“Just suppose with me for a moment,” intoned President Ronald Reagan in the midst of the Cold War, “that an Ivan and an Anya could find themselves, oh, say, in a waiting room, or sharing a shelter from the rain or a storm with a Jim and Sally, and there was no language barrier to keep them from getting acquainted. Would they then debate the differences between their respective governments? Or would they find themselves comparing notes about their children and what each other did for a living? Before they parted company, they would probably have touched on ambitions and hobbies and what they wanted for their children and problems of making ends meet. And as they went their separate ways, maybe Anya would be saying to Ivan, “Wasn’t she nice? She also teaches music.” Or Jim would be telling Sally what Ivan did or didn’t like about his boss. They might even have decided they were all going to get together for dinner some evening soon. Above all, they would have proven that people don’t make wars. People want to raise their children in a world without fear and without war. They want to have some of the good things over and above bare subsistence that make life worth living. They want to work at some craft, trade, or profession that gives them satisfaction and a sense of worth. Their common interests cross all borders.”
It is important to recall this great speech by President Reagan, because much like the Romans in Machiavelli’s Florence, Reagan in our day is praised by all, understood by few, emulated by none. We now stand on the brink of a third World War because men and women in Poland and America, as well as their allies in Ukraine, professing to be followers of Ronald Reagan, have revived a geopolitical catastrophe that President Reagan himself mended and overcame. As President Obama weighs the American response, we can only hope the ignorance of the Polish government, Secretary Nuland, and the neoconservative democratic revolutionary movement that has infected the American government in the last decades and spread to other governments in the world does not extend to the Oval Office now. With such hope in the heart, I offer some thoughts to keep in mind if America’s sons and daughters are sent to die for democracy in Europe, and on the off chance that we all meet our Maker sooner rather than later, that some who miraculously survive nuclear war will understand that the cause of war is ignorance mixed with arrogance.
Let us begin with Ukraine itself. One of the first laws passed by the revolutionary government of Ukraine banned the use of minority languages in mass broadcasting by national and ethnic minorities in Ukraine—which includes a sizable Polish minority. This new Ukrainian law violates a European Union charter, supported by ousted Ukraine President Victor Yanukovych protecting the rights of ethnic minorities, including 144,000 Poles, to preserve their cultures within host nation-states. The new Ukrainian law is a flagrant violation of the rights of, amongst others, Polish and Russian nationals who are citizens of Ukraine. Why did the Polish government actively topple President Yanukovych in favor of anti-Polish Ukrainian revolutionaries? Doesn’t this seem the height of ignorance? Isn’t it almost as ignorant as the leader of Poland’s “conservative” opposition party speaking at a revolutionary rally in Kiev flanked by the supporters of a fringe political group who believe the massacre of Poles in Wolyn to have been a good thing, and then shouting out the ideological cry of the anti-Polish Ukrainians who murdered his compatriots? I find myself compelled to agree with the Polish Priest, Father Isakowicz-Zalewski, that geopolitical and historical ignorance on the part of Poland’s “conservative” opposition leader is playing a primary role in this crisis as now there exists no major voice of sanity in Polish politics on the subject of what is happening in Ukraine. There is no one of great public stature in Poland to balance out the clearly neoconservative prejudice of the current government.
What has revolutionary Ukraine signaled to the world by repealing the language law? The principle of the right of national minorities to cultivate their own language and identity within European nation-states is absolutely fundamental to peace in continental Europe, because every single nation-state in the Union is composed of territories and peoples who were at some point in history residents of a different member state. Every major, modern European war, particularly the first and second World Wars, started over disputes regarding the presumed rights of national minorities who, due to a variety of circumstances, came to live outside of their nation state. One of the most valid and clear principles governing the otherwise overly complex European Union is the principle of the right of national minorities to preserve and nurture their culture within each member state. It is the same sage principle by which Metternich maintained a tolerable order within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and its violation is unacceptable in the Union because it is a precursor to war. When the only way for a national minority in one nation-state to cultivate its traditions is to belong to another nation state, war is inevitable. Of all of the myriad unimportant regulations governing the European Union, the new revolutionary government of Ukraine began its rule by terminating the very founding principle upon which peace in Europe was built. Since Ukraine is not a member of the European Union, this might not be that much of a concern; however given the revolutionary government’s insistence on immediately being put on a path to EU membership and demand for Western money—it may have been a good idea on the part of the neoconservative geniuses who failed to study the problem to have realized that they were supporting not only an illegal revolution, but political parties dedicated to a very ugly form of nationalism, some of whom are apologists for Nazi atrocities dating back to World War II.
Assuming the revolutionary government will be able to execute it, the law primarily effects the large Russian population of eastern Ukraine, but I specifically focus on its anti-Polish character to make an important point: why did the government of Poland knowingly support and help instigate a coup d’etat in neighboring Ukraine by political forces which were determined to trample on the rights of the Polish minority in Ukraine? Why did the nominally “conservative” head of Poland’s main opposition party appear at the side of Ukrainian supporters of the Wolyn massacre of Poles and help their bid to overthrow President Yanukovych, who had worked to foster good relations between Poland and Ukraine by, amongst other things, co-organizing the Euro 2012 with Poland? Why did this same “conservative” head of Poland’s main opposition party, who spent the last two years attempting to convince Poles that the current Prime Minister of Poland murdered his brother in conspiracy with Vladimir Putin, now pledge his support to this very same Polish Prime Minister’s stance against Russian action in the Ukraine? Why did the current Prime Minister meddle so flagrantly in the affairs of Ukraine and help spark a revolution which now threatens his nation with war, and which has already cost the Polish economy millions due to the deterioration of trade between Poland, Ukraine, and the complex global economic web that binds nations of the modern world together in ways far more complex than we can imagine? Finally, why should Americans once again find themselves on the brink of war in a far off land due to the very entangling alliances that George Washington warned against in his farewell address? To answer these questions, it is necessary to step back for a moment and engage in thought—something antithetical to the logic of war and revolution, but hopefully not now lacking in the White House.
This brings us to examine the situation in Poland, which I propose to explore by way of the question of character and political statesmanship. The men who now govern Poland would no doubt all praise President Ronald Reagan as a great statesman, but lack something President Reagan had in abundance: real world experience as a normal citizen in a free republic. Such experience, so common and banal to most of us, makes all the difference in the world in times of crisis. President Reagan grew up in a troubled family, attended a little known Midwestern college and worked his way up the ladder in the radio and movie business with moderate levels of success. He was just one of millions of regular Americans to suffer through the Great Depression, to put his faith in FDR, the New Deal and the promise of American liberalism. Although always politically active (initially for Democrats), he was never particularly important in national political life until after his famous 1964 speech in support of Senator Barry Goldwater, when the nation took note of his honest concern for the problems facing America. Ronald Reagan, when young and capable of indulging in great wealth—had no great wealth to enjoy. He suffered a failed marriage; the only American President to ever have gone through the pain of divorce. His political idealism as a New Deal Democrat grew out of concern for the plight of the common man, and he no doubt suffered the bitterness of a shattered idealism when the edifice of American liberalism turned out to have in many ways done more harm than good to the common man. President Reagan attained the heights of political power—that greatest of temptations—at a very old age; an age when men are long past being tempted by the trappings of this World and more inclined to truly care about leaving it a better place, as well as considering how the Creator will judge them. In short: Reagan was no ideologue, no political hack. His opposition to the Soviets was one of principle, of “philosophy and government,” and it did not prevent him from seeing the bigger picture—the human picture—and dealing accordingly to help save humanity from nuclear war and free Europe not from Russia, but from Cold War. Appreciation of this classical, American character as exhibited by Ronald Reagan is sorely lacking in those who profess to be his followers on both sides of the Atlantic. In place of Reagan’s legacy is a petty, selective, and arrogant democratic ideology combined with crass ambition, an unhealthy yearning for perpetual crisis and revolution, and an insistence on being ignorant of historical realities in favor of abstract universals.
Case in point: when asked about the legality of President Yanukovych’s ousting, the former undersecretary of State at the Polish foreign ministery, Mr. Witold Waszczykowski, replied that it was necessary to accept the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian government because “that is the logic of revolution.” Robespierre could not have given a better response. The logic of revolution is something particularly close to the hearts of those who have engaged in it throughout their entire lives, as have the men now governing Poland. We tend to think of these men as heroes of Solidarity and the anti-communist opposition. To some extent this is true, although the men who actually made the key decisions which brought a free Poland into being while averting war with Russia are now either dead (Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki), dying (General Wojciech Jaruzelski), or retired (Lech Walesa). Those who now rule Poland were on the proverbial barricades with Poland’s modern founders, spent time in jail under the communist system, and then went straight from being repressed members of the opposition to being effectively lifetime members of parliament and government. They missed out on a wealth of experience that their predecessors had; Mazowiecki was a modest Catholic intellectual trying to forge some sort of prudent and moral political philosophy in the midst of Soviet dominance, Walesa a common worker, and General Jaruzelski, though a communist, spent time in a Siberian gulag after fighting in World War II, which no doubt gave him a unique perspective on the failings of Soviet communism. These three men, for all of their multiple faults and despite being divided by partisan differences, managed to achieve the peaceful demise of communism in Poland, established the first precedents for the respect of democratic elections and the rule of law, oversaw the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Poland and secured a tolerable peace and liberty for their nation.
The men now ruling Poland played second fiddle during the Polish founding, and now their ambition for greatness, unsatisfied, is leading their country to ruin. The President of Poland, the Prime Minister and the head of the largest opposition party have never worked for any significant time in the private sector and have spent their entire lives either fighting government or running it. Testifying to their inability to govern is the fact that they were all elected together with sweeping majorities on a platform of cooperation in 2005 and have done little but wage fierce partisan battles with one another for the last 9 years. Their fortunes and livelihoods have always been rooted in government; they are the definition of people who live in a bubble—detached from reality. In that bubble, it is always 1989, the Soviets are always coming back, and the cultural and commercial cooperation of millions of Russians, Poles, and Ukrainians are largely invisible. Today, Reagan’s proverbial Ivan, Anya, Jim, and Sally once again find themselves on the brink of a war that the people did not make, but that some in various governments are eager to make for them. Sadly, Poland’s statesmen, bombastically adoring of Ronald Reagan, seemed to have forgotten that Reagan did not hate Ivan and Anya, he merely feared the Soviet system was unjust to them and a threat to the world. This is a key difference. It is a difference all the more important now that the Soviet Union is no more. Poland’s rulers, apparently resentful of the fact that they did not get the chance to defeat the Soviet Union in war or hang all the communists during the revolution, pretend that the Russian Federation is a Stalinist dictatorship rather than dealing with the reality of the modern world and modern Russia. To paraphrase Machiavelli: they put up statues of Reagan, but know nothing of his virtues.
Today, Russia is a Federated Republic. It has a 13% flat income tax rate. Economy-wise Russian exports to the European Union in 2012 were worth 285 billion Euro, and it imported 123 billion Euro worth of goods and services from the European Union. Poland is Russia’s third largest trading partner after Germany and Italy. There are no Gulags in Russia. There are five different political parties in the Russian parliament. In the last twenty years, Russia has fought two wars—one against Chechen Islamists like the ones who attacked Boston marathon runners in America last year, the other a short limited campaign after being attacked by a foolish Georgian President who believed that American support for his country was a blank check to employ military means to resolve a territorial dispute and pull America into a wider war in the Caucus. (Over this period of time, as an aside, Poland has also fought two wars: one in Iraq, the other in Afghanistan.) True, in Russia you will go to jail for invading the private property of a Church in order to sing punk music full of obscene language while people are trying to pray, but the same fate likely awaits you in the United States. It is furthermore not very likely that American fringe “artists” who trespass on private property will be forgiven and later pardoned by their President.
Russia is not Eden, but it is now more liberal and democratic than in all of its history. If one is angry at Russia for not establishing itself as a Jeffersonian Democracy within two decades following 70 years of communism and centuries of Tsarist rule, one ought to get one’s head examined. It is certainly less belligerent than when under Soviet rule. Freedom of speech and civil society are a far cry from being as well established as some of us would like to imagine they ought to be, but the modern West is not an exemplar of freedom by any stretch of the imagination. Anyone who has lived in the real world of the East and West for a prolonged time will testify to this much: if war could be avoided with the Soviet Union, and if the Soviet Union could be fundamentally changed, then there is absolutely no reason to justify war with Russia now. This would be the opinion of Reagan’s hypothetical Ivan and Jim, Anya and Sally—of normal people from America, from Russia, from Ukraine. It is not the opinion of some people living in the bubbles of government, particularly the Polish government as well as certain elements of the American government which seem determined to thrust us into the war Ronald Reagan saved the world from, all under the pretense of following in President Reagan’s so-called ideological “anti-communist” footsteps.
Of course, as a real conservative, President Reagan did not have an ideology; instead he had a moral conscience made effective through age and experience. This is why he was a Democrat when he believed the New Deal was helping people, and a Republican when he realized that its effects were harming them. It was his concern for the common man, so evident in his discussions with fellow citizens that characterized him, not ideology. He did not champion revolutions, and he matched his stark condemnation of communism with a robust attempt at change through intellectual engagement. Reagan was a man of ideas. Those who pretend to follow him now are intellectual midgets; they have no ideas and are actually hostile to the ideas Reagan championed whenever truly confronted with them. They think they are living up to President Reagan’s legacy by making war on the world, when in fact they have reversed the small steps made under the Reagan administration towards the restoration of decent constitutionalism in America and completely loathe Reagan’s belief in individual freedom and limited government in Europe.
Poland’s President, Prime Minister, foreign minister and opposition leader, none of whom actually worked in the real business world for a prolonged period of time, all of whom have spent their entire lives either fighting a government or running one, now play the unenviable roll of those whose clumsy attempt at “regime change” in Ukraine has threatened millions of regular people: Reagan’s hypothetical Jims, Sallys, Anyas and Ivans. While these government elites spent their lives in government, yearning for a new Cold war, the Jims, Sallys, Ivans and Anyas of the world have been busy erecting a mass edifice to international human cooperation on the ashes of the Iron Curtain: the present international commerce, cultural exchange and cooperation of former antagonists across Europe and Russia. Earlier, we asked the question—why did the Polish government pursue such a course? Now, keeping in mind President Reagan’s teaching that governments, not people, start wars, we can begin to answer that question.
First, a very unhealthy alliance has been formed over the years between the most belligerent elements of the American foreign policy apparatus and the principle political factions in Poland. These elements share a toxic mixture of revolutionary democratic ideology, arrogance, imperial swagger and an irrational hatred of Russia. When, years ago, the Polish government failed to come to an agreement with Russia about a gas pipeline to western Europe, the Russians predictably built it with the Germans. Rather than a reassessment of Polish foreign policy, the event led to the infamous quote by then Defense Minister Sikorski of a new “Molotov-Ribbentrop pact” having been signed (this pipeline, it now turns out, may have rescued Poland from the consequences of a war on its borders because it allowed the Germans enough sway to pressure President Putin into accepting a settlement over Ukraine). Presently, Mr. Sikorski, now foreign minister, opines that Russia is a predator with a growing appetite [full disclosure: I was turned down for a job by then Minister of Defense Sikorski in 2006]. In fact, as the Nuland-Pyatt “Mini-Yalta” transcript demonstrates, there is little doubt as to who the real “predators” are. They are certainly not the people of America, Russia or Ukraine; they are government operatives with their own narrow agenda—just as President Reagan warned.
Of course, the Polish foreign minister has an explanation for that one too—President Yanukovych “should have signed the EU trade deal” if he didn’t want the West to overthrow him. For the Polish foreign minister, Ukraine’s democratically elected President apparently never had a choice: the EU trade deal was an offer he couldn’t refuse. Opinions to the contrary, as well as the reaction of those Ukrainians who voted for Mr. Yanukovych are, according to the Polish foreign minister, just “disgusting propagated” by Kremlin outlets like Russia Today. If true, this would have to mean that my old professor of economics, Dr. Richard Ebeling, my old boss Pat Buchanan, or the libertarian Lew Rockwell, all of whom have given interesting and intelligent interviews on Russia Today, are actually communist subversives in the pay of Vladimir Putin. On this theme, Poland’s “conservative” opposition leader also seemed to recently insinuate that Poland’s elderly classical liberal in the F.A. Hayek mold was also a communist subversive and that free market economics are an “Anglo-Saxon theory” that have “nothing to do with the Right” and were the result of a communist plot to retain control over the economy in Poland. Given these statements, not to mention the aforementioned speech by the leader of Poland’s “conservative” opposition next to Ukrainian supporters of the NAZI-inspired massacre of Poles in Wolyn, I leave the last word on the subject to Father Isakowicz-Zalewski, who wrote that the head of Poland’s supposedly conservative and supposedly patriotic party knows nothing about Ukraine and his Russophobia is so vast that he is ready to ignore the revolutionary Ukranian’s support of paramilitary activities on behalf of Nazi Germany and their massacre of Polish nationals. All in order to oust President Yanukovych on behalf of his neoconservative allies who, just a few months ago, he still blamed for being Russian agents responsible for killing his brother in Smolensk. With this kind of domestic opposition to the Polish government, it is little wonder that Mr. Sikorski’s measured belligerence is seen by the international community as the height of moderation and artful diplomacy.
As for who has greater credentials as heirs to President Reagan’s anti-communist idealism, I’ll take President Reagan’s former budget director, deputy treasury secretary and senior advisor over some people who attended AEI seminars on international relations or write op-eds for Fox News any day. President Reagan, however imperfectly, attempted to restore limited, constitutional government to the United States and never forgot that peace, not war, was the necessary condition for and aim of liberty. His genius, as a man of ideas, was to sit down with the Soviets, who by that time were more and more conscious of the burden of central planning and communist ideology, to trust the people, and trust freedom. He did not organize violent street revolutions, nor bomb countries that resisted him into oblivion as has been the habit of subsequent American administrations over the last twenty years. He was willing to work with unelected Soviet leaders; I am sure he would have worked with elected Ukrainian leaders and respect when one of them told the European Union “no, no, no” in the spirit of Lady Thatcher. He was not an ideologue. He began as a New Deal FDR Democrat because he cared about the fate of regular people, he became a champion of free markets for the very same reason. If he were alive today, I am confident he would be on the side of those who desired peace and justice, not with Republicans who booed Congressman Ron Paul for quoting Jesus Christ’s Golden Rule. Reagan would be on the side of those who understand that ideas backed by arms, not arms backed by talking points posing for ideas, won the Cold War for America.
That said, I hope President Obama has the wisdom to once again avert the march to war, to recognize that Ukraine is now ruled by an unelected government foolishly thrust into power when a Western attempt at forcing early elections in Ukraine tumbled out of control into a full-fledged revolution. The unelected Ukrainian government is now run by political hacks hand-picked by neoconservatives infesting the American government who, together, have as much political sense as the violent mobs and Islamist terrorists they usually end up supporting in their blind democratic revolutionary fervor. While finding a political solution to the present crisis is necessary, none will materialize until it is recognized that Russia can feel legitimately cheated and threatened by the overthrow of a democratically elected government in a neighboring country by way of American intrigue. Maintaining the pretense that “Putin is Hitler” while supporting real, de facto allies and apologists for Hitler in Ukraine will lead to war and is a greater insult to human intelligence than the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” debacle that began the long train of revolutionary sorrows this century has thus far seen.
This brings us to the second reason for Poland’s irrational policy towards Ukraine. Poland’s current governing elite, who have effectively been in power since the 2005 elections swept the last vestiges of the post-communist parties from government, have made a catastrophic blunder in their strategic assessment of Polish foreign policy. This catastrophic blunder presumed infinite American military engagement in Europe. Contrary to Senator McCain’s proclamation that “we are all Ukrainian”, most Americans are in fact all Americans. Americans do not exist to provide a military deterrent to Poland ad infinitum, and building a Polish foreign policy strategy predicated on a desire to become the European equivalent of Israel in terms of the level of strategic military partnership with the United States is bound to result in grave danger. Poland’s strategy since 2005 has been threefold: 1) expand the European Union by Ukraine, Belarus, and Turkey in order to create a wider militarized, economically interdependent buffer zone between it and Russia, 2) support all American military efforts in hopes of acquiring reciprocation and 3) work to consolidate and centralize the European Union in order to forever embed Poland into Western political structures in order to guarantee its safety from Russia. Thus, the Polish foreign minister lectures and antagonizes the British for daring to doubt the EU, the Polish Prime Minister acts, in the midst of the Euro-crisis, as if the Union in its present form were splendid and lacked only greater centralization, and a former Polish Prime Minister carelessly claims that it’s “super” if the Polish secret services accepted CIA money in exchange for facilitating torture on Polish soil.
The key ingredient in this policy is the presumption that Russia is the greatest threat to Polish sovereignty, and that Russia is forever on the verge of “restoring” the Soviet Union. Finally, there is the maddening presumption by Polish statesmen that all of Eastern Europe is Poland’s sphere of influence, and that Poland’s military no longer needs to worry about defending the nation’s independence, but must instead focus on fighting foreign wars backed by American power. Such a dangerous presumption flies in the face of the national interest of Poland which is the maintenance of peace and commerce with stable neighbors. The Polish government’s meddling in Ukrainian affairs has left Poland at greater risk because it has led to the collapse of a sovereign, democratically-elected neighboring government and set “the logic of revolution” into motion, threatening to introduce Russian military intervention into the equation. Poland cannot, by means of diplomacy, expect to expand the European Union at this moment of its greatest economic crisis by Islamic Turkey, the backwards dictatorship of Belarus, and the corrupt Ukraine—the task was an improbable gambit. Poland should support commerce, political stability, and a respect for each country’s sovereignty—East or West—rather than entangling itself in imperial brinksmanship. Sadly, the fact that the Polish government went beyond mere diplomacy and provided encouragement to open Ukrainian revolution—against its own interests—was only possible with American backing. No doubt emboldened by the brash Secretary Nuland and her ilk, whose arrogance appears fueled by her ignorance of this region, the Polish government believes that its American support makes it a powerful force in Eastern European politics. Thus instead of focusing on education, constitutional reforms, infrastructure, and a host of economic weaknesses which to date have led to the disgraceful exodus of millions of Poles from their motherland to England in search of jobs despite Poland finally being free, the Polish government has been playing Great Power politics. Now, war stares them in the face and they must rely, against the sound advice of Machiavelli, on the arms of others because they do not have their own.
Poles should know from their own history that no arms are powerful enough to override human nature. When Poland was the victim of foreign meddling, partition, occupation, revolution, and invasion, the Great Powers which tried to build their empires on Polish soil eventually brought themselves to ruin as the Polish people refused to bend under foreign aggression. What makes the upstart neoconservatives running Polish foreign affairs now think for a minute that the Russian speaking part of Ukraine is going to sit idly by while Secretary Nuland and minister Sikorski decide their fate in between plotting foreign missions for the Polish army? What gave them the right to transform the land that gave the world Pope John Paul II into a petty outpost for American Empire? At this point, there is no good resolution to this situation. War is obviously the worst possible outcome, but even if war is averted, the political, cultural, and economic relations between Russia, Ukraine, and the EU will likely incur further damage. Given the great amount of commercial, cultural, and political contact between Russia, the EU, and Ukraine over the past two decades, it seems that Ronald Reagan’s dream of Anya, Ivan, Sally, and Jim finding that they have more in common as human beings as opposed to the ideological differences of their governments has come true. Now, the neoconservatives who pretend that Ronald Reagan did nothing but fight wars against Russia for eight years are about to tear apart the peaceful world that President Reagan bequeathed us. It is up to President Obama to make sure that the American response to President Putin’s obvious lack of patience with neoconservative meddling in European and Russian affairs is above all realistic and not built around childish neoconservative fantasies. It is also high time to cleanse the Pentagon and State Department of the meddlers who keep putting the American President at the brink of wars America should not fight. Finally, Poles must reconsider the path that their nominally pro-American government has taken them down and think long and hard about the necessity to mend their relations with Russia rather than pretend to continue fighting the Cold War against the long-defunct Soviet Union. This does not mean that Poland must become “anti-American.” Rather, it must realize that friendship with America is something quite apart from servility to the neoconservative cabal that infects the American state to this day. As for those who claim that America is losing face, must stand firm, must stop the new Munich—well—let us hope they are swiftly returned in subsequent elections throughout the West to the set of Dr. Strangelove where they belong.
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