NATO and Ukraine

One of Russia’s chief demands, when pretending to negotiate was still part of their game, was that Ukraine agree never to apply for NATO membership. This demand suited most of NATO quite well, since in their zeal to protect their financial deals with Vladimir Putin and to maintain the Putin-friendly appearance of neutrality regarding Ukraine, the NATO countries were only too happy to avoid the idea of Ukraine’s NATO membership. Today, by contrast, Ukraine has declared itself unwilling to join NATO, not so much to appease Putin (since that is no longer even a possibility), but, I suspect, because they now realize that in joining NATO they would be offering much more to the alliance than the alliance could ever offer them in return. In other words, it would be a losing deal for Ukraine.

Over the past two months, the Ukrainian military, not to mention its civilian leadership, has established beyond any doubt that not only would they have made a legitimate contribution to NATO, if accepted, but in fact would have been the single most effective fighting force in the whole alliance. And lest anyone befool himself by reflexively correcting my judgment by inserting, “You mean the second-most effective,” allow me to save you the embarrassment with a preemptive “Ha!”

Think of all those retired U.S. generals currently spewing their war wisdom on the news networks, remarking condescendingly about how impressed they are with Ukraine’s effort, or even how proud they are of the plucky little Ukrainian army, while they muse in their sage voices about how “surprisingly” ill-trained and error-infested the Russian military seems to have been. And what do all those great American military experts, those brave television generals, have in common? Just this: None of them have ever won a war. (Which explains why so many of them express shock or skepticism at the idea of Ukraine defeating Russia now; they feel in their hearts that they couldn’t do it.) For these ingenious strategists and evaluators are the same men who have lost, surrendered, or retreated without resolution in every conflict they have been engaged in throughout their entire careers. How dare the men who surrendered to the damned Taliban, for goodness’ sake, presume to give a condescending pat on the head to the Ukrainian army, which has done more tangible damage to one of the biggest and most morally unrestrained militaries on the planet in two months than the U.S. army did in two decades of failed fighting against a “ragtag” bunch of thugs in medieval costumes hiding out in caves.

If your country needed an ally in a fight for survival against a powerful aggressor today, and you could only ask for one nation’s help, why would you ask a country that, for all its great resources and manpower (or, to be more accurate, let us say man-hours), has proven incapable of winning a major fight for the past seventy-five years? Why not ask a country that has a military that is genuinely up to the challenge — not in materials and equipment, but in courage and relentlessness? And if we turn from the military force to the civilian leadership — every army has some brave men in it, of course — the comparison becomes even more ridiculous. Many years ago, I watched the current mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, fight Lennox Lewis for the heavyweight championship, and come within a hair’s breadth of winning in spite of a terrible gash over his left eye that eventually caused the fight to be stopped against his will. If I were looking for an ally in the field, I would opt for the real fighters — the ones NATO has rejected out of fear of upsetting the very dictator NATO ought to be trying to upset. David Petraeus and his pathetic bunch of failures? No thank you.

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