America is a nation of moralizers, which is why every issue is cast as a fight between good guys and bad guys. This is something that goes to the very beginning of the country and it continues to define the culture. We saw this with Covid, where it quickly became a fight between those who worshipped Covid and those who were the villains for not obediently following government commands. We are seeing it with the war in Ukraine, where it is all good guys and bad guys.
Reality, of course, is not white hats versus black hats, at least not when it comes to relations between countries and people. The Charles de Gaulle quip that “No nation has friends only interests” reflects this reality. The moral thing to do in international affairs is that which serves the interests of the people. That will often conflict with what is seen as the right thing to do by some other nation. This is made clear in Ukraine, where Russia is waging a war in what they see as their vital interests.
If one needs to have a moral principle in this area, then it is that a moral government acts in the interests of its people. After all, the point of government, no matter the style of government, is to protect the collective interest of the society. For government to act outside the interest of the society means it is not a legitimate government. It is something imposed on an unwilling population. This is the argument against colonialism, no matter the practical benefits to the locals.
With that in mind we can assess the players in Ukraine. The Russian side is the easiest as Putin has been the most vocal in explaining his motives. The Russians see NATO, especially America, as an expansionist adversary. They are not wrong about this, at least with regards to the United States. The whole point of meddling in Ukraine has been to destabilize Russia. Washington views conquering Russian as unfinished business from the Cold War.
The Russians have had to lie back and take it since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but now they have decided to fight back. From their perspective, Ukraine is the line in the sand and they are acting from both the narrow interests of Russia, but also the historical reality of Eurasia. The Russians, in part, define themselves within the greater definition of Eurasia. Their role is to defend this region, which includes the Ukraine and the Ukrainian people, who they see as brothers.
One can not like the results of this point of view and also respect it. War is an ugly business and it is a tragedy for the people in Ukraine. The Russians are not wrong, however, in how they view the situation. They see they have no choice and it is clear they are right about that. The West has done nothing to seek peace, instead opting to flood the area with weapons. It is a terrible thing, but the actions of Russia align with that old Charles de Gaulle maxim.
One the other side is Ukraine, which is a much more complicated thing as there is more than one player. There is the Zelensky government, which is largely the creation of Washington. Then you have the various nationalists groups. How much they have been supported by Washington is unknown. Then there are opposition groups that want Ukraine to follow the model of Belarus. They are characterized as pro-Russian, but they view themselves as the genuine Ukrainian nationalists.
The easy one to analyze is the Zelensky government. It is clear at this point that they have no interest in the people. They are in this for personal reasons. If they cared about the interest of Ukrainians, they never would have gone down this road. They certainly would not be telling Ukrainians to fight to the death, while they shoot videos for Western consumption in Poland. Instead, they would be ready to take the deal on offer, but that is not where their bread is buttered, so the war continues.
The ultranationalists, on the other hand, are the mirror of the Zelensky government, in that they are motivated by ideals. They have an image of a Ukrainian ethnostate modeled on Israel and Japan. This may be unrealistic or even insane, but they genuinely believe it is in the best interest of their people. The fact that they are being used by Washington as a disposable pawn on the international chessboard is a good reminder that the enemy of the national interests is naivety.
As an aside, this is the appeal to Western nationalists. Nationalism does not exist in the West as a practical matter. There are no nationalists parties, other than those wearing the idea as a fig leaf. Victor Orban is popular with the American Right because he is seen as something that has not existed in American politics for a century. In Western Europe, genuine nationalism is forbidden. This makes the Ukrainian nationalists seem like heroes, despite the disastrous results on the ground.
Finally, we have America, which is the world’s great meddler. The Biden administration could end the war tomorrow, but their real supporters see a profit in prolonging the conflict so that is the plan. This means a decline in the standard of living for Americans and possibly worse. They have repeatedly said that your suffering is the price they are willing to pay for whatever it is they are doing. The interests of Americans count for no more than the lives of Ukrainians.
Of all the players in this war, it is Washington that is the furthest away from the standard implied by Charles de Gaulle quip. There are no American interests in Ukraine and the American people are not benefitting from the war. In fact, Washington is much like the Zelensky government, in that they are acting from narrow self-interest. It was not so long ago when it was revealed that the Biden family had been taking bribes from the Ukrainians going back to the Obama years.
The best one can say about the Washington position is they are demanding you and your family suffer in defense of the abstract principles of liberal democracy. Maybe you can fashion an argument that says they are acting from the interest of the Global American Empire, which benefits some residents of North America. Many nationalists have drawn a parallel between this view and the and Eurasianism while condemning Russia and supporting Ukraine.
The problem with that approach is it puts the self-proclaimed Western nationalists on the side of the Global American Empire and the EU, entities that are explicitly anti-nationalists and arguably anti-Western. This quickly looks like a suicide pact in favor of maintaining intellectual purity in the face of reality. It is a reminder that intellectual purity can be as self-defeating as moral purity when it comes to reality. No man should put his ideals ahead of the life of his people.
In the end we are where history always leads us. There are no good guys or bad guys, no grand morality tale to frame the future. Ukraine is about the nature of great powers, fading empires and the decline of the West under American leadership. War is the violent transition from one scene of history to the next. What must matter to the genuine nationalist is what is best for his people, even if it means being flexible on those noble ideas that are so inspiring in the abstract.
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