Ron Paul: So what if Crimea secedes?

It’s been a while since we had a good session of pointing out how wrong-headed my quasi-isolationist tendencies are, so what better occasion than right after Ron Paul publishes another screed on the evils of meddling in the affairs of other nations? The Texan took to the pages of USA Today this week to pose the question of the day… Crimea Secedes. So what?

Residents of Crimea voted over the weekend on whether they would remain an autonomous region of Ukraine or join the Russian Federation. In so doing, they joined a number of countries and regions — including recently Scotland, Catalonia and Venice — that are seeking to secede from what they view as unresponsive or oppressive governments.

These latter three are proceeding without much notice, while the overwhelming Crimea vote to secede from Ukraine has incensed U.S. and European Union officials, and has led NATO closer to conflict with Russia than since the height of the Cold War.

There are some obvious points in his opening salvo which leave Paul open to criticism, but he settles in later to ask two questions which are worth taking a swing at. The first deals with the purist form of American isolationism.

Why does the U.S. care which flag will be hoisted on a small piece of land thousands of miles away?

This is pretty much the prototypical isolationist question, and the answer generally depends on which country you’re asking about. In a previous article, I took a stab at the question, What does the West owe Ukraine? And the answer – at least according to several foreign policy experts – is a bit more complicated than some might think. The Ukraine has proven themselves an unreliable ally to the West nearly as much as they have to Russia. And that’s looking at the question for the entirety of the Ukraine, not just the significantly smaller slice of it in Crimea.

And what does the West get in return, assuming we go to the mat on this one and stick up for a unified, unpartitioned Ukraine? It seems to be an open question as to precisely how much they know their own identity at this point and how solidified their internal instincts are. There are many nations with internal factions yearning to be free, but as we’ve seen in Egypt, among other places, those freedom fighters don’t automatically translate in to democracy minded, America loving patriots in all cases.

The second question Paul asks has no doubt drawn even more fire.

Critics point to the Russian “occupation” of Crimea as evidence that no fair vote could have taken place. Where were these people when an election held in an Iraq occupied by U.S. troops was called a “triumph of democracy”?

Leaving aside for the moment the not-too-subtle shot at the Iraq war, it does leave us with the question of whether or not the Crimea denizens might actually have some interest in rejoining Russia in some fashion. Allahpundit covered some of Ron Paul’s arguments about self-determination already, summed up thusly:

It’s “Reason” editor Matt Welch who challenges Paul on the uselessness of trying to hold a free and fair election in a province that’s being threatened by 80,000 Russian troops across the border. Paul’s among people who respect the non-interventionist approach to foreign policy, in other words, and even they seemingly can’t believe that he’s trying to frame this as a matter of “self-determination.” Even if the election were free and fair, remember that Crimea has an ethnic Russian majority in no small part because Stalin purged it of its Tatars decades ago.

Granted, they both raise a valid question of how “open” an election is when there are tens of thousands of foreign troops looking on, but in the case of Crimea it does leave room to wonder. The population in that area is significantly more ethnic Russian as well as being Russian speaking. But it goes deeper than that. Ukraine has been in all sorts of trouble. They are torn between the Russian Bear and the EU looking to find a victory in that nation. Ukraine is broke, and everyone seems to acknowledge that even if they fully join the EU they will need massive amounts of cash infusions just to keep their heads above water.

Further, situated where they are, they find themselves on the brink of potential military action at any moment. They have essentially no military force to speak of, and will be too weak to stand up to much of an assault from either direction. Russia, on the other hand, while not still a “superpower” in their own right, is still at least the number two nuclear force on the planet and maintains a substantial military capability. Is it so entirely crazy to think that those two factors in particular might leave some of the ethnic Russians in Crimea considering the benefits of throwing in their lot with Mother Russia?

It’s not a given in either case, but certainly worth thinking about. Ron Paul, as always, will go much further than he needs in the argument and fly the flag of keeping 100% hands off in all situations. I don’t agree with that, though sensible restraint is always a good idea before any sort of military engagement where possible. But when it comes to Crimea, are Paul’s underlying questions really that crazy?