It is no secret that I have had a lot of foreign policy disagreements with the bipartisan War Caucus in Washington D.C. during my time in office. From Iraq to Syria, and Yemen to Afghanistan, it seems that there is always a war they want to be in.

I was heartened when President Trump spoke of stopping our “endless wars” and I was hoping for more restraint from President Biden. Unfortunately, that wasn’t his history and it doesn’t seem to be his current direction. The endless wars are ramping up again even as I write today. 

The war-as-first-resort crowd, including the Biden Administration, put 8,500 troops on heightened alert for possible deployment to Eastern Europe. Folly best describes the idea of sending a small contingent off to a potentially big war. This mistake was made in Syria and elsewhere in recent years. 

Go big or go home still rings true with ‘go big’ being even more insane than ‘go small.’   And of course, the President cannot enter any war – big or small – without the authorization of Congress. 

I don’t always agree with Henry Kissinger (there was that little Vietnam War debacle), but I think no one has described the situation in Ukraine more accurately. In a 2014 op-ed, Kissinger advises that Ukraine should not exclusively join the East or the West. For Ukraine to survive, “it must not be either side’s outpost against the other – it should function as a bridge between them.”

From our perspective, Ukraine should not and cannot be our problem to solve. It is not our place to defend them in a struggle with their longtime adversary, Russia. There is no national security interest for the United States. 

Ukraine has a long history intertwined as part of Russia. Ukraine was an integral part of Russia for hundreds of years. At the same time, Ukraine also is a meeting ground for East and West. 

As Kissinger writes:  

“Russia must accept that to try to force Ukraine into a satellite status, and thereby move Russia’s borders again, would doom Moscow to repeat its history of self-fulfilling cycles of reciprocal pressures with Europe and the United States. The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country.”

The bipartisan neocon consensus in Congress steadfastly states that they will not deign to consider any agreement that would assure that Ukraine doesn’t join the military alliance of NATO. Kissinger proposes that a peaceful coexistence could occur if:

  1. “Ukraine should have the right to choose freely its economic and political associations, including with Europe.
  2. Ukraine should not join NATO . . .
  3. Ukraine should be free to create any government compatible with the expressed will of its people.”

I would add to Kissinger’s advice that federalism is part of the answer to polyglot nations wrought with tension. The smaller the division of government allowed, the more likely that the people governed are governed by like-minded people. In Iraq, federalism allows semi-autonomy for Kurdish lands. Not perfect by any means, but desirable over a central authority in which the Kurds would always be a minority.

Likewise, in Ukraine, federalism would offer to the Donbas a great deal of autonomy in exchange for support of the national government. When the central government is small and demands less in taxation, it is even easier to sustain national loyalty. (Something our founders recognized, but our current leaders often fail to remember.)

I would add that peace will not be possible as long as our government’s position is “my way or the highway.” Diplomacy involves understanding (not necessarily agreeing with) your adversaries’ position. Diplomacy involves give and take. Demands are not diplomacy.

We need not accept Putin’s every demand, but if we dismiss them out of hand, we have no chance of ever finding lasting peace. For the neocons who insist that Ukraine become part of NATO, can you imagine our response had the Soviet Union demanded that Cuba be part of the Warsaw Pact?

Further, allowing Ukraine into NATO immediately puts the United States and our NATO allies on the hook to go to war for Ukraine. Russia already holds Crimea, which Ukraine considered theirs. 

The neocons are trying to fool people that NATO entrance would lead to deterrence and peace, when in fact it is a recipe for war and disaster. 

A pledge by Ukraine to remain neutral, one foot in the West and the other in the East would go a long way toward resolving the conflict. As far as pressure to encourage Putin to respect international boundaries, the best leverage would be the U.S. unified with Europe to let Russia know in no uncertain terms that an invasion of Ukraine would lead to an all-out embargo by the West of Russian fossil fuels. Not mere sanctions, but a full-on boycott.

The bipartisan neocon consensus, though, believes somehow sanctions beforehand are a deterrent despite no evidence that Russia has at all been deterred by a raft of U.S. sanctions. The stick of diplomacy must be credible and bear weight to be effective.

Pesky, but minor sanctions, for which there is no message of under what conditions they will be removed, are annoyances but not effective.

The sanctions-now advocates say we must sanction before the war not after. Agreed, that sanctions after the fact don’t work, but neither do sanctions before the fact. If you really want to change behavior you need credible threats. If you execute the threat beforehand, you lose your leverage. How can the sanction-now advocates not get that? 

A unified NATO could deter Russia from invading Ukraine through implied military action and direct economic threats combined with a promise that Ukraine will remain a neutral nation, not in NATO.

Let’s hope diplomacy succeeds before we are dragged into yet another war. 

You can read the full op-ed HERE