Back in 2002, when President George W. Bush was mulling his attack on Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell reportedly cautioned him with what came to be known as the Pottery Barn Rule: “You break it, you own it.”
Mr. Bush didn’t listen. The rest, as they say, is history. Iraq got broken. Thousands of Americans were killed and wounded plus trillions of dollars spent, but the U.S. is still involved while Iran is getting the upper hand in that country.
Maybe someone should have given the same warning to Barack Obama in 2011 about Libya or in 2014 about Ukraine. Or maybe someone did but he proved no wiser than Mr. Bush.
In Ukraine, the U.S. officials and their counterparts from other NATO countries played a key role in the unconstitutional regime change that broke what had been a delicate balance in an unstable and corrupt state.
Fast-forward to the present, when Ukraine will have a second-round runoff Sunday between comedian Volodymyr Zelensky and the “Chocolate King” oligarch, President Petro Poroshenko. Judging from U.S. officials’ words and actions, their choice is the latter.
This is despite the fact that Ukraine, under Mr. Poroshenko’s five-year rule, has become the poorest country in Europe. Its economy is crippled by theft of Third World proportions, and millions of Ukrainians have relocated to Russia and Eastern Europe in search of manual jobs while neo-Nazi militias march regularly on the streets of the capital, Kiev.
It’s no wonder that Mr. Zelensky’s ratings dwarf those of Mr. Poroshenko but for his U.S. backers. The incumbent is a known reliable anti-Putin quantity, and that’s all that really matters.
Like it or not, we still “own” the wreck we helped create in Ukraine. Let’s remember that Bush 43 in 2008 pushed the idea of bringing Ukraine and Georgia into NATO despite concerns of other NATO members such as Germany, France, Italy and Hungary.
That’s on top of strong opposition in Ukraine, for which the remedy was money. Former Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said Americans paid $5 billion (as of February 2014, now a lot more) to reorient Ukraine from Russia to the West and support the 2014 regime change that eventually resulted in Mr. Poroshenko’s accession to power — all in the name of “democracy” and “Western values,” of course.
Let’s not assume the meddling was all one way, though. According to The Hill, former Vice President Joe Biden “is facing new scrutiny over his past comments and actions in Ukraine, including bragging that he pressured the country to fire its top prosecutor, who happened to be leading a corruption investigation of a company that employed his son Hunter Biden.”
Even worse, it appears that pro-Hillary Clinton Ukrainian Embassy personnel and a prominent Ukrainian American activist (and DNC contractor) colluded in 2016 with Obama administration officials and U.S. and British intelligence operatives to discredit candidate Donald Trump — in what eventually led to the FISA surveillance of Trump campaign figures and Russiagate. In an interesting twist, among those helping to peddle the dossier concocted by “former” British spook Christopher Steele was none other than Ms. Nuland, who had played the role of Joan of Arc in “breaking” Ukraine in 2014.
One would think that Mr. Trump’s White House would take umbrage at Kiev’s role in attempting to bring him down, but some savvy lobbying seems to have let bygones be bygones. So far, media efforts to interest the Justice and State Departments — supposedly working for Mr. Trump — in the skullduggery related to Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Biden have been largely ignored, as has U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s bad-mouthing of the president to Ukrainian officials.
Whoever wins Sunday, it’s hard to be optimistic about Ukraine. What’s broken is likely to stay that way for a long time. That’s no excuse, though, for what was supposed to be an “America First” administration to retain permanent ownership, even though we did help create the mess in the first place.
For all of us, there is a real danger that Mr. Poroshenko might make a desperate attempt to win or even cancel the final round of elections because of his poor poll ratings. One possible ploy: a repeat of his November stunt of sending Ukrainian naval vessels to run the Kerch Strait from the Black to Azov Sea — but this time accompanied by NATO warships.
A normal procedure allows any ship from any country to move through the strait by declaring its intentions in advance and using a Russian pilot for reasons of navigation security. The whole point of such a provocation would be to create a warlike situation and, in the classic “wag the dog” fashion, to drag us in. How is that good for America?
The road map for peace in Ukraine is straightforward: regional autonomy for Donbass similar to one enjoyed by American states, two state languages like in Canada, and neutrality status similar to that in Finland or Austria. How would that threaten American interests or contradict our values that we are supposedly promoting in Ukraine?
With Mr. Poroshenko, or for that matter with Mr. Zelensky, this road map is only a pipe dream unless, of course, Washington orders him to implement it.
Since the chances for that approximates zero, Ukrainians will continue to suffer, and that broken country could become the ground for World War III.
⦁ Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow.