Ukraine Conflict a Manifestation of Leftist Ideology

By The Reader's Turn
The Reader's Turn
The Reader's Turn
March 30, 2022 Updated: March 30, 2022

The writer wishes to keep their name private due to fear of reprisal from their institution in East-Central Europe.

The Ukraine disaster represents yet another manifestation of leftist ideology that, in ways, some conservatives fail to understand. Standard conservatism criticizes America’s self-inflicted weakness concerning energy production and bungled adventures such as Afghanistan. But weakness is only part of the story. The larger issue is foolishness, coupled with a cultural hubris that seeks to bring the world under liberal-left hegemony.

Russia’s attack was not only predictable and predicted; it was also avoidable and permitted contrary to warnings of responsible scholars and statesmen.

For years, it has been clear that Russia holds the cards in that region: Not only did the seizure of Crimea and disruption of Donbass in 2014 demonstrate this, but also the wars in Georgia in 2008 and Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s.

Weakened globally, Russia skillfully surrounded itself with frozen conflicts that kept NATO and the European Union at a distance.

Regardless of the outcome of this war (and Russia appears to have overreached seriously), it has squelched any possibility of Ukraine joining NATO and ensured another neutralized buffer. We knew that NATO would not defend Ukraine. So why did we not listen to respected authorities warning us to take Ukraine’s NATO membership off the table and take Russian security concerns seriously?

President Donald Trump had signalled that Ukraine would not join NATO absent a Russian provocation. He too, played a weak regional hand skillfully and prevented precisely today’s confrontation.

The post-World War I settlement should have taught us the consequences of humiliating a defeated adversary (a status our actions have given to Russia, despite rhetoric about everyone having won the Cold War) by boxing him into a corner and poking him with a stick unless you expect him to lash out in a fury.

The corollary recklessness to threatening Russia was enticing Ukraine: dangling NATO membership that we never intended to grant. Now we encourage the Ukrainians to fight alone for uncertain ends, precipitating death, destruction, and homelessness, though we ourselves are unwilling to defend them or suffer these consequences. And then, three weeks into the war, and after an agreement in November ostensibly making it more likely, we are told by NATO’s chief that Ukraine’s membership was never really a possibility in the first place. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy likewise tells journalists that he accepted this reality “long ago.” Could we not have been told this before thousands of deaths and perhaps millions of refugees?

But this reaches deeper than security issues. For years, we have told this deeply divided nation that our prerogative is to mould its identity and circumscribe its allegiances. Historically and culturally, Ukraine is a profoundly torn nation that undeniably has at least as much in common with Russia as with the West. After all, Ukrainians elected a pro-Russian government in 2010.

Yet we made clear that only the Western-liberal-secular side of their national identity is acceptable. We will not permit them to also be an Eastern Slavic Orthodox nation because that larger identity is distasteful to our elites. We sent that message starkly by engineering the coup that overthrew their democratically elected government in 2014.

The European Union (EU) has been an auxiliary partner in NATO’s maneuverings: holding out yet another false hope of membership and using that hope as leverage to drive a wedge between Ukraine and Russia, with enormous dangers for Ukraine. This message was likewise starkly conveyed in 2014 when the EU presented Ukrainians with an ultimatum to sign a cooperation agreement but only if they refused a similar agreement with Russia. Historian Stephen Cohen believed this ultimatum triggered the crisis of 2014.

So Russia is not the only hegemon playing power politics at Ukraine’s expense. We—the U.S., NATO, the EU—have not invaded Ukraine, but we have manipulated it as a pawn to augment our own position, and then, when the worst came to pass, we left Ukrainians to bear the consequences alone. If Ukraine now feels used and betrayed, they have a reason. The question is whether we are going to salve our consciences with a wider conflagration.

And for what? For Ukrainian “independence,” their “freedom”? These are noble ideals, but they must be kept in proportion—especially when the risks and destruction are borne by others and not us. No doubt Ukrainians under the Soviet Union were equally desirous of freedom and willing to die for it, given any likelihood of success. But now, we have rendered such success unlikely.

All this hardly gives Russia the right to invade a sovereign state. But rights have little to do with international politics, as 2014 demonstrated. Perhaps the greatest crime in all this—the massive self-delusion that must be forever debunked by this crisis because it will find other opportunities to destabilize the world—is sucking Ukrainians and others into our make-believe moral universe that reifies mental constructions like “international law” and “human rights.”

These ideals are worthy in their place, but it is foolish to pretend they have some magical power to supersede the concrete interests of powerful nations. We might equally ask what moral right the West has to mobilize intergovernmental organizations, intelligence services, government propaganda machinery, media, and even universities to send other people into a devastating war that they can never “win” in any meaningful sense.

As Ukrainians run up against this reality and become disabused of Western delusions and promises (and their leaders’ own wishful thinking), the escalating death and destruction cannot help but impel leaders like Zelenskyy to want to draw NATO forces into the conflict that NATO’s presence did so much to ignite. Equally unsurprising, when NATO stands aloof and reneges on whatever implicit security guarantees it proffered, Ukrainians become embittered, calling NATO “weak” and cowardly for refusing to risk nuclear war.

Scenes of suffering and heroism are especially heart-rending given the reminders of our own responsibility and provide emotional leverage to escalate the war.

So what is so important about bringing countries like Ukraine into NATO in the first place, with the added illusion that they are Western liberal democracies? Is it because Russia was belligerent before announcements to induct them in 2008? Russia was not belligerent, and before 2014 no one said it was, nor that any such belligerence necessitated expanding NATO.

Or is it instead because NATO is not only an alliance but also an “organization”—a bureaucracy fearing obsolescence, in need of a new purpose, and finding one not only in war but also as yet another vehicle for woke social transformation? The illegal 1999 bombing of Serbia (in the name of international law) dispelled any illusion that NATO remains a purely “defensive” alliance (and the Iraq war undercuts any such argument about the U.S.).

But further, foreign policy establishments and intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations, EU, and NATO are easily “woked” because they are aloof from the scrutiny of domestic constituencies and electorates. What agendas preoccupy the State Department, Pentagon, and NATO? Understanding perennially unstable and volatile regions? Or “redefining” global security according to radical agendas like global warming and gender equality? (pdf)

Is it really ideals of freedom and democracy espoused by Ukraine’s patriots (and by others on their behalf) that are at issue? Or is it the Western elite’s own imperial designs to acquire satraps in aspiring liberal democracies—and then pressuring them to become liberal-left democracies, with all the baggage that carries for the traditional, overwhelmingly Christian peoples of Eastern Europe?

As Patrick Deneen asks: “If our countrymen and children will be asked by the laptop class to fight and die mostly for them, we rightly ask—for what are they to die? Is it the ‘classical and Christian’ civilization that fought and defeated fascism and communism? Or is it on behalf of … a toxic liberalism that today drapes itself in Ukrainian flags, but will tomorrow denounce the very idea of the nation, particular cultures, and Christianity, discarding Ukraine’s blue and yellow for a rainbow flag, and turning on the Ukrainian churches in whose crypts its people are sheltering?”

This has been our modus operandi throughout East-Central Europe since the 1990s. Intoxicated with our status as sole global hegemon, we seek to transform our new allies (and ourselves) into liberal-left democracies. Latter-day carpetbaggers like the American Bar Association propagate judicial activism—labelling it as “the rule of law”—provoking pushback from Poland and other eastern EU members. Wealthy “NGOs” like George Soros’ Open Society organizations not only infiltrate the universities with woke ideology, like ever-expanding “human rights” and “gender studies,” but even topple governments like Ukraine’s in 2014, precipitating today’s horrors.

Zelenskyy and Ukraine surely grasp that they have been used to serve imperial liberalism. Zelenskyy’s peace overtures being ignored by the Western media and the Biden administration confirms that a reckless willingness to sacrifice Ukrainians has not abated. Like Crimea, this will not be reversed. Russia has engineered another “frozen conflict.” Making accommodation with invaders is bitter. But it is Western ideology and duplicity that will work further mischief globally.

The warmongering media have flattered Zelenskyy with Churchillian status. But a real statesman will remind the Biden administration that he, not Victoria Nuland, is in charge of that country, accept the reality of its history and geography, and place Ukrainian lives first, alongside global stability, solvency, and peace.

The writer has taught political science and international relations at universities in Poland, Russia, the Czech Republic, and the United States since the 1990s, including appointments under the Fulbright program and the Soros-funded Civic Education Project.