Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
The great East-West divide in Europe isn’t what it used to be. During the Cold War the independent Western republics faced off against Eastern Communist dictatorships in thrall to Moscow.
Now the Western side of the divide are part of a regional union whose mission is to diminish nationalism and national independence, while on the Eastern side all the nationalism that had been suppressed by Communism reigns unchecked.
And some of the smaller and weaker nations are caught in the middle “betwixt the devil and the deep blue sea “
Centuries of invasions, wars, and subsequent population transfers have left the region pockmarked with national and ethnic groups with a fierce sense of their own destiny and culture that don’t fit into any kind of workable national borders.
The Russian invasion of the Ukraine is yet another in a series of regional conflicts between two competing groups of nationalists over borders and territory. As the victim of an invasion by a larger power, Ukraine naturally has the sympathy of many Americans. But, contrary to the facile analogies of political propaganda, this isn’t World War II, let alone World War III.
It’s World War I.
The Biden administration is playing the familiar role of the League of Nations, standing on the sidelines and angrily lecturing about international norms while imposing sanctions that have the net effect of cutting Russia out of sections of the international community.
The League of Nations, a response to the aftermath of WWI, is founded on the conviction that no nation could resist the stern disapproval of the international community. We all know how that ended. The League’s successor, the United Nations, like the European Union and other international bodies, was no longer based around a union of independent nations, but on leveraging the interdependence of global institutions to weaken and eventually eliminate national identities in order to finally bring an end to all wars.
The UN’s effort to bring peace through denationalization has been an even bigger failure than the old community of nations. Its biggest successes are the club of wealthy first world nations who gave up their national identities, military initiative, and spines in exchange for a blue club card. And now they act shocked at their own impotence.
Nationalism, war, and even genocide haven’t gone anywhere. Human history did not end at the Paris Peace Conference any more than it ended with the San Francisco Conference that created the UN, or the fall of the Soviet Union. History tenaciously rolls forward fueled by the innate imperatives of human nature. Now it’s rolling through Ukraine.
The question is whether the United States wants the job of keeping neighbor from invading neighbor around the world. That was the job we rejected with the League of Nations and took on reluctantly with WWII and the Cold War because every conflict, no matter how distant, became another interlinked element in a global struggle.
Europeans, Democrats, and some Republicans still believe that to be the case. They want the United States to maintain the peace of the world by maintaining the credibility of international institutions whose credibility is a check drawn on American power, prestige, and military might.
Many Americans understandably don’t want to cover the check and yet are also understandably unhappy at the sight of yet another “senseless” war in which cities are bombed, apartment buildings burn, and families flee the fighting.
Wars that appear senseless in North Carolina or Iowa are rarely so to those engaged in them. And the unhappy time may come when Americans are as furious or as desperate to wage those kinds of “senseless” wars for power, pride, or rage. When there isn’t enough food to eat, when our best days are hopelessly behind us, and when we are willing to do anything to change that, we may learn the sense behind the senseless wars.
Being the policeman of a ghetto world means having to police the endless domestic disputes of overlapping nationalisms at the service of Western nations who are still foolishly pretending that nationalism will go away once everyone learns to sing, “Imagine.”
If Europe believes in such a mission, it should invest in the power to keep Russia from reclaiming all the territories that it considers part of its empire and vital to its national destiny. It has the wealth and resources to do this without us.
In that way, Biden has been the best thing to happen to Europe. Much as Obama demonstrated to American allies in the Middle East that they were on their own against Iran, Biden did the same to Europe. In response, Germany may actually properly fund national defense and other European nations are starting to take national defense seriously.
Good for them. And past overdue. The more they are willing to do for themselves, the less we have to be involved.
The United States already fought two world wars, one hot and one cold, to liberate Eastern Europe.
We have done our part. And it should not be our job to police nationalist conflicts that are regional, not global, in scope.
We learned many of the wrong lessons from our tour of world wars, and the most elementary of these was that we should have more decisively opposed Nazi Germany and the USSR, but that we should have stayed out of WW1 and that doing so might have averted the world wars that were to come.
War is not an aberration. Unfortunate and ugly as it may be, it is a part of human nature and history. No international community can suppress the natural feelings that lead different nations to dream of conquering others and asserting their glory by building their own empires.
What we are concerned with is national empires that directly threaten us or ideological empires like Communism or Islam that are a worldwide threat.
The world will never be at peace. When the world’s peace comes from our willingness to make war, we should choose our wars wisely.