Paul Greenberg

From the glamour and glitter of Sochi, you could almost see Kiev burning as the Ukrainians tried to escape the suffocating embrace of Mother Russia. To make the point, Tsar Vladimir chose this moment to hold maneuvers just across the border. When the Russians mobilize, war tends sure to follow, as during the First World Catastrophe. Now this latest tsar has chosen to invade Crimea, occupying its airport and other key points as the usual irregulars take over its parliament buildings. And the Russian flag is raised. Why pretend?

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Did anybody expect anything different? Well, maybe John Kerry, our hapless and hopeless secretary of state. Or maybe our equally out-of-it secretary of defense. No sooner had Chuck Hagel announced plans to cut the American defense budget than the Russians marched into Simferopol. It figured. We've seen this movie before, if by a different title. It used to be called Appeasement, now it's been re-released as Reset.

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In the midst of the Cold War, someone once compared Soviet strategy to that of a hotel burglar: He proceeds down the corridor trying every door till he comes to an unlocked one. The comparison isn't exact. It helps if the house detective is taking a nice long snooze. Or better yet, if the house dick has made a deal with the burglar. Only in diplomacy, it's called by a more elevated name. Detente, maybe, or, these days, Reset.

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It is the Europeans -- would you believe it? -- who understood what was happening from the first. And why not? They've had lots of experience with dictators and aggression. When they offered the Ukrainians a warm welcome to the European Union, complete with trade and aid, the Russians first tried to bribe Kiev with billions in rubles and, when that didn't work and the Ukrainians rebelled, throwing out their puppet president, the mask came off. And the Cossacks marched.

Ukraine wouldn't be the first fledgling republic to seek foreign support. Another experiment in freedom once sought foreign aid to assure the success of its revolution against a great empire. And drew an array of still shining names to these shores -- Lafayette and Rochambeau and de Grasse, von Steuben and Kosciuszko and Pulaski, as in Pulaski County, Arkansas.

But the Americans were separated from the British Empire by an ocean. What a blessing. Poor Ukraine, so far from the rest of Europe, so close to Russia. Now it is the latest example of what the world can expect when America retreats from it: aggression, chaos, war and rumors of war.

"It's a wonderful world," as my mother used to say. "If only they'd leave you alone. But they won't leave you alone."


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.