One develops an odd liking for John McCain over time—attenuated but not grudging. The Republican senator who once found virtue bombing Vietnamese rice farmers reliably brings clarity to purposes the foreign policy clique shrouds in mists of good intent for the sake of public consumption.
McCain has just made his second visit to Ukraine since December. And finally someone says it like it is. I hope all our liberal hearts, happy to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Washington and a legitimacy-challenged provisional government well-seasoned with ultra-rightists as they attempt to draw a complicated, divided country into the neoliberal order with one swift yank, come to some sense. It is time now. Cut it out with the Kool-Aid, friends.
McCain said many stunning things during his visit to Kiev just before the weekend, and then in an astonishing piece of Manichean logic timed to coincide with the Kiev grandstand Saturday when it appeared on the New York Times opinion page (under the headline "Obama has made America look weak"). We can be but grateful that the 2008 presidential candidate chose Sarah Palin as first mate in that campaign, so sinking his destroyer before it reached port.
This guy is dangerous, residing back there in the Evil Empire cosmos. He sees Ukraine on the very eve of a Russian invasion. (Never mind that no serious analyst of any stripe counts this Vladimir Putin’s intent.) As to Putin, “His world is a brutish, cynical place, where power is worshiped, weakness is despised, and all rivalries are zero-sum…. We must rearm ourselves morally and intellectually to prevent the darkness of Mr. Putin’s world from befalling more of humanity.” (Could John Foster Dulles or Cotton Mather match this for the evangelical flourish, this depiction of the Beelzebub in our midst?)
Reminder to the liberal hearts: McCain is a card-carrying member of the policy clique and a not-inconsiderable voice in your cause. O.K. by this?
Here is the taker of the cake: The imperative now, in view of the millennial calamity to hand, is for the Obama administration to begin large-scale arms shipments to the provisionals and their tiny, ill-disciplined army. He does not mean simply small arms, but “other military equipment as well”—presumably code for artillery, trucks, and who knows where it would end. No American troops this time, but a flick at the thought of advisers—“a training regimen” is his term.
On the multilateral side, McCain favors “increasing NATO’s military presence and exercises on its eastern frontier.”
Still onboard, everybody? Somebody care to remind him of the Cuban missile crisis?
You have to wonder, and a good thing if you do, how much McCain et al., are truly concerned with the fate of Ukrainians, given he would dispatch into battle an army that would be as snowflakes in a blizzard, however many weapons Washington may send. Equally, with everyone from Putin on over to Obama desperate to avert armed conflict, how can McCain celebrate the arming of Kiev as America’s “first and most urgent response?”
There is another dimension to the question of just where Ukrainians rank in the West’s priorities. Washington’s insistence that the provisional government in Kiev articulates the desires of all Ukrainians now reaches the point of obsessive-compulsive disorder. No amount of four-square fact seems to dent the conceit.
With McCain’s performance at the weekend, we have that clarity the man frequently provides us. Ukrainians to a one must wish to join Europe and climb into the harness of the International Monetary Fund’s appalling conditionality because they are at bottom props in a campaign intended first as a blow to Moscow — Putin’s Moscow, in particular.
Were Ukrainians authentically the primary Western concern, all Ukrainians would be, even those many who find the prospect of economic stability in the orbit of a neighbor long close to them more promising than life in what amounts to a failed state with little ambition to accept a diverse and complex set of preferences and bonds among its citizens.
We see more clearly now. At bottom this crisis is about Cold War nostalgia, the efficacy of 1990s-style triumphalism, and the preservation of Western hegemony in the global order. It is about rolling out neoliberal economic policy like linoleum up to the very borders of those most resistant and then chipping away at the remaining fortress walls.
I see little air between McCain’s revelations this past weekend and the administration’s strategic intent. The important distinction, we can now recognize, is one limited to tactics.
McCain remains a student in the school of military primacy, as his career in the Senate attests. Samantha Power, Obama’s ambassador at the U.N.; Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European affairs, and others in the backfield of President Obama’s offense favor the economic and political means that came into favor after the Berlin Wall fell and history had supposedly ended in neoliberal triumph.
Nuland has been clear on the point in her speeches, including this one, in which she describes State’s campaign since Ukraine’s independence in 1991 to yank it westward in alliance with prominent American multinational corporations.
“Ukrainians say they are European,” Nuland says. “They will no longer support any president who does not lead them into Europe.”
“They?” Which “they” would this be? Breathtaking in its defiance of reality.
Putin is unlikely ever to win any support in western Ukraine, where the European tilt is most prevalent, and Kiev, which neither Lenin nor Stalin ever trusted, will remain now beyond his reach in all probability.
This does not mean the yank can be counted a success. It starts to look as if it may result in the rending of Ukraine as we know it and then its reinvention.
Sovereignty will be maintained, if a very few signals so far prove accurate. But Ukraine could end up internally reorganized with a three-region federalism — western, eastern, southern — that turns out to be a variant of Bosnia and Herzegovina as framed in the Dayton Accords of 1995. That nation as conceived was a surrender of the prospect of unity accommodating diversity and was intended as a temporary solution. Uneasily, it still exists as then designed.
As Crimeans count their votes on their future and Russia increases its presence, it is too soon to tell these things. Except for this: A federalist solution, whomever may be considering it, is miles ahead of the ideas McCain reflects.