Steve Chapman

The United States government has a dangerous penchant for military intervention, so after Vladimir Putin invaded Crimea, it was a relief that no one talked about sending troops or deploying bombers. Sen. John McCain scotched any such notion by acknowledging glumly that "there is not a military option."

Silly him. For the most bellicose hawks, there is (SET ITAL) always (END ITAL) a military option. After a brief lull, some of the people who beat the drums for war in Iraq -- and have done likewise for Iran -- now propose that we put American lives at risk on behalf of Ukraine.

This comes as a bit of a surprise because we have never made a commitment to fight for Ukraine. We have made such commitments to the 27 other countries that belong to NATO. The alliance charter obligates every member to treat an attack on one as an attack on all.

But Ukraine has not been included in the club, and judging from polls, Ukrainians actually didn't want to be included. To some commentators, it doesn't matter: We should use our military might to protect Ukraine anyway.

Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations and a veteran of Jimmy Carter's administration, urges President Barack Obama to send F-22 fighters to Poland and make it clear he will use them if Putin advances farther into Ukraine.

Thomas Donnelly, a defense analyst at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, views the failure of American politicians to endorse "boots on the ground" in Ukraine as "a crippling weakness." Writing in The Weekly Standard, he says, "Preserving the peace on the Eurasian landmass demands land forces."

Fox News' Charles Krauthammer, who exhibited calm indifference to the Russian invasion of Georgia under President George W. Bush, now wants NATO to dispatch military trainers and advisers. He favors a "tripwire" strategy that would "establish a ring of protection at least around the core of western Ukraine."

This notion brings to mind the response when a French defense official was asked the smallest British force that would be of use to France in case of war with Germany. The answer: "One single private soldier -- and we would take good care that he was killed."

What these proposals have in common is that they would interpose our soldiers as hostages, virtually forcing the U.S. to go to war should Putin advance. The assumption of the advocates is that by shackling ourselves to Ukraine, we will stop him in his tracks. The risks of fighting NATO, they argue, deterred the Soviet Union and would undoubtedly deter Putin.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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