Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the American Right has felt dejected.
Accusing Democrats of being “terrorist-lovers” just hasn’t been as profitable as accusing them of being “Communists.”
The torch had barely gone out at the much-ballyhooed Sochi Olympics, in February, 2014, when Russian President Vladimir Putin began menacing the Ukraine.
Even while the Olympics played out on television, Ukrainians had rioted in Kiev and evicted their corrupt, luxury-loving president, Victor Yanukovych.
And this, of course, didn’t sit well with his “sponsor”–Putin.
Yanukovych had rejected a pending European Union association agreement. He had chosen instead to pursue a Russian loan bailout and closer ties with Russia.
And that had sat well with Putin.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Putin had yearned for a reestablishment of the same. He had called that breakup “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century.”
So it was almost a certainty that, when his chosen puppet, Yanukovych, was sent packing, Putin would find some way to retaliate.
And since late February, he has done so, gradually moving Russian troops into Ukraine and its autonomous republic, Crimea.
By late March, it was clear that Russia had sufficient forces in both Ukraine and Crimea to wreak any amount of destruction Putin may wish to inflict.
And where there is activity by Russians, there are American Rightists eager–in Shakespeare’s words–to “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.”
Rightists such as Mitt Romney, the former Massachussetts governor who lost the 2012 Presidential election by a wide margin to Barack Obama.
“There’s no question but that the president’s naiveté with regards to Russia,” said Romney on March 23.
“And unfortunately, not having anticipated Russia’s intentions, the president wasn’t able to shape the kinds of events that may have been able to prevent the kinds of circumstances that you’re seeing in the Ukraine, as well as the things that you’re seeing in Syria.”
All of which overlooks a number of brutal political truths.
First, all great powers have spheres of interest–and jealously guard them.
For the United States, it’s Latin and Central America, as established by the Monroe Doctrine.
And just what is the Monroe Doctrine?
It’s a statement made by President James Monroe in his 1823 annual message to Congress, which warned European powers not to interfere in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere.
It has no other legitimacy than the willingness of the United States to use armed force to back it up. When the United States no longer has the will or resources to enforce the Doctrine, it will cease to have meaning.
For the Soviet Union, its spheres of influence include the Ukraine. Long known as “the breadbasket of Russia,” in 2011, it was the world’s third-largest grain exporter.
Russia will no more give up access to that breadbasket than the United States would part with the rich farming states of the Midwest.
Second, spheres of influence often prove disastrous to those smaller countries affected.
Throughout Latin and Central America, the United States remains highly unpopular for its brutal use of “gunboat diplomacy” during the 20th century.
Among those countries invaded or controlled by America: Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Columbia, Panama and the Dominican Republic.
The resulting anger has led many Latin and Central Americans to support Communist Cuba, even though its political oppression and economic failure are universally apparent.
Similarly, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) forced many nations–such as Poland, Hungary and Czechoslavakia–to submit to the will of Moscow.
The alternative? The threat of Soviet invasion–as occurred in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslavakia in 1968.
Third, even “great powers” are not all-powerful.
In 1949, after a long civil war, the forces of Mao Tse-tung defeated the Nationalist armies of Chaing Kai-Shek, who withdrew to Taiwan.
China had never been a territory of the United States. Nor could the United States have prevented Mao from defeating the corrupt, ineptly-led Nationalist forces.
Even so, Republican Senators and Representatives such as Richard Nixon and Joseph McCarthy eagerly blamed President Harry S. Truman and the Democrats for “losing China.”
The fear of being accused of “losing” another country led Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon to tragically commit the United States to “roll back” Communism in Cuba and Vietnam.
Now Republicans–who claim the United States can’t afford to provide healthcare for its poorest citizens–want to turn the national budget over to the Pentagon.
They want the United States to “intervene” in Syria–even though this civil war pits Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, two of America’s greatest enemies, against each other.
They want the United States to “intervene” in Ukraine–even though this would mean going to war with the only nuclear power capable of turning America into an atomic graveyard.
Before plunging into conflicts that don’t concern us and where there is absolutely nothing to “win,” Americans would do well to remember the above-stated lessons of history.
And to learn from them.