After nearly two weeks, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine continues with the Russian military steadily gaining ground and methodically taking control of key assets such as highways, bridges, airports, and power plants. As the Russians advance, they are also encircling and cutting off the main concentrations of the Ukrainian military. If those encirclements are completed, it could get ugly.
It’s into that cauldron that U.S. Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) would plunge the United States. On “Face the Nation” last week Cheney was nothing short of bellicose calling for escalation across the board.
Cheney wants Biden to expand already sweeping sanctions and seize the Russian Central Bank’s foreign reserves. Weaponizing the dollar and the banking system in this way, she apparently fails to realize, carries with it risks to dollar-supremacy and the global dominance of American financial institutions. As other nations watch America use the dollar and important elements of the international banking infrastructure such as the SWIFT system as weapons, they will realize their own vulnerability and take steps to protect themselves from U.S.-dominated financial systems. China already offers alternatives and Biden’s actions are the best advertising for those systems they could ask for.
There is also an immediate threat of a trust crisis in the European banking system, which has significant exposure to Russia. This could cause a contagion-effect that negatively impacts American banks and financial markets and through them, the lives of ordinary Americans. Remember what happened in 2008.
But economic war, which would be bad enough, is not enough for Cheney. When asked, she refused to rule out direct American military intervention with Russia and, in fact, urged deploying American troops close to the Russian border and flooding Ukraine with weapons. Though many Americans favor “arming the Ukranians,” we should learn from rather than repeat past mistakes where we have followed this policy and enabled years-long civil wars as in Libya, Syria, and the former Yugoslavia—to say nothing of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Americans are generally unaware that there has been ongoing war between Ukraine and ethnic Russians in the Donbass regions of Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014. That war, which already has claimed 14,000 lives, has been carried on in part with American complicity and American weapons. A policy like Cheney’s, which aims to turn all of Ukraine into a long-term, low-intensity, battlefield like the Donbass has been, is cruel in that it can serve only to increase the butcher’s bill paid by ordinary Ukranians.
Cheney was also surprisingly blasé about the prospect of this regional conflict escalating to the point of nuclear war. Rather than trying to de-escalate the situation, it’s clear that Cheney is more interested in nuclear brinkmanship, which carries with it no potential upside but very significant risk for Americans.
Cheney even went so far as to say, “We can’t adopt policies like a no first-use nuclear policy.” The problem of nuclear blackmail is significant and occupied the thoughts of serious strategists and statesmen during the Cold War. Alas, people like Cheney are dangerously flippant about the prospect.
That’s in part because she’s highly dogmatic with little apparent concern for the real-world consequences of her policies as long as they scratch her ideological itches. “We’ve been down the road of isolationism before,” Cheney claims. But she’s wrong on two counts. First, America has never been down the “road of isolationism.” The history of America since 1917 has been one of near-constant foreign wars. Second, it’s a false dichotomy, which presents complete withdrawal from world affairs (“isolationism”) as the only possible alternative to the globalist, nation-building, forever-war fiascos for which her family is notorious.
In fact, America’s historic foreign policy, the policy of the founders that persisted right up until Woodrow Wilson took America to war in Europe, was one of neutrality and friendship to the extent that it was up to us. We would strongly defend our country and our people but otherwise America avoided the foreign entanglements that George Washington warned us against in his Farewell Address. President James Monroe (guided by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams) advised that American policy should be “not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its powers; to consider the government de facto as the legitimate government for us; to cultivate friendly relations with it . . .”
But American policy in the modern era—especially after the end of the Cold War—has abandoned our historic commitments to neutrality, self-defense, and trade, choosing instead an interventionist posture full of police actions, low-intensity conflicts, guerilla wars, civil wars, no-fly zones, pacification campaigns, and large-scale invasions. For two generations, the Cheneys have been leading practitioners of American interventionism, with disastrous consequences for America and for the countries that have the misfortune of getting in their crosshairs.
It’s time to stop listening to Liz Cheney and people like her and let wiser counsel prevail. With regard to Russia, Angelo Codevilla argues in a forthcoming book on the foreign policy of John Quincy Adams, that our policy “produced a mess of appeasement, provocation, insult, and enmity without much of an international point on either side—another lesson in the consequences of incompetence mixed with self-indulgence at the highest levels.”
Yet Codevilla also offered a way forward for relations between the United States and Russia:
From the founding of our Republic until the 1917 Bolshevik coup, Russia loomed small in U.S. foreign policy, and vice versa because the interactions between the two countries’ geopolitical and economic interests were few and compatible. Given that these fundamentals have not changed, we should expect that the two countries’ policies may gradually return to that long normal. But, for both countries, transcending the intervening century’s habits will not be easy.
The first step is to reject Liz Cheney’s war.