Strange Bedfellows: Ben Cohen and Marjorie Taylor Greene
by David Kelley
GREENSBORO — The first day of school, my history teacher in eighth grade made us write, “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” Today I’m amazed at how many people weren’t paying attention in history class.
Not since 1939 has the world faced a crisis of greater moral clarity than Russia’s assault on Ukraine. Nevertheless, as in 1939, there is a new chorus of isolationist voices railing against military support for the Ukrainian people. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Donald Trump and their erstwhile cheerleader, Tucker Carlson, are all banging the America First drum again.
By donating $1 million to a group that is urging an end to U.S. military support for Ukraine, Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s fame joined the chorus of those foreign policy luminaries.
America’s new isolationists blame Putin’s war on NATO expansion. In fact, Putin has never seen NATO as a threat. In May 2002 Putin himself said Ukraine was entitled to decide, on its own, whether to join NATO, and that he did not see such a decision as one that would “cloud” Russian-Ukrainian relations. In point of fact, at one time, Putin talked about Russia joining NATO. Like most murderous dictators, what Putin fears is democracy, not NATO.
After the chaos that followed the end of the Cold War, Putin rose to power in a democratic election and then he, and a group of rapacious oligarchs, proceeded to dismantle Russia’s fledgling democracy and divvy up the spoils. In 2011 the Arab Spring gave Putin nightmares. Moammar Gaddafi’s gruesome death, was televised worldwide. For Putin it was a chilling reminder of how dictators who ride on the back of tigers can wind up inside.
When the Arab Spring spread to Syria, Putin decided it was time to put his jackbooted foot down. He pulled Assad’s bacon out of the fire and then proceeded to crush the revolt. The U.S. did almost nothing in response, except to tell Putin we were drawing a “red line” if chemical weapons were used. But when chemical weapons were used the Obama administration (and the rest of the world for that matter) did nothing.
In 2013, the Maidan Revolution broke out in Ukraine. The flames of freedom and democracy began lapping at Putin’s doorsteps. With emerging internal opposition from people like Victor Navalny, Putin felt his own hold on power was weakening.
Despite the fact that Russia, in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons, had guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity, Putin illegally annexed Crimea. A few months later he occupied the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Again, the U.S. and the world responded by doing nothing.
We have been here before. Like Putin, after the chaos that followed WW I, Hitler rose to power in a democratic election and then proceeded to dismantle Germany’s embryonic democracy. In 1938, Hitler annexed Austria. As with Crimea, the world stood by and did nothing. A few months later Hitler seized the Sudetanland. As with Luhansk and Donetsk, the world did nothing. When war broke out with France and England, Joe Kennedy, Charles Lindberg and other America Firsters did their best to persuade Americans that Hitler wasn’t our problem.
We can wash our hands of Ukraine today, as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Ben Cohen would have us do, and signal Putin and other murderous regimes that they have license to crush their neighbors, with consequences like Bucha and Izium.
Or we can stand firm with Ukraine and send Putin back to Moscow.
Our choice will shape the lives of millions in Ukraine and echo around the world: In Moldova and Georgia, fragile democracies, where Putin has already begun to meddle; in Taiwan under Xi Jinping’s dark shadow; and in the Korean Peninsula where Kim Jong Un lurks with nuclear weapons.
Much is at stake. We dare not forget history.
[David Kelley, a resident of Greensboro, is co-founder of PH International, a former visiting scholar at Harvard University’s Russian Research Center and the author of numerous books and articles about Russia.]