Not too long ago I caught a piece by political commentator Dick Morris.
In this piece, Morris asserted that Fox News host Tucker Carlson is “behaving like the discredited appeasers of Adolf Hitler in the prelude to World War II.” Morris was referring to Tucker’s non-interventionist commentary with regards to the ongoing escalation between Russia and Ukraine in Eastern Ukraine.
He used the tired appeasement trope of the lead up to World War II. The former Fox News host accused Carlson of “making excuses for Russian strongman Vladimir Putin and his increasing threats against Ukraine.”
Morris dismisses any argument of NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe contributing to Russia’s firm response in Ukraine.
The problem with Morris is his lack of strategic empathy. Russia has made it clear on previous occasions that it will not tolerate NATO expansion into its traditional zone of interest. That’s how great powers operate.
We’re no longer dealing with 1990s Russia, which was practically a failed state that could barely keep its domestic affairs in line, much less project power abroad. Russia is now a great power with its own national interests that will perhaps ruffle the feathers of many countries.
Moreover, in international relations you can never know the true intentions of a given great power. But one thing is clear: External actors going into their backyards will provoke a firm response.
No matter how innocuous NATO markets itself as, great powers like Russia cannot fully trust it. To be sure, current NATO leadership may perhaps be more rational. But what happens when succeeding NATO leaders aren’t as rationally-minded?
Such scenarios are calculated by Russia and other great powers when dealing with the U.S.’s outsized presence abroad.
Here’s the thing Dick Morris and his neocon ilk don’t get: for someone who is supposed to be pulling off a blitzkrieg at any minute, Putin sure has taken his sweet time. Outside of the majority Russian-speaking Crimea, Russia has not made a full-fledged effort to totally annex Ukraine.
In all honesty, the Russians are smart in that regard. Western Ukraine is fiercely nationalist and very anti-Russian. Even if Russia were to steamroll and occupy Ukraine, they’d be faced with a massive insurgency in the West and have to constantly try to pacify it in the years to come. Ukraine is also corrupt to the core.
Why would Russia want to fully annex a country that is economically a net drag, institutionally in shambles, and has a very powerful insurgent movement that will potentially give Russia headaches for decades to come?
Russia’s predecessor state in the Soviet Union already had to deal with its own protracted war in Afghanistan. Why would it repeat the same folly with Ukraine, a country with a fiercely nationalist segment of the population, who will likely launch a long insurgency against Russia.
To be sure, there is a significant number of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine. However, Russia is aware that fully steamrolling it would not be the best course of action. It would be simply too expensive to pacify and maintain.
Hence their decision to annex Crimea, which is over 50% Russian, and Russia’s moves to back rebels in the Donbass — both actions that did not require massive use of conventional force.
At this point, it would behoove policymakers to learn geopolitics and not treat every controversial foreign policy action taken by a given state as a repeat of the lead up to World War II.
The problem here is that we’re dealing with neocons, who don’t have nuanced views on foreign policy.