Is there a moral obligation to help Ukraine defend itself from Russian aggression? Nation-states do not have moral obligations. But states have interests, of which the obligation to function as instruments of their peoples’ moral interests is not the slightest. We should help Ukraine. The question is how.
The German Chancellor’s reluctance to provide the Ukrainians with weapons is understandable. If the effort is doomed to failure, as she implies, why bother? It would represent a costly gesture, not a policy. Rationally, economic squeeze plus resilient diplomacy, even in the face of repeated Russian insults, lies, and open contempt, may be the more sensible course.
What about Nigeria? Do we have a moral obligation to help Nigeria? The argument from morality should not change from one country to another, should it?
The harsh truth of the matter is that this is not the right question. The right question is this: do the neighbors of the country in trouble give the impression they want to do something about the crisis in their region?
Quite simply, if eastern and central European neighbors of Ukraine do not feel compelled to tell the masters of the Kremlin to back off, we have a serious problem. For even if it were demonstrably in our interest to save the Ukes from the Rus (and personally I believe it can be demonstrated, but so what?), what will be gained in the geo-logistical-political confusion that would result from bypassing Poland and Germany, not to mention such lesser fry as Hungary and Romania and such tough little sparkplugs as Bulgaria. And what about Georgia and whatever its breakaway region is called? And the Muslim ’stan countries to the south and east of the trouble zone?
Gone are the days when men of the stature of Henry Kissinger or James Baker might have found the shrewdness to forge a grand coalition that, just by existing, might force the Russians to back down. The way it is going now, we are letting them have their way. The Chancellor says one thing, the Prez of the U.S. says another, nobody between Vilnius and Sofia knows which way to jump.
Now take Nigeria. We made it very clear we thought the old free and fair is more important that the physical security of one of the major African countries, a leading, even a primary, supplier of petroleum and much besides (notably people). John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State, went out of his way to insist there be peaceful and fair presidential and legislative elections on February 14, as scheduled, or else. Or else what? And how can there be peaceful elections if in a territory larger than Mr. Kerry’s home state of Massachusetts there is no security?
The Nigerians are the latest in a long line to learn that John Kerry is for the birds, and they wasted no time on courtesy calls to him before announcing they were postponing the vote. This is, mind, permitted under their constitution. They gave themselves an additional six weeks to restore order in the terrorized northeast. Which, presumably, means they are going to take the gloves off and kill every terrorist they can find, without waiting for American instructions on rules of engagement.
The normal American response to this would be, “Go at it, guys!” We would immediately offer guns, ammo, surveillance and transport aircraft, and, if they ask, some of the crack Rangers who for over ten years now have been on scouting and search-and-kill missions throughout the Sahelian regions where the Islamic world conquest movement has been probing for openings into the heart of Africa, of which Nigeria is a throbbing ventricle. (Sorry, dumb metaphor, but the fact is that Nigeria, though the butt of resentful jokes all across the Continent, is a bona fide powerhouse, albeit dysfunctional.)
The French, for example. The French did not wait for any free-and-fair exercise. They saw the assault on Nigeria, undertaken by a movement called Boko Haram, virulently anti-Western and inspired by the likes of al-Qaeda and its derivatives, as a continuation of the assault on Mali, which they themselves, with some of their African allies, repelled two years ago.
Following the announcement of the postponement, the major candidates said okay. But the State department took it upon itself to say that U.S. assistance would depend on getting these elections done, free and fair and peaceful and credible.
Quite honestly, you have to ask yourself whether this is not a clever deception and in fact we are already thick in the fight up there by Lake Chad.
Whether this is so or not, the Chadians, best troops in the region, jumped right in as soon as the Boko H. boys crossed the border and terrorized western Chad, as well as the border regions of Niger and Cameroon. Both of these countries are directly threatened by the Sahelian jihad. Some four thousand people have been killed in northeast Nigeria by Boko Haram in the past year alone, according to observers.
Chad’s initiative should not be viewed as a lesson to Ukraine’s neighbors. Different places, different circumstances. However, it is instructive that no one in the region, probably no one in Africa, took the State Department or Mr. Kerry seriously. If it is between your civics lessons while we get slaughtered and the Chadians (probably with French air support) violating our border and saving lives, it is not exactly a brainer.
And indeed, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, if he offered a response to Mr. Kerry, whispered it so no one heard it. He did say loudly, however, that he was going to use the six weeks ahead to render the northeast secure. It may be that he did not want to be upstaged by his neighbors’ clear sense of priorities, or to be seen as passively receiving help from the African Union, which promised to put together a transnational force to eliminate Boko Haram. It may be that he sees war on terror as good politics, especially since his challenger, a retired general who has made security a central campaign plank, seemed to many Nigerian political watchers on the brink of winning.
Maybe so. Does it matter? What if Lincoln had been paying attention to the temperance league while Grant was before Vicksburg? That seems to be how the little tails of Washington these days wag the great body of America.
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