shooting at each other, the road to Armageddon beckons. 

But despite these legitimate concerns, I still favor aid to Ukraine for reasons of both morality and national interest.

Let’s be absolutely clear, whatever we’ve done wrong in the past, there is no justification for Putin’s brutal aggression against Ukraine.  Not only is the invasion unprovoked in any realistic sense, but it is being executed in the most criminal way.  Russia’s deliberate targeting of civilians, destruction of Ukrainian culture, and other war crimes are not something that can be ignored.  The idea, pushed by some on the far right, that Putin is conducting some sort of noble crusade against wokeness is a vile calumny that should not be entertained by civilized people.

Most wars are painted in shades of grey.  This one is far less so.  Ukraine was undoubtedly imperfect before the war, but there is a clear aggressor here.   Moreover, as noted above, the Russians are carrying out their aggression in a particularly heinous fashion.  I don’t believe that as a nation (or as individuals) we can turn away from helping the Ukrainians defend their country.

Moral outrage by itself is probably insufficient to justify U.S. intervention.  After all, horrors are being committed all around the world.  The U.S. cannot and should not be the world’s policeman.  Most often, that type of intervention not only fails to solve the original problem, but it can also generate more bloodshed and expand the conflict (see, for example, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria…).  The U.S. should only intervene if its national interests are at stake.

That appears to be the case in Ukraine.  Russian aggression has destabilized the post-war geopolitical and legal order in a way that threatens to invite other conflicts.  The outcome and the price inflicted on Russia and Putin will be watched carefully by dictators everywhere.  Moreover, Putin gives every indication that his aggression is unlikely to end with Ukraine.  Certainly, Moldova is in his sights, but so is much of Eastern Europe, the Caucuses, and elsewhere.  I’m generally skeptical of appeasement analogies, but this looks like a situation where it applies.

Under the circumstances, it seems more than reasonable to provide the Ukrainians with the support that they need to defend themselves – including weapons.  The Ukrainians are not asking for U.S. troops – I would oppose that – but are doing the fighting themselves – bravely and effectively.  Of course, we cannot give Ukraine a blank check.  At some point, we will have to discuss the differences between their interests and ours.  But for now, we should do what we can.

And regardless of what side of the larger debate about U.S. government policy you come down on, I urge all my readers and friends to contribute voluntarily to those charities and other organizations supporting the courageous Ukrainian people in their fight for freedom and independence. 

Slava Ukrayini!