A Little Self-Determination
Generally speaking, I wouldn't have taken sides in the conflict in Eastern Europe any more than I would in a drunken brawl somewhere across the bar, or a similar argument between a man and his girlfriend.
The problem is, the woman, and everyone around are "yeah, it's all the guy's fault" while ignoring that your buddies have been whispering in her ear all the time about what an abusive guy he is.
Even if they were right, they were still stepping in and taking actions, rightly or wrongly, to turn her against him. They bear at least some of the responsibility, the skin in the game, for interfering and trying to steer the course of events, and how they turned out. They also are exposed as liars - companies and governments that were happy to negotiate with and trade with despots, torturers, drug cartel leaders, countries that bomb and invade, and mass murderers to the tune of tens of millions suddenly can't stand a little invasion?
Which is why, when the very outlets that have lied to us over and over again, especially those supposed "conservative" ones that unmasked the last 6 years, and the power hungry petty tyrants are all screaming with one voice, and misdirecting all of the blame, I'm more and more convinced that Russia is "innocent" in much the same way that Kyle killed someone, but did not commit murder. Remember that two of the people Kyle shot never so much as touched him - they just made it very clear through their actions that if he had not shot them first, he'd likely be dead.
Which brings me to the point of this post - the common refrain that the "Ukranians should be able to join NATO, everyone is entitled to self-determination."
Which then brings me to an article by Freddie DeBoer. He's a raging leftist, but he's at least one who believes in objective reality, and standards.
Ah ah ah, but you see, that’s “whataboutism”! To point out America’s role as the greatest enemy of self-determination in the world, and the immensity of the attendant hypocrisy of America’s defenders, is merely an attempt at distraction, a way to dissemble. Well, I have not actually been trying to distract from Russia’s invasion through reference to American crimes, have not been in any sense justifying the invasion at all. I have been saying that there is such a thing as cause and effect in the world, and that while it’s certainly emotionally convenient to say that Putin is just a crazy dictator acting purely on whim, that idea simply doesn’t fit with the facts. That expanding NATO to Russia’s border would result in Russian aggression was eminently predictable and in fact repeatedly predicted. That has been my point: you don’t get to exempt the most powerful country in the world from its influence on a conflict that has been driven by the behavior of an alliance that is doiminated by said country. Cause and effect. Cause and effect.
But, yes - since people insist on bringing up the moral principles of self-determination and freedom of association, I insist that those principles be equally and fairly applied. That is a thing that human beings do, when it comes to questions of morality, to demand that they be universally invoked if they are to be invoked at all. I don’t know what kind of weird moral world people are living in where they think it’s some irrelevant dodge to maintain the essential notion of universalism. Those who use the term “whataboutism” are alleging that their targets are avoiding hard conversations and real engagement through distraction, but that is in fact precisely the function that the term uses in our discourse, to allow people to wriggle out of considering America’s terrible history of crimes abroad. And to the extent that this dynamic is identified at all, it’s never matched with an attendant focus on the stuff that was disallowed from the conversation. People don’t say “that’s whataboutism” at 2:00 and then say “OK let’s get serious about what America’s drug war has done to Mexico” at 2:30.
I've at minimum implied here, and stated elsewhere - I'm applying the same standards to Russia as I did to allow for the actions of the US. But then, I'm not a complete isolationist, so while my list of US atrocities is not as long as Mr DeBoer's, it also means I'm more understanding of why Russia is doing what it's doing in its own self-interest.
Go read the article. It's relevant not only for its take on universal standards, but also because it addresses our hypocrisy insofar as "freedom of association".
So, yeah, about that freedom of Ukraine to join the EU and NATO. They have every right to want to. What they do not have is the right to be accepted. Both the EU and NATO can look at the overall situation and say "this would be a bad idea, for you and for us," and say no. Since accepting Ukraine would involve significant risk and military obligation on the part of both, for little return (except placement of military bases...), they have every right to say "we like you but you can't be a member of this club." Just because someone wants to work for me does not mean I have to find him a job. I don't need to add someone to my circle of friends who's constantly picking fights with the biggest guy on the block.
Incidentally, this does not mean that the EU and NATO couldn't provide some form of security guarantee along the lines of "you stay neutral, and we're happy, the Russians are happy, and with no excuse to drive our tanks or Russia's tanks through your fields, you might have a chance to prosper." There was also nothing stopping them from providing economic aid, or helping in rooting out corruption if they were actually interested in doing so.
We certainly don't care about the self-determination of Russia, and not actively working to cut them off from being a productive country.
We certainly don't care about the self-determination of the ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine who have been banned form using and teaching their language. I've been told "They should just go home." These same people will call you a monster for saying that the tide of south and central americans entering the US need to go back. The difference being that at least we'd let them go - Kiev is not interested in giving up power over those people they can so freely torment.
It is pointless to go on about how the "elites" will defend Ukraine's borders but not ours - because they consider Russia as "them" - outsiders - but consistently work to erase any internal borders. That is merely to be expected, and their ideology sees no conflict there.
The article lists a number of ways in which the US, in practice, doesn't respect the right of others to self-determination (and the MOnroe Doctrine is just one). I'll go one step further and ask - leaving aside that Ukraine had the right to want to join NATO, and NATO is not obligated or required to accept them - does Ukraine really have the right to do what it wants without regard to consequence or its neighbors? Even in libertarian circles, about as atomic-individualist as you can get, there's a recognition that "the right to swing your fist ends at my nose."
The thing is that international relationships - despite any wet dreams of a global government or an effective UN - don't have a police force. It's very much a village with no cops or sheriff, with standards only enforced by what strength and will you (and allies to help do so) you can bring to bear.
But the Ukraine/the baltics/etc. just want security if the Russians are abusive, we hear.
OK, I'm more than familiar with some of that history, and how it predates the USSR by over a hundred years - so I'm well aware this isn't just a Soviet thing. I'm also well aware of the hatred these countries and their people carry, in large part deserved, to the USSR and imperial Russia, and less deservedly so, to Russia as its successor. They don't want to be overrun.
So we establish that they have a very valid desire to not get overrun, conquered, or invaded by Russia. And Russia has a valid desire to not have a knife at its throat courtesy of being encircled by an alliance who's raison d'être no longer exists, that's provably lied to it, and that, no matter what it claims, keeps positioning itself to further encircle it while vilifying it. If we can have the Monroe Doctrine, the Russians can at minimum insist their neighbors not work against them strategically, and that people in pther places and continents not whisper poison in their neighbors ears or use those neighbors to work against them.
The point again being that there are options to guarantee Ukraine's security, and economic prosperity without also getting into an entangling alliance - see again the Great War - and more to the point, without putting western/NATO troops on Ukranian soil. If the goal was to do the best for Ukraine, there are options that don't invite conflict with its nearest neighbor, or tempt it to pick fights thinking its new best pal will come around to deliver a beatdown.
Or help install ultranationalists who start killing Russian speakers and their culture.
So Ukraine can want what it wants, regardless of whether it is what's best for it. All decisions will have consequences.
The west can want what it wants, but if it is wise, doesn't push things so that Russia's immediate neighbors are armed and amped up to hunt for bear. Both for its own sake as well as Ukraine's. It would also work to make sure Ukraine is stable, honest, and prosperous without joining the EU or NATO - in part because if the Ukies had joined the EU, that would likely have gutted them of their most capable, and in part because it's handing the Ukies an awfully large canister of "let's you and him fight."
And in part because the continuous advance of the western liberal hegemonic alliance, no matter how right and "right side of the end of history" our "elites" and laptop class may think it is, is absolutely and correctly perceived as a threat by those who want no part of joining it.
As our reaction proves.