Are we doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past in Ukraine?

05/05/2014 4:46 PM

05/05/2014 4:46 PM

Crimea and Ukraine seem far away from Kansas City, as do their struggles with the Russian government.

That’s why it might be a good idea, if you haven’t done so yet, to visit our own

National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial

.

The “War to End War” started 100 years ago this July in Europe. The museum documents the series of mistakes and misjudgments that in just a few years turned a nasty regional squabble into wholesale slaughter. In fact, many historians think World War I led to World War II, making the earlier conflict more disastrous still.

You can’t leave the museum without the comforting thought that a similar international nightmare would be impossible today, which may be precisely the wrong thing to think.

Because last week, a group of Republican U.S. senators, including Roy Blunt of Missouri and Pat Roberts of Kansas, introduced a bill designed to “prevent further Russian aggression toward Ukraine and other sovereign states.”

Most of the bill tells the White House to do what it already is doing, although more aggressively — sanctions, visa revocations, that sort of thing. But it also provides $100 million in weapons assistance to Ukraine: anti-aircraft weapons, guns, medical equipment, food.

It isn’t clear, though, what will happen if sanctions and weaponry don’t work. It’s hard to believe lawmakers pushing for a tougher response in Eastern Europe will walk away if $100 million doesn’t do the trick.

Guns and grenade launchers might soon become trucks and tanks. From there, it’s a short step to mechanics, advisers and eventually troops.

Supporters of upping the ante in Ukraine insist the weapons won’t lead to American soldiers fighting Russians. No one is talking about boots on the ground, they say.

Yet deterrence only works if a threat is open-ended. If Russia believes America will give up after sanctions and weapons, it can simply wait until the punishments lose their sting.

As they usually do. Ask Sen. Roberts about the 1980 grain embargo.

Almost no one wants America to go to war with Russia over Ukraine. At the same time, few Americans want to see Russia reoccupy countries liberated just a generation ago. That might make armed conflict

more

likely.

There are no easy answers. As events unfold this summer, it may be a good idea for all of us to consider how poor the options really are, as well as the consequences of a mistake.

One way to appreciate that would be to visit the World War I Museum. Not to see the past, but to contemplate the future.

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