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Sunday, March 5, 2023

There Will Always Be Wars–Ukraine And Matters Of Principle

The war in Ukraine is being fought over matters of principle. From a Russian perspective it is the aggressive eastward expansion of NATO and Ukraine’s accession to it, recovery of historically Russian territory, the restoration of Empire and the greatness of the Tsars, a rejection of Western concepts of sovereignty and an Israeli-like concern for preserving it, among others.

St sophia cathedral kyiv ukraine hi-res stock photography and images - Alamy

Ukraine and its Western supporters contend they are fighting the war on other matters of principle – the preservation of their ideas of sovereignty and territorial integrity, the higher good of democracy and its rightful place in the commonwealth of nations, an American belief in Gunfight at OK Corral machismo, and a progressive belief in internationally-mediated peace.

Of course there are those who argue that the Russian invasion is nothing more than Putin’s monomaniacal land grab. He is the bully on the block’s pushing and shoving because he can, a ruthless autocrat who wishes to extend Russian hegemony for its own sake and assure his place in history along with Nicholas and Alexander.

And there are those who see American support for Zelenskyy as a a money-maker for the American arms industry, a reaction to a perennial, deep-seated fear of Russia, and the manipulation of Ukraine as a useful tool for consolidating American influence in the region.

O.K. Corral

However one looks at the conflict, it is matters of principle over which wars are fought and will always be fought.

The wars in Iraq were necessary, said American presidents, for reasons of territorial sovereignty and to end autocracy and replace it with liberal democracy.  Of course more practical issues of oil and American status and influence in a politically volatile region were behind the principle, but such principle was, as usual, a convenient cover, a casus belli.

The war in Vietnam was predicated on the domino theory – if one Southeast nation fell to Communism, the rest would follow.  America’s fight was not against the North Vietnamese but against world Communism; a righteous fight to assure a prosperous liberal democracy extending from Laos to Thailand.

Of course the principle of liberal democracy was only discussed among the era’s neo-cons, for most strategic planners were concerned with a militant counter to growing Chinese influence.

Early European wars, of which there were hundreds over centuries – the continent rarely knew moments of peace and these were fleeting at best – were fought over principle.  The War of the Roses was all about legitimacy and the right of royal succession; or more broadly regal legacy and the maintenance of hereditary authority; but of course it was simply about power and the familiar disputes between families, clans, and tribes writ large.

The Crusades were ostensibly about the need to remove the infidel from the Holy Land, to preserve Christianity and the divine rule of Jesus Christ – matters of principle – but of course Pope Urban and his supporters were only fighting to ensure European sovereignty over the increasing territorial expansionism of Islam.

The Crusades: Did You Know? | Christian History | Christianity Today

If there were no principle involved, the war in Ukraine would never have happened.  The Russian invasion would have been as largely ignored as was its takeover of Crimea.  Human society since its first settlements has been territorial, aggressive, self-interested, and expansionist, and history is but a chronicle of dominance, submission, and territorial conquest.  

There was no principle involved in the expansion of the Roman Empire, just a question of wealth and security.  Nor were there any moral considerations in the Mongol Empire.  Genghis Khan and his Turkic allies burst out of the steppes and swept over societies and civilizations from Europe to Japan in bloody conquest; nor was there any particular principle in the wars of Chinese dynastic succession or Persian expansion.

There might have been some sense of righteous purpose – of course noble, great empires have the right if not the duty to conquer barbarians and replace ignorance with enlightenment – but in the main wars have been fought as expressions of ineluctable, universal human nature.  War, aggression, self-interest, and territorial expansion are not only part and elements of humanity, but at the core of all human activity.  Wars will always be fought.  Peace is an alien concept.  Mankind is warlike above all else.

Principle, far from an expression of advanced, mature, progressive thinking, simply adds determination and false purpose to already aggressive, territorial societies.

If democracy, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and military courage were not involved, thousands of lives and billions dollars in property would not be lost in the Ukrainian war.  

What would have been lost – except principle – if Zelenskyy and the West would had listened to Henry Kissinger, the Machiavellian realpolitik spokesman of the times? Give up Donbas, a region only marginally Ukrainian and already in Moscow’s orbit, negotiate a non-NATO policy to be revisited at a later date, assure Russian-supported rebuilding, and establish a verifiable non-aggression treaty on the part of Russia.  Or something similar.  In other words, accept the reality of inevitable, perennial displays of power and desire for hegemony, and let life go on. 

Machiavelli, Niccolò | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Kissinger and Machiavelli were very clear about the use of military power.  It should only be deployed in matters of national interest, as should every other display of political, economic, and financial power.  Within this context Ukraine’s integration within the Russian orbit offers little direct threat to the United States.  

Before the invasion it was a corrupt, inefficient, barely honest and hardly democratic country, and will be after the war is ended.  As far as the domino theory is concerned- first Ukraine, then the Balkans, and then Western Europe? Nothing more than the febrile bad dreams of political worriers. 

America after all has been one of the world’s most aggressively hegemonistic powers, convinced that all of Latin America was within its sphere of influence, and then expanding that notion to Southeast Asia and the Middle East. It was a matter of principle, said America, that it intervene in Chile to depose Allende or to maintain staunch support of the generals in Argentina, a bulwark against communism; but there was copper to be reckoned with after all.

Given America’s continued dependency on world energy, there will be a lot of principle bandied about in its attempt to keep the Middle East quiet and submissive; and such interventionist policies will continue until new conservative American governments take the lid off domestic energy exploration and the country becomes energy independent.  In other words when principle gives way to practicality.

So, at this writing (3/23) there is no end in sight to the war in Ukraine; but sooner or later it will, more than likely in a Machiavellian scenario; which of course should have been the scenario from the very beginning. 

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