Ukraine, the tomb of liberal nationalism
"One incredibly stupid and destructive thing—which keeps on going on."
Russian pranksters, posing as the Ukrainian politician-oligarch Petro Poroshenko, prank-called a random Trump-era Secretary of Defense—and got former Secretary Esper to be remarkably frank about Washington’s relationship with the Kiev regime.
“The brave Ukrainian people,” the Secretary says, “are doing the dirty work we never want to do here in the United States. Which is why we should continue to support you with everything we can, whether it’s munitions or arms or intelligence, you name it. So I think it’s vitally critical that we continue to support this fight till the end.”
Until the end. “Everything could change,” says the (actually pro-Russian) prankster, “only if there will be a revolution in Russia. So we’re waiting for that.”
“But we are too,” says former Secretary Esper. And laughs; and goes on to tell us what a snake Putin is. “I’m a fool,” Steely Dan is singing, “I’m a fool, to do your dirty work…”
Let us admit, for purpose of argument, that Putin is a snake. And Ukraine is our little brother. How important it must be, that our little brother fight the snake… hundreds of thousands of human beings have been killed in this war. Why? Like, really—why?
Our SecDef explains. “Because I think it affects obviously not just Ukraine but Moldova, Georgia, you know, we still have Russia… we now have Russians in Azerbaijan uh, Armenia… uh we have Russians in Africa… so uh they are a problem. Putin is a problem…”
Russians in Africa. We have Russians in Africa. Any IDM producers out there? Uh, Armenia. Moldova, Georgia, you know… need a sample to sample? By like June, you won’t be able to walk down the beach in Ibiza without hearing “Russians in Africa.” And for this… hundreds of thousands of Slavs must die. “Putin is a problem…”
I have no brief for Mr. Putin. The fellow is, so far as I know, a snake. Let us assume he is a snake. It is also the case that the United States of America must share the planet with Mr. Putin, and with many other snakes. But, compensating the management so generously as I do, I do expect it to show genuine expertise in the field of snake-handling.
Now, I myself have never once handled a rattlesnake. However, I do feel I can assess a success metric in the area of rattlesnake handling—which is that no one gets bit. When I see a performance that purports to be a masterful display of the art, that in fact is an extremely expensive display of the art, and in which that art appears to reduce itself to goading our little brother into poking the snake and then rassling with it—which “we never want to do here in the United States,” this apparently being an aggressive snake, with fresh designs on Alaska, or something—and the consequence of which strategy is that our brother is repeatedly bitten and may even die, while the snake winds up… running an unprecedented trade surplus… Alaska, at least, seems safe for now… but I…
Well, I mean, I even almost wonder if we need better snake guys. You know that feeling you have? When there’s a contractor? Or an employee? And they’re… they’re just not measuring up? I mean. Of course these are great snake guys. The best. But still, honey…
State of the conflict
As of mid-February 2023, it is really starting to feel like the Ukrainians are crumbling a little on the battlefield. The best indicator of this is the Pentagon itself, which may not have won a lot of wars lately, but which is neither blind nor stupid—and whose desperation to get more and better gear to the front is palpable.
Also, it seems that this is fundamentally an artillery war, and their side can just make more shells than ours. And unlike in World War I, building a new munitions industry overnight is not a thing in the Western world. The current idea in Washington is that this production imbalance in industrial war can be made up by sending the latest tech. (And the Ukrainians will be trained to shoot more efficiently! Has anyone in here ever met a Slav?)
Not only does this feel like the kind of bureaucratic fantasy that kept Afghanistan on fire for two decades—it reminds us of something something Hitler. Wunderwaffen! With our luck, it might just work—as Bismarck said, God looks after fools, drunks, and the United States… but…
Motivation of the conflict
Isn’t it amazing—to set up a war like this—at the ground level, a war over which local oligarchs get to batten on the sweet black earth of the Dnieper—our gang, or their gang? I grant you that our gang is more like us—went to better schools, dresses sharper, speaks the better English—I see what we do for our gang—what our gang does for us may be less clear—to plan a war like this, and then—and then—maybe even—lose it?
An achievement in the snake-handling arts that herpetologists will study for years. With snake guys like this—who needs snakes?
Because you know, if I wasn’t no kind of expert, if I didn’t know nothing about snakes, I might just of said: the Ukraine was part of the USSR when I was a kid and the USSR is Russia. Ukraine is basically Russia the way Canada is basically America. America is related to the two of them basically the way China is related to America and Canada.
It would be scary and weird for China to arm the moderate Canadians—especially to arm them so well they could fight off the Marines. It would be especially scary and weird if the Chinese lied and said they wouldn’t do it and then like just did it anyway. (If diplomatic history for kindergarteners does not do it for you, read this essay.)
Therefore, if I was playing China and my goal was to make the world a peaceful happy place to buy my cheap plastic junk, I would not send a fuckton of weapons to Canada. I would promise to not make a military-political alliance with any Canadian factions, or Canada as a whole. I would not get involved in any protests, coups, etc, in Canada. Even if that meant DC could really lean on Ottawa with a new round of lumber tariffs. I would be content with this situation. And there would be no war. And lots of little North American girls would still be alive and more would still have both parents.
But if I was playing China and I just wanted to start some shit on the North American continent—I would certainly arm the moderate Canadians. (Or at least the Québécois.) In this case, my actions would be completely consistent with my goals. Narratives in which goals and actions are consistent are inherently more plausible.
Looking at the objective results of our Ukrainian policy, you could swear we were devils—devils governed by devils, maybe—and had it in for the people of the Ukraine. They had sinned, we decided. So they needed to be spanked by the hard hand of war. For—reasons. Who knows. There must be reasons. Crypto scams, camgirls and spam?
We’ve had enough of you, you hohol swine! For too long have your scammy spammy camgirls afflicted us on the Internet! Never again will we be phished while jacking it! Never again need we hold our boners before those hard, human-trafficked eyes. Never again shall you rug-pull our life-savings off your high-yield broken-English scamcoin! We will kill hundreds of thousands of you, we’ll go full Grozny on towns and cities, the dead will bury the dead…
I’m not saying this would make sense. But if this was our goal, our actions would make sense. If we actually hated our little brother and had paid off the snake company, on the side, to make sure he got it “by accident,” the policy narrative would at least have some coherence. Instead we remain firmly in the realms of the bizarre. My only real political belief is that public policy should never, ever be bizarre.
Nor is this bizarre contained—in space or time. Looking at the objective results of our Ukrainian policy, you could swear we had it in for the Ukrainians. Subjectively, we are in it to rescue them. If this is not bizarre, it was perfectly normal for Gérard de Nerval to walk his lobster down the street.
Also: we often think of World War II as a war to rescue the Jews. When it started, we saw it as a war to rescue the Poles. (It was neither.) Looking at the objective results—you could swear we had it in for both the Poles and the Jews. Yes: even World War II, the Marvel movie of wars, is walking the lobster.
How should we feel about this? “Why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog?” How should—the Ukrainians, Poles and Jews feel? Funny thing about that…
Westsplaining and Eastsplaining
Many times have I had this conversation about US diplomacy deploying the Ukrainian people as a disposable instrument of murky, inexplicable and even self-defeating aims—sometimes with sincere American Ukraine stans, sometimes with persons of Polish or Ukrainian origin (the Poles always get the talk about the Ukrainian massacres of Poles—they seldom care—apparently to be truly Polish is to deeply love life—deeply— not as deeply, though, as you hate Russia)—and I keep hearing one crushing argument.
The argument is that the Ukrainians are into it. This is about them, not us. We are just helping them do what they want to do—stand up, bravely, at great cost of their own blood and treasure, against the reptilian thugocracy of Russia. Well, our treasure too!
But how selfish we would be if we did not give up our lattes to stand by them! Switch to a “drip” coffee every morning, and you could send Ukraine one 155mm shell a year. Who can imagine a more fulfilling way to change the world? The next generation of shells will be mounted with a GoPro, so crowdfunders can see the “orcs” we kaboom.
Remember, the Ukrainians are into doing America’s dirty work—we should pay them well, as we cheer them on like the loyal big brothers we are. Get that snake! Get him! Together, you are helping keep Mr. Putin’s roving eye off the cold strategic Aleutians. Thanks, bro! Really—thanks! Least we can do. “I’m a fool, to do your dirty work…”
And if I object to this weird-ass narrative, I am… Westsplaining.
“Westsplaining” is, as two of our “civil society” little white brothers (Poles—I am tempted to email and tell them about the Volhynian massacres) explain in the New Republic, “a form of provincialism that sees only the United States and its allies as primary actors.”
Yeah, “its allies.” I suppose I am more “Anglosplaining,” because I do not see any allies—only satellites. After 1945 I see only Washington as a primary actor—from 1815 to 1914, only London. Moscow is only a rogue satellite; Berlin and Tokyo are only rebels. The interwar relationship between London and Washington is… genuinely complex. This is my realist historiography of the global power map of the last two centuries. It is indubitably hardcore, but I am prepared to defend it and will do so in a moment.
These “civil society” Poles, these rice-Christians of the Atlantic Century, do not bother us with any argument for their intriguing, multipolar, bottom-up theory of linguistic nationalism in Central Europe. Oh, no. No, their first reflex is to ram a hard, reeking wad of rancid prog ideology down your long-suffering throat:
Speaking about Eastern Europe and Eastern Europeans without listening to local voices or trying to understand the region’s complexity is a colonial projection.
A colonial projection. How does one say “colonial projection” in Polish? What about… “socialist brotherhood?” How can any Pole fail to recognize the taste of langue du bois? The tongue of wood… You’ll cough for a week after you kiss that rod lung-deep.
The real colonial projection is… saying things like “colonial projection.” Regardless of what any of us may think of anticolonialism… that is not a Polish idea, is it, gentlemen? Physician, heal thyself.
A solid rule of thumb is that whenever someone tells you something is “complex,” unless he is talking about Anglo-American relations between 1914 and 1945, he is probably yanking your chain. Here is some 200-proof “Eastsplaining” for you:
Eastern Europe is maddeningly complex. It doesn’t even have a clear definition: Spanning from the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania down (depending on whom you ask) through Poland, Belarus, Slovakia, Czechia, and Hungary, then east to encompass Moldova, and south to Romania and Bulgaria, and perhaps taking in other countries, the region has little to give it cohesion.
Eastern Europe, in the Anglo-American global order of the last two centuries, is not complex at all. It is embarrassingly, disgustingly simple—one thing, over and over again. One incredibly stupid and destructive thing—which keeps on going on. And on.
The American enthusiasm for Vladimir Zelensky in 2022, for instance, is exactly the same thing as the American craze for Lajos Kossuth in 1852. The pattern is not even specific to Eastern Europe. Simón Bolívar is the same animal. The details, of course, are always different. Once I explain the pattern, you will see it instantly everywhere.
The puzzle of liberal nationalism
Liberalism—in its broadest sense, in which liberalism is synonymous with leftism—is not an ideology. It is not a system of a priori ethical principles that applies rigidly to all situations. It is an ethical method—whose ethics are themselves questionable.
Imagine two countries, A and B, with different theories of citizenship. In country A, citizenship is a piece of plastic in your pocket, a row in a public database. Every citizen is the same as any other citizen. The community can make anyone a citizen. But in country B, citizenship is a mystic bond of blood and soil, tongue and faith. Citizenship is by birth. Everyone lives in one place, speaks one language, and prays to one god. Even the most superficial study of history will show the A and B archetypes.
It seems fair to call country A liberal, and country B nationalist; and fair to say that while there is a spectrum between A and B—even the most liberal of countries today is a little bit nationalist—A and B are opposite poles of political ethics.
If you are a liberal—if you are not a liberal, you at least know how to pretend to be—nationalism is clearly, in principle, bad.
Yet—what is liberal nationalism? It is clearly a thing. But if A and B are opposites, it makes no sense to compose them. There is no such color as “black-white,” nor is any person both “short” and “tall.”
It seems that there are two very distinct kinds of nationalism, both very fervent in the waving of flags and the declaring of independence. Since we are all (face it) liberals here, the main thing we mean by “liberal nationalism” is “good nationalism.” Clearly, there is also a “conservative nationalism,” which is “bad nationalism.”
Nationalism is bad. Nationalism is Hitler. German nationalism is bad. Nationalism is Mussolini. Italian nationalism is bad. Nationalism is Mazzini. Italian nationalism is good. Catalan nationalism is good. Serbian nationalism is bad. Quebec nationalism is good… we notice that we could be saying “left” and “right.” And we cannot make this diagnosis on the basis of geography, or on whether the leader’s name ends in a vowel. The diagnosis is clear—but it depends on some contingent factor we cannot identify.
From this analysis alone we can conclude, though, that liberalism—liberalism not in the sense of “principles of country A,” but in the sense of “leftism”—has no universal ethical objection to blood-and-soil nationalism. Whatever was bad about the Nazis—and bad they certainly were—it was not, or not just, because Blut und Boden is bad.
Because every time some soft-spoken Canadian bureaucrat starts a meeting with a “land acknowledgment,” she is saying a prayer to pure blood-and-soil nationalism. Nor is the special pleading of blood-and-soil race loyalty among legacy minorities a Canadian idea—any more than anticolonialism is a Polish idea.
It is possible to defend the ethical approach of country A—which we can call default liberalism—or that of country B—which we can call default nationalism.
It is not possible to defend, as a coherent system of ethics, a system which is A on Mondays and Wednesdays, but B on Tuesdays and Thursdays—nor would either system of ethics seem to admit any such compromise, sliced by race or by weekday. The only system that would seem to admit such a bizarre compromise is one we might call Machiavellian liberalism.
While many liberals are indeed consistent in their default-liberal ethics, liberalism as a movement never seems able to detach itself from its ruthless unprincipled cousin. The conservatism is a conservative not because he does not respect default liberalism—he often used to be one—but because he knows it can never defeat its ugly cousin.
In particular, liberal nationalism is always an expression of Machiavellian liberalism; and default liberalism always supports Machiavellian liberalism against conservatism. This is why it always makes most sense to study historical leftism as a unity, despite the notoriously fissiparous nature of leftist parties and sects.
Because it couples the mass appeal of nationalism with the highbrow pull of leftism, liberal nationalism—this inherent oxymoron—is a bipartisan political formula. It is hard to know whether Republicans or Democrats are more pro-Ukraine. Just as there was hardly any American pro-Franco constituency in the Spanish Civil War—nor did many Americans support the Hapsburgs against Kossuth—there are few Americans indeed who dare to be openly pro-Russia. The Ukrainians are simply more like us.
By some mysterious logic, the most America-like side is the “anticolonial side”—that is, the “nationalist” side. How is the “nationalist” side the side that gets its essays in the New Republic, and the “colonialist” side the side where your ATM card doesn’t work? It’s all so confusing…
A historical shanda
I do worry about being named as a Russia apologist. So let me pick on Russia a little, not to pick on Russia, but just as an illustration of an abstract point.
Perhaps the most damning historical example of the “liberal nationalist” trope is the unprincipled alliance, at the start of the 20th century, between the liberal Russian intelligentsia and the nationalist Russian foreign-policy establishment.
The policy of the Russian nationalists had long been imperial expansion in the name of Pan-Slavism—the idea that all Slavic peoples should be part of a Greater Russia. And of course, not only the Ukraine, but also Poland, the Baltics and even Finland, belonged to the Czar.
But what we used to call Yugoslavia—“Yugoslav” just means “South Slav”—was the Hapsburg Emperor’s property, or his backyard. Therefore the Pan-Slavic idea was inherently conflict-generating; and of course it was the idea of Sarajevo. (We later actually found out that Russian military intelligence was connected to Sarajevo.)
It is to the eternal shame of the Russian liberal intelligentsia, past and present, that it prostituted its “default liberal” principles to become “liberal nationalists,” borrowing the platform of the Pan-Slavists while crossing their Machiavellian fingers behind their backs—because their logic was not that God had anointed Moscow the Fourth Rome, but rather that a war in which Russia allied with the Allies would lead to the end of the Czarist system (which it did) and the triumph of the liberal intelligentsia.
Which it did, for a while—after which God punished the libs, exactly as they deserved. It was not the Bolsheviks, but the Constitutional Democrats, who overthrew the Czar. Maistre’s theodicy of the French Revolution also works perfectly for the Russian…
But I digress. The point is that the inherently unprincipled alliance of civic liberalism with blood-and-soil nationalism—or its close cousin, linguistic nationalism, which is the thing in Eastern Europe since one Slav, frankly, looks pretty much like another—the whole “your skin is your uniform” thing doesn’t really fly—this liberal nationalism is roughly the same idea that wrecked Europe a century ago. Hello, here it is again—like a new strain of covid. Great. This is exactly what Eastern Europe needed, isn’t it?
One we perceive liberal nationalism as a disease—whose symptoms are war, chaos and revolution, plus an often inexplicable affinity for the Anglo-American empire—or, as some call it, the “international community”—we are ready to look for the cause of this destructive mental disability which has so perennially tormented the modern world.
Understanding liberal nationalism
Our first step in processing all this weirdness—a step which may be difficult for our Eastsplaining friends—is to understand that public opinion is never an unmoved mover.
In the theory of democracy, public opinion—of which there are various definitions, some more egalitarian and some more aristocratic—has to be an ultimate cause. If opinion is to rule, we must say that opinion can change; but only of its own volition.
Because if some other power or force has control over public opinion—the whole concept of the rule of the public consensus makes no sense at all. The other force might as well just be officially in charge. Why does it need to rule through opinion?
Moreover, this question does not turn on whether the public mind is right or wrong—but whether the public mind is strong or weak. But no mind ever thinks itself weak. The weak mind is an idea follower, not an idea leader—as we can see from the “Polish school of anticolonialism.”
To investigate the cause of public opinion is inherently insulting to that public. To deconstruct anything is an insult to it. Yet the historian is like a doctor—sometimes, history has to hurt. Because the truth sometimes hurts. That pain is the pain of the lie leaving your body—to become a student of history, you must learn to ignore it.
We can very easily that the tropes of liberal nationalism are not local tropes in either place or time, for a very simple reason—they are almost identical across a wide variety of times and places. If Eastern Europe were so locally complex, the tropes of linguistic nationalism would be so different across its complex different nations. Instead they are startlingly similar from Danube to Dnieper, from the 19th to the 21st centuries.
Logically, we should expect the cause of this phenomenon to be as global and durable as the phenomenon itself—or we break Occam’s razor by postulating too many causes. And if we find the same thing in another hemisphere, any “Eastsplaining” is rekt.
What the strange parallels in versions of liberal nationalism across Eastern Europe and beyond shows us is that public opinion, even intellectual opinion, can be an effect. This harmony across time and space demands an explanation across time and space. We can search for the historical cause of liberal nationalism.
The historical cause of liberal nationalism
Observing that liberal nationalism is a phenomenon of the last 250 years, we see that it coincides with the rise of Anglo-American global leadership. The 18th century’s top authority on international law, the Swiss Vattel, already a raging Anglomaniac, writes in 1758—when Europe’s leading powers are still the Bourbons and Hapsburgs—of the old balance-of-power system:
England, whose opulence and formidable fleets have a powerful influence, without alarming any state on the score of its liberty, because that nation seems cured of the rage of conquest,— England, I say, has the glory of holding the political balance. She is attentive to preserve it in equilibrium:—a system of policy, which is in itself highly just and wise, and will ever entitle her to praise, as long as she continues to pursue it only by means of alliances, confederacies, and other methods equally lawful.
“Narrator: England was not cured of the rage of conquest.” She was learning another way to do it: by infecting her targets with liberal nationalism.
The emotional cause of liberal nationalism is that liberal nationalism works—on both sides of the ocean. Among both Americans and Ukrainians, this ideology—even though it has repeatedly led to so many disasters (Q: how awful would Europe be if, if the Bourbons, Hapsburgs and Hohenzollerns were still in charge? A: not awful at all?) feels powerful and important and useful.
An ideology works not because it collectively achieves the right thing, but because it makes its believers feel good. Ideologies feel good because of the human instinct for power. Unfortunately, this instinct can be so manipulated that “nationalism” becomes a policy whose predictable effect is to wreck a nation to do an empire’s “dirty work.”
Since England was liberal, it made sense for England to promote liberalism overseas. This meant that to be a liberal anywhere, even 250 years ago, was to be aligned with England—with her “opulence and formidable fleets.”
Imagine if the Foreign Office, for some weird reason, had instead chosen to promote… Zoroastrianism. Imagine if US foreign aid today was only for Zoroastrians; if applying to a US college took an essay about your Zoroastrian faith; if “democracy” anywhere in the world amounted to the rule of the local Zoroastrians... well, the local fire temple would start getting pretty popular.
This explains the Machiavellian liberalism. What about Machiavellian nationalism?
The bureaucratic cause of liberal nationalism
Liberal nationalism abroad is liberal internationalism at home. What is in it for our domestic sponsors of global Zoroastrianism—as it were?
Well, bureaucrats like to feel powerful too. To say the least. And nothing says “power” like having an entourage. If the taxpayer pays you to jet around the world and maintain an entourage… the more mouths you feed on someone else’s dime, the better. Kings were always judged by how many warriors sat at their table; catering was never free.
While this is in some ways a plausible explanation, it is cynical and dismissive. Any phenomenon is best understood at its best. What is liberal internationalism at its best?
When we see a completely insane public policy which has become a universal dogma—such as liberal internationalism in postwar US foreign policy—we are usually looking at the rotten, ossified ghost of a strategy which in its youth was sane and effective.
In the context of the US, this youth is best placed around the Spanish-American War—the golden age of true American imperialism. But the US was late to empire. When I think of the earliest clear example of the strategy that decayed into the philosophy behind our “dirty work” in the Ukraine, I think of British foreign policy 200 years ago.
I think of the Monroe Doctrine. Historians know well that the Monroe Doctrine was actually a piece of British foreign policy; it was signed by President Monroe, written by John Quincy Adams, inspired by George Canning, and enforced by the Royal Navy. Our noble country, too, was once a satellite state… I’ll let Wikipedia tell the story:
Britain had a strong interest in ensuring the demise of Spanish colonialism, and opening the newly independent Latin American colonies to its trade. The Latin Americans received a certain amount of unofficial aid—arms and volunteers—from outside, but no outside official help at any stage from Britain or any other power. Britain refused to aid Spain and opposed any outside intervention on behalf of Spain by other powers. Royal Navy veterans were a decisive factor in the struggle for independence of certain Latin American countries.
In 1825 Mexico, Argentina and Colombia were recognized by means of the ratification of commercial treaties with Britain. In November 1825 the first minister from a Latin American state, Colombia, was officially received in London. “Spanish America is free,” Canning declared, “and if we do not mismanage our affairs she is English ... the New World established and if we do not throw it away, ours.” Also in 1825, Portugal recognized Brazil (thanks to Canning's efforts, and in return for a preferential commercial treaty), less than three years after Brazil's declaration of independence.
On 12 December 1826, in the House of Commons, Canning was given an opportunity to defend the policies he had adopted towards France, Spain and Spanish America, and declared: “I resolved that if France had Spain it should not be Spain with the Indies. I called the New World into existence to redress the balance of the Old.”
The Spanish Empire had fallen apart in the Napoleonic Wars, just as the USSR fell apart in 1989. Just as two centuries ago the British used liberal internationalism to prevent Spain’s property in the Americas from being restored to her in the peace, our State Department called “Ukraine” into existence to redress the balance of Russia. The parallel is perfect. (Note that Canning is why they play soccer in Argentina.)
But there are differences. Notably, Canning’s policy—which the Spanish must have seen as walking right up to the line of straight-out Francis Drake tier piracy—was both good politics and good statesmanship.
It was good politics because seeing England as a global ambassador of liberty made the London crowd love their government and its liberty-supporting politicians. Being powerful, liberal internationalism generated political power—then as now.
It was good statesmanship because, though an extremely aggressive policy bordering on an act of war against Spain, it was good (in at least the medium term) for both England and Spanish America. The former colonies, whose trade had suffered for centuries under mercantilist restrictions, boomed when connected to the new global economy. Nor did English merchants mind the business.
The tragedy of 21st-century internationalism is that it is not even predatory. As Trump said, America didn’t invade Iraq for the oil—nor the Ukraine for the sunflower seeds. The last protons in the universe will decay before either war turns a profit—on either side of the ocean, or either side of the Dnieper. It is all just tragedy on autopilot—an endless, meaningless, bureaucratic-journalistic-social hamster-race for clout. Sad!
I'd like to see more attention paid to the idea that US policy towards Russia is an extension of the old British strategy. The one thing that could never be allowed was Germany with its industrial and technological prowess aligning with Russia with its vast resources. This was the real long term threat to their liberal order. Once you see that, everything from the first world war onward starts to make a lot more sense.
Yes, the snakehandler's goal is to make sure no-one gets bit, but this analogy is wrong because we're not the snake-handler of the planet; we're another one of the snakes.
Yes, in the grand scheme of things it was probably unwise for the U.S. to expand NATO east of Germany. It was also probably unwise to not slowly cede security leadership in European affairs over to the Europeans after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
But neither of those mistakes is sufficient to justify, or even explain, Putin's invasion of Ukraine. Nations, even great ones, often put up with insults to their national honor and security out of necessity, or ideology, or just plain cost-benefit analysis. The U.S. tolerates the presence of massive quasi-governmental, quasi-criminal business-enterprises on its southern border directly degrading its own rule of law and killing thousands of its people with smuggled fentanyl. We haven't invaded Mexico or attempted to purge Sonora and Chihuahua.
So given that Putin is a snake, given that we can influence, but not control his behavior, and given that he has reached out and bitten another fellow-creature, what do we do? I would submit that *giving the bite-victim tools to make it hard to swallow* is hardly the worst response here. Sure, the bite victim is still getting bitten, and that sucks. We used to recognize that war was an unfortunate, but legitimate tool of national diplomacy - the *ultima ratio regum*, or last argument of kings. But helping the defender in a war does not mean you are in favor of every casualty that gets inflicted - it means you sympathize with the defender's struggle not the get conquered.