Tuesday, February 21, 2023

The President in Kyiv


What an edifying picture to see the President of the United States visit Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, the nation-state which has become the symbolic, as well as geographic, border between Western civilization and Russian barbarism! What better way for a U.S. President to spend "Presidents Day"!

(Apart from an obligatory afternoon meeting, I myself spent Presidents Day much less heroically rewatching HBO's 2008 John Adams, about another American President underestimated by many in his own time.)

Here at home, a lot of the talk has been about how the bipartisan consensus in support of Ukrainian independence may be fraying. Meanwhile, America-hating, Hungary-loving appeasers spread their anti-Western, anti-democratic poison on the internet, under the guise of sparing the world an (always possible but in practice probably unlikely) nuclear war. None of this is really new. The U.S. went through a similar moral ordeal before Pearl Harbor, when long-standing American self-absorption and tunnel-vision about the world were exacerbated by the bad taste left by Woodrow Wilson's questionable military adventure in Europe in 1917-1918. Now it is the traumatical legacy of two decisively lost wars - Vietnam and Afghanistan - that leaves a bad taste and threatens to exacerbate the perennial problem of American isolationism.

Every year at this time, in observance of George Washington's birthday, Washington's "Farewell Address" is read aloud in Congress. There is much wisdom to be gleaned from our first President. But, like the rest of us, he was also wrong on some things. He was, most obviously, wrong about political parties, which, now as then, are essential for a successfully functioning democratic polity - something which Washington and the other Founders simply did not understand, given their historically conditioned fears about democracy and their aspirations to aristocracy (which in practice usually means oligarchy). Likewise, while Washington may have been right about the merits of neutrality and avoiding foreign entanglements as a weak nation in the 1790s, his view on that has long since been rendered moot by a very changed world situation, in which it is no longer the British Empire but the United States which is the primary power in the world, with all the burdens and responsibilities which that entails.

The U.S. is, however, hardly the only power, however primary it may be. As de facto leader of the Western world against retooled imperial Russian barbarism, its sphere of influence must nevertheless include all of Europe, all of whose ancient (and some not so ancient) states, which - with the unfortunate possible exception of Hungary - have learned from history the terrible cost of being abandoned to the Russian sphere.

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