Excuse the alarmist headline — it’s just a play on the famous 1977 novel by retired British General Sir John Winthrop Hackett. But today’s question, “Are we stumbling towards war with Moscow over Ukraine?” brought that old yarn to mind.
Graham Allison and Dimitri K. Simes posit just that fear over at National Interest:
Could a U.S. response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine provoke a confrontation that leads to a U.S.-Russian war? Such a possibility seems almost inconceivable. But when judging something to be “inconceivable,” we should always remind ourselves that this is a statement not about what is possible in the world, but about what we can imagine. As Iraq, Libya and Syria demonstrate, political leaders often have difficulties envisioning events they find uncomfortable, disturbing or inconvenient.
Prevailing views of the current confrontation with Russia over Ukraine fit this pattern. Since removing Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein and Muammar el-Qaddafi from power had limited direct impact on most Americans, it is perhaps not surprising that most Washington policy makers and analysts assume that challenging Russia over Ukraine and seeking to isolate Moscow internationally and cripple it economically will not come at a significant cost, much less pose real dangers to America. After all, the most common refrain in Washington when the topic of Russia comes up is that “Russia doesn’t matter anymore.” No one in the capital enjoys attempting to humiliate Putin more than President Barack Obama, who repeatedly includes Russia in his list of current scourges alongside the Islamic State and Ebola. And there can be no question that as a petrostate, Russia is vulnerable economically and has very few, if any, genuine allies. Moreover, many among its business and intellectual elites are as enthusiastic as the Washington Post editorial page to see Putin leave office. Ukrainians with the same view of former Ukrainian president Viktor F. Yanukovych successfully ousted him with limited Western help, so, it is argued, perhaps Putin is vulnerable, too.
Nevertheless, Russia is very different from the other countries where the United States has supported regime change.
This is an important piece, and a lengthy one, too — I wasn’t able to get through the whole thing last night without having dinner interrupt, and then tuck-in for the kids, too.
The Law of Unintended Consequences is never more ironclad than when it comes to international relations — and war.
Find the time to read the whole thing. I’m going to let it stew in my brain for a few days and see what bubbles up.