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  • Writer's pictureArmstrong Williams

The good guys and the bad guys in Ukraine

PUBLISHED: March 26, 2024 | www.baltimoresun.com


FILE – President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, arrive to meet at the ‘Villa la Grange’, on June 16, 2021, in Geneva, Switzerland. The story Americans have been told about which man is the good guy in the battle for Ukraine needs context, writes our columnist. FILE (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

We know the American or NATO storyline about the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.


Russian President Vladimir Putin is the bad guy.


He breached Ukraine’s borders, inherited from the Soviet empire, on Feb. 24, 2022, after forcibly annexing Crimea in 2014.  Mr. Putin has been charged with war crimes by the International Criminal Court and has refused to nix the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. He has violated the international law proscription on wars of aggression and is a clear and present danger to democracy in Europe and elsewhere.  He further violated the 1994 Budapest Memorandum committing the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom to refrain from threatening Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for its abandonment of nuclear weapons. President Putin systematically murders his political opponents both at home and abroad.


United States President Joe Biden is the good guy.


He has showered Ukraine with more than $75 billion in military and related assistance and shared intelligence to defeat Russia.  President Biden has characterized the conflict as a clear test for democracies around the world against autocracy and portrayed the Ukrainian resistance as part of a “great battle for freedom.” Mr. Biden has said of Russian President Putin, “For God’s sake this man cannot remain in power.”

But let’s pause and reflect. Is the storyline true?  Is the war in Ukraine more complex? Are Mr. Biden and the United States the good guys simply because they are not Mr. Putin or Russia?

Let’s start with the presumed sacredness of Ukrainian or other territorial boundaries. Why should they be sacred? Every boundary in the world has been drawn and defended by the sword. They are not ordained by heaven or any principle of international law. Ukraine’s boundaries have changed numerous times over the centuries. Russia’s Nikita Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, and Russia’s Putin took it back in 2014.

The United States has not been averse to changing boundaries by force. Our boundaries expanded with the Mexican-American war, a conflict which Union General and later President Ulysses S. Grant deplored in his memoirs: “I…to this day regard the war [with Mexico] which resulted as one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation. It was an instance of a republic following the bad example of European monarchies, in not considering justice in their desire to acquire additional territory.”



The United States supported the secession by force of South Sudan from Sudan in 2011, and Kosovo’s separation from Serbia in 2008.  It did not oppose the fragmentation of Yugoslavia into Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, and Macedonia after the death of Josip Broz Tito in 1980 by threats or use of force.  After World War I at the Paris Peace Conference, the United States accepted the redrawing of multiple boundaries from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Roman Empire and the Chinese Empire by the victors by force of arms.


Didn’t the United States set a precedent for President Putin’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine in its gratuitous 2003 war against Iraq? It was no threat to America’s national security. There were no weapons of mass destruction. The United States policy towards Iraq had been regime change since President William Jefferson Clinton and the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, notwithstanding that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was a cost-free asset against Iranian hegemony in the Middle East. Then Sen. Joe Biden supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and as president continues to maintain thousands of United States troops there despite calls from the Iraqi Prime Minister opposing their indefinite presence.

Who has the moral high ground in Ukraine?  Nobody? All bad guys to a greater or lesser degree?


From time immemorial, international affairs have been little more than the strong doing what they can and the weak suffering what they must, as Thucydides observed in “The History of the Peloponnesian War” over 2,000 years ago.  British foreign minister Lord Palmerston added more than 150 years ago, “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”

What is the national security interest of the United States in the fate of Ukraine? The Vietnam war discredited domino theories, e.g., if Ukraine falls, President Putin will invade and conquer all of Europe and maybe even the United States.



Shouldn’t we heed the wisdom of Senator Henry Clay in explaining the United States opposition to assisting Hungary in its war with Czarist Russia in 1849:


“Far better is it for ourselves, for Hungary, and for the cause of liberty, that, adhering to our wise, pacific system, and avoiding distant wars of Europe, we should keep our lamp burning brightly on this Western shore as a light to all nations, than to hazard its utter extinction amid the ruins of fallen or falling republics.”


I am no longer certain Putin is the bad guy and Biden is the good guy in Ukraine. It’s complicated.


Armstrong Williams (www.armstrongwilliams.com; @arightside) is a political analyst, syndicated columnist and owner of the broadcasting company, Howard Stirk Holdings. He is also part owner of The Baltimore Sun. This column is part of a weekly series written from “The Owner’s Box.”

 

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