[belatedly acknowledged by Lynn C. Rees]
Here’s strategy at its most concrete.
Of all human imposed constants in American strategy, this is the most constant: Russia is the only threat on earth that can destroy the United States of America in hours. Though this constant seems less constant now than when Russia was subject to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, it has remained a constant menace despite Russia’s successful revolt against Soviet rule in 1991.
Yet the leaders of the United States follow a feckless strategy. Feckless strategy is like reckless strategy only with this critical distinction: while reckless strategy is at least energetic stupidity, feckless strategy is merely lazy stupidity. It is the art of failing without leaving your hammock. Swinging away, not a seeming care in the world, the United States has rudely intervened into Russia’s front yard, kicked out its Russia-friendly leadership, and is now taking leisurely victory lap around an uncaged nuclear tipped bear with a thousand year old inferiority complex and twenty years of wounded feelings to work through. This is not a win-win sporting event.
I’m all for stomping on your own client states. The efficient law of the jungle hypothesis argues that eventually the strong do what they can while the weak do what they must and the concert of nations will efficiently ultimately reflect this. But the United States has its own stable of poodles to oppress. Despite Mackinder’s trifecta:
Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland;
who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island;
who rules the World-Island controls the world
Sleepwalking past the Straights of Gibraltar or the Suez Canal through the Hellespont and the Bosporus so we can pee on Russia up the Dnieper from the Black Sea strikes me as a waste of time. Like the ridiculous proposal that the Americans take up the burden of a League of Nations mandate for Armenia after World War I (a proposal Thomas Woodrow Wilson (may his bones be crushed) fecklessly sent to the United States Senate where it was thankfully euthanized 52 to 23), the idea of American puppetry in the Black Sea, be it in the Ukraine, in Georgia, or some other quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing, is insane for many reasons. The most pressing of these reasons is that it is simply on the wrong side.
While Russia is from Mackinder, the United States is from Spykman:
Who controls the rimland rules Eurasia;
Who rules Eurasia controls the destinies of the world.
The United States stands tallest when it stands astride blue water. What touches blue water is on the right side and that blue water touches the Eurasian rimlands. It does not flow up the Dnieper.
To the rimlands we can go. If a key maxim of statecraft is “never stick your head into a hole you can’t pull it out of”, the rimlands, if they become a hole, at least have the virtue of being a hole a blue water power can pull its head out of. Sticking our head up the Dnieper, in contrast, is sticking our head into a hole wrapped in a tunnel wrapped in a bottomless abyss. The hole Ukraine gauntlet is three consecutive holes: the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and only then the Dnieper.
At the end of that gauntlet is resentful Russia sucking its nuclear-tipped thumb. The Russians believe they were ill-treated by the United States after the USSR went to its ash heap. If I were Russian, I’d probably share the same hurt feelings. However, Russia can not be subject to Communism for seven decades and expect life to be rainbows and unicorns. A key question at the heart of statecraft: if you can’t kick a man when he’s down, when else exactly are you supposed to kick him? The United States emerged from its great contest with the USSR in a stronger position than the refugees fleeing that infernal contraption. Russia suffered through a decade of postwar gloom without the sort of postwar emotional reinforcement I thought only Germans required to work through chronic revisionist issues: American troops marching through the Brandenburg gate or Red Square. The United States was going to do thing to Russia that it couldn’t do to the USSR. It could afford to indulge in useless luxuries like online, on demand chewing gum pack delivery or pushing your “attack on one is an attack on all” club to the line of the Nieman.
Poor Russia, whining in the cold, wanted dotcom era baubles too. If it couldn’t get that, at least it wanted the shadow of American intervention removed from its near reaches. We succumbed to the full Mackinder, absentmindedly reaching our tentacles into Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and other remote parts.
I have no objection in principle to reaching our tentacles into remote parts. I do object to doing so fitfully and under resourced. If you are going to go Heartland on Eurasia, go Tamerlane or go home. If we are not going to go Tamerlane, a highly likely course since Joe S. American is likely to ask “What’s a Ukraine and what can I do with it?”, than we should stay home. Home is even more comfortable when you realize its walls provide some protection and distance from angry nuclear tipped teddy bears.
The United States, if it is to be overseas, should keep to its knitting by keeping to its Eurasian littorals. Heartland thugs and Heartland minions are not a luxury we need to acquire. Especially if your mischief is slouching over the line separating self-indulgence from self-destruction. Then we’re buying low quality assets at a price that can easily go nuclear. Or, to quote a particularly feckless past incarnation of our nation’s current top diplomat:
“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”