What May Be True.

            “In war, much is uncertain.”[1]  The war in Ukraine remains filled with uncertainties. 

            Even so, important verities resurface.[2]  First, grating as American leadership may be, disruptive as is the change fostered by the American political and economic model, no one sees a viable alternative.  Liberal democracy and an open world economy exert a powerful pull on people around the world.  They tantalize with visions of individual freedom and prosperity.  American weapons and tactics, so recently discredited in places where people felt themselves fighting merely for American goals, appear to work just fine in a place where people feel themselves to be fighting for their own cause.  Few people want to live in a world dominated by Russia or China.  “Prison camps, boiler suits, and a damn long march to nowhere.”[3] 

Second, the “Gods of the Copybook Headings” return.[4]  Alliances are like labor unions: people only join because they are drove to it by a greater danger.  So disparate an alliance as that of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union only came into existence because of the danger posed by Hitler’s Germany.  After the defeat of the Soviet Union in the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) decayed.  Germany, in particular, ran down its military forces and renewed historical ties to Russia.  Neither President Obama’s cajoling nor President Trump’s rough tongue made any difference.  With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, NATO sprang back to life.  European countries that once declined to join found an urgent new interest in membership.  Germany began the long process of re-building its military and eventually sent arms to Ukraine. 

In like fashion, people have been reminded for the umpteenth time that economic sanctions have little real effect on how countries behave.   

In our age at least, nationalism claims many hearts.  This seems less true in North America and Western Europe.  For example, the European Union (EU) is a supranational project three-quarters of a century in development.  It has created an alternative sense of identity for many of its members.  One effect has been to reduce the power of nationalism for many of its members.  Furthermore, traditional nationalism is too closely linked in many minds with war and racism.  Among the newer members of the EU, those added as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe, nationalism remains a much stronger force.[5]  Ukrainians are fighting for their own sense of national identity, which involves a sense that they want to be part of the West, not of Russia. 

“These facts, which if true,…”[6]  Perhaps these verities will stand the test of events, perhaps not.  The Ukraine crisis is a short-term crisis.  Perhaps things will re-set afterwards.  If not, everyone is going to have some hard thinking to do about how to adjust policy to reality. 


[1] Sir Desmond Morton, MC.  He would know.  He had been shot in the heart during the First World War, but survived.  See: Arthur Marder, Operation “Menace”: The Dakar Expedition and the Dudley North Affair (1976).    Also, Gill Bennett, Churchill’s Man of Mystery: Desmond Morton and the World of Intelligence (2006).   

[2] Walter Russell Mead, “Biden Needs a “Pivot” to the World,”  WSJ, 28 February 2022. 

[3] The character Jim Prideaux in John Le Carre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1974). 

[4] See: https://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poem/poems_copybook.htm 

[5] That nationalism has troubled the EU in places like Poland and Hungary.  In part, Britain’s exit from the EU springs from a revived sense of specifically English nationalism triggered by the Scottish independence campaign. 

[6] Some Republican moron in Congress years ago. 

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