By Tom Piatak
With respect to foreign policy, I am an America First nationalist, not a Kissingerian-Bismarckian “realist.” The former is a moral position, grounded in the fact that a statesman’s primary duty lies to those he serves in office; the latter is an amoral belief grounded in the notion that big fish eat little fish, and the fewer little fish there are causing problems, the better off we will be.
Consider the realists’ ideal — Europe between the Congress of Vienna and the outbreak of The Great War. A lot can be said for that period, unless you were, say, a Pole. Or a Slovak. Or an Irishman. Or some other species of little fish.
Why should you care, if you’re not a little fish? Two reasons come to mind. One, of particular significance to the situation in Ukraine, is the stark difference marking the political history of the two nations that have had the greatest impact on Ukraine, Poland and Russia.
Despite the anarchy, chaos, and, yes, oppression that marked the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the political ideal was one of freedom. Over time, the freedom once limited to the nobility began to apply to all Poles, and peasants once indifferent to what foreigners did to their noble masters became ardent patriots who fought for Poland’s independence alongside the nobles.
By contrast, individual freedom has never played an important role in Russian political thought. This is true even though the Russian cultural renaissance of the nineteenth century continues to amaze, even to awe. And a principal reason why no Western nation that has experienced Russian rule ever wants to experience it again.
Similarly, the arguments offered as to why the little fish cannot be free are often specious. Every argument offered against Ukrainian independence applied, in spades, to Slovakia. Slovakia was an integral part of the Kingdom of Hungary for a millennium. Yet the Slovaks have proven capable of governing themselves, and today the number of ethnic Slovaks who believe they’d be better off ruled from Budapest approximates zero.
My sympathies are thus entirely with the little fish forced to swim between Berlin and Moscow. But, at this moment in time, I fear that a war with Russia would do to my decaying, fractious native land what the Great War did to the decaying, fractious Habsburg Empire. And as fond as I am of the little fish, and as little regard as I have for Moscow’s desire to dominate them or even rule them, I love my native land more.
Once more, the wise advice offered by John Quincy Adams in 1821 comes to mind:
Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.