The Yemeni American News
In an era of culture wars and hyperpartisanship in the United States, American politicians, corporations and commentators appear united in backing Ukraine against the Russian invasion. Not since the 9/11 attacks has the United States put on such a display of cross-ideological consensus on an issue, and this time it is in support of a foreign nation.
Earlier in March, Congress approved $13.6 billion in assistance to Ukraine, and President Joe Biden also announced $800 million in additional military aid to the country. Short of getting into a direct military confrontation with Russia, the United States is doing everything it can to help Ukraine in the war.
Even average Americans, who generally do not see foreign policy as a priority, are showing solidarity with Ukrainians.
So why is it that the United States is uncompromisingly taking Ukraine’s side in the conflict?
From a geopolitical perspective, Russia – the successor of the Soviet Union, with which the United States fought a 45-year cold war – remains a strategic competitor of the United States, despite its diminishing role in Europe.
Washington has been pursuing to expand NATO, the US-led military alliance, in Eastern Europe against the protests of Moscow.
NATO, formally known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was founded in 1949 as a counterweight to Soviet military power. It stipulates that members of the alliance have a collective defense pact, meaning an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all countries in the bloc.
The format of the alliance calls for security integration and often leads to direct US military presence on the soil of NATO members. From a Russian perspective, NATO’s expansion into former Soviet republics, practically puts the United States’ military on Russia’s border – something Washington would never allow for an adversary in the Western Hemisphere.
Russia’s stated reason for invading Ukraine is Kyiv’s efforts to join NATO, a push enabled by the US-led policy of NATO expansion. So for Washington, Moscow’s military move on Kyiv is an attack on an American ally to halt America’s strategic policy in Europe.
Ukraine has been trying to join NATO, but it is not a member of the alliance.
The war in Ukraine, while destructive and illegal according to international law, is not the deadliest in modern history.
The United States itself invaded Iraq, unprovoked, in 2003 – ushering in a still-ongoing conflict that would destroy the country and destabilize the entire region.
Not far from Iraq, Israel has repeatedly launched incursions into its neighbors’ territories with US support. Israel also continues to illegally occupy the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, while imposing a suffocating blockade on Gaza – policies that mainstream Western human rights groups, including human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have described as apartheid.
Three years ago, the United States recognized Israel’s claim to sovereignty over Syria’s Golan Heights, land taken by force in 1967 – normalizing a blatant violation of an essential provision in international law.
And so, the United States’ anger about the invasion of Ukraine is not entirely rooted in professed care for international law and territorial integrity. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken often talks about the “rules-based system.” But it appears that the tenants of international law only become sacred for Washington when it’s in America’s interests.
But beyond the politics and the official stance of the US government, Ukraine is appearing as a permissible anti-occupation cause – a David vs Goliath – for Americans to embrace. So much so that Palestinian anti-occupation figures, including Ahed Tamimi who has been jailed for slapping Israeli occupation soldiers, have been passed off falsely as Ukrainian resistance symbols.
This growing US support for Ukraine – at the popular level – can be traced to extensive media coverage of the conflict as well as Americans’ inclination to identify with Europeans, whom they perceive as similar to themselves, under war.
There have been countless slips of the tongue by American and European reporters and commentators pointing out that Ukrainians are white and somehow more undeserving of war than Arabs and Muslims, Syrians and Yemenis.
“This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. You know, this is a relatively civilized, relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully, too – city where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen,” a CBS News reporter said early during the invasion from Kyiv.
There is also the notion that Ukraine is considered a democratic country, and Russia as a dictatorship under Vladimir Putin. The United States, which prides itself as the “leader of the free world”, sees the invasion as an attack on democratic rule.
That’s why politicians are addressing the conflict of Ukraine as a fight for democracy and using phrases harkening back to the Cold War and the early days of the “War on Terror” about protecting our “way of life.”
US officials say they want to make sure Ukraine has the tools (weapons) it needs to resist the Russian invasion and subsequent occupation. Afterall, Washington knows all too well from its own experiences in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq that an unwanted invading army seldom wins.
“What’s at stake here are the principles that the United States and the United Nations across the world stand for. It’s about freedom. It’s about the right of people to determine their own future. It’s about making sure Ukraine will never be a victory for Putin, no matter what advances he makes on the battlefield,” Biden said in a speech on March 16.
Bottomline, American support for Ukraine is driven by a mix of interests, geopolitics, self-proclaimed values and broadly identifying with Ukrainians as people “like us” defending democracy.