The Maidan's Tail

#15: Special Out-of-Our-Depth Edition

I haven't tweeted anything that's pissed off as many people as this (on 11/12) :

I suppose if the Respectable Interagency Consensus on Ukraine is willing to righteously remove a democratically elected president -- in Ukraine (2014) -- it's not such a big step to justify doing the same thing in the US.

Tufts professor Dan Drezner immediately tweeted, paternally, "you're more than a bit out of your depth"-- though he was understandably too busy to explain why. David Frum chided that Trump wasn't "democratically elected,” since Hillary won the popular vote — a point echoed by a massive Twitter troll army that apparently follows Frum (who knew?).

OK, make it "constitutionally elected," then. The same point applies. It's an obvious point, almost elephant-in-roomy. But apparently a sensitive point!

We can start in 2013, in the Maidan, Kiev's central square, where demonstrators gathered to protest the decision by Ukraine's President, Viktor Yanukovych, to shift away from more integration with the European Union and instead accept a Russian bailout. The US foreign policy apparatus was clearly rooting for the protesters — and why not? They were the defenders (for the most part) of Euro-style civil society and human rights. Yanukovych was corrupt and pro-Russian. Who wouldn't want “Euromaidan” to prevail?

Senator John McCain soon showed up at the Maidan and gave a rousing speech. Our ambassador, Victoria Nuland, passed out cookies to the demonstraters (and plotted behind the scenes on the makeup of a post-Yanukovych government). Eventually, the protesters did win — in February 2014 when the police pulled back and Yanukovych fled Kiev. He was replaced in a parliamentary vote that was nevertheless short of what was required under the Ukraine constitution to impeach him. The parliament cited "circumstances of extreme urgency.” This was Ukraine's "Revolution of Dignity."

All in all, a triumph for the U.S. foreign policy bureaucracy (if you don't count Russia's reaction — invading Eastern Ukraine). But it had an unattractive anti-democratic aspect.  The Maidan protesters were not elected, after all. The president they took down was elected, to a term that ran into 2015. The protesters represented an appealingly Westernized urban constituency, yet — maybe I'm out of my depth here! — that didn't mean they were a majority. Ukraine is a big country.

But, within the foreign policy (“interagency”) world, these annoying thoughts could be safely buried. It's not the job of the State Department to observe every jot and tittle of another country's election laws. It's the job of the State Department to pursue U.S. interests. If that also involves meddling in another country's politics to a degree that would send Robert Mueller into permanent state of shock if Russia did it to us -- well, welcome to the world.

The problem is that the “interagency" establishment's attitude toward Ukraine has apparently now been transferred to domestic politics, where — led by the same foreign policy establshment, in a controversy not coincidentally involving Ukraine- — Democrats are too cavalierly attempting to throw out a constitutionally elected president. It’s not a stretch to say this attitude provides the background music for the parade of Ukraine-desk bureaucrats (Taylor, Kent, Yovanovitch, and soon Vindman) currently appearing before cameras in Rep. Schiff’s impeachment hearings. They seem, almost reflexively, to be willing to do to their own country what they supported doing to Ukraine.

The parallels are almost eerie. In both cases the elected president (Yanukovych in Ukraine, Trump here) is regarded by the foreign policy establishment as corrupt. In both cases the president's original election was regarded as tainted--in Yanukovych's case by suspicions of vote rigging, in Trump's case by charges of foreign meddling. In both cases the villain is Russia. In both cases there is a big underlying policy dispute that calls forth intense passions: In Ukraine, it was whether the country would look West or East. In the US it's how vigorously to resist aggressive Russian attempts to restore the former Soviet empire in Ukraine and elsewhere.

And in both cases, victory means tossing aside the results of a national vote. Ukraine’s "Revolution of Dignity" might not have been legal under Ukraine’s constitution — but hey, that's why they call it a revolution. Convulsions in foreign countries that bring better, pro-Western rulers to power are rightly applauded by Americans.

The United States isn't a foreign country, though. We do not need a revolution. We don’t need to disregard our constitution, which purposefully requires that a difficult standard ("high crimes") be met before an elected president can be removed by the legislature.** It's not enough to think Trump is an awful Yanukovych-like president and the Resisters are our version of the noble occupiers of the Maidan. This isn’t Ukraine.

P.S.: The foreign policy attitude I’m describing isn’t confined to Ukraine, of course. In recent decades, all over the globe, we’ve become accustomed to supporting, not majorities denied a fair vote by authoritarian rulers, but admirable pro-Western urbanites who’ve been nevertheless outvoted by unenlightened “conservative” rural areas. (Sound familiar?) You could see this most conspicuously in Egypt, where the anti-Mubarak protesters in Cairo’s Maidan —Tahrir Square —quickly won Western support even though (as those who saw the documentary The Square know all too well) they were not close to being representative of a majority of Egyptians. It’s one thing if “interagency” policy officials too easily take the side of enlightened electoral losers abroad. But now that’s migrated here.


** — The apparent urge among Trump opponents to lower the bar for impeachment (until the U.S. becomes effectively the sort of parliamentary system rejected in the Constitution) recently became explicit in anti-Trumper Jonah Goldberg’s case, when he tweeted that “the president ultimately serves at the pleasure of Congress.” That wasn’t the idea.