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My response to Gershman's "counterargument" to Mearsheimer
The indispensable article for understanding the background of why the Russian government annexed Crimea from Ukraine is “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West's Fault” in Foreign Affairs by John J. Mearsheimer.
Carl Gershman, the president of the National Endowment for Democracy, however, claims that Mearsheimer is missing the point.
John Mearsheimer (“Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault,” September/October 2014) fails to properly consider the Ukrainian people themselves. In his telling, the Ukrainians are passive pawns in the struggle between an aggressive West and a reactive Vladimir Putin. But polls have shown that a majority of Ukrainians would vote to join the European Union in a referendum, and an overwhelming majority oppose Russian interference.
Gershman here is making the liberal point that the people of Ukraine have the right to choose who represents them and to be free of outside influence in their government. In short, the argument is that Putin had no right to to have any involvement in the Ukrainian government or to help his preferred candidate remain in power in the Ukrainian government, and the Ukrainian people have every right to elect government officials of their choosing even if they're hostile to Putin. This is all well and true, but it is not the point.
Mearsheimer makes the realist point of cause and effect: Whether or not Putin had a right to have a puppet that was friendly to his interests in power in the Ukrainian government is irrelevant to the fact that he did have such a puppet installed in the Ukrainian government, and, that by helping to remove Putin's puppet from power and helping to install their own puppet into power on Putin's doorstep, the western powers, the United States and the European Union, provoked and threatened Putin, and so Putin responding to their aggression with more aggression (annexing Crimea from Ukraine) was an entirely predictable result of their policy of regime change in Ukraine.
Putin does not have a right to have a puppet in the Ukrainian government, but he does have an interest in doing so and he has an interest in not having a Western puppet installed in the Ukrainian government. The west did not violate Putin's rights by helping to remove his puppet and installing their own, but they did violate his interests. Mearsheimer's point is that a crisis as a result of the west violating Putin's interests was entirely predictable, and that it would have been better to avoid the crisis by not violating his interests.
So Gershman is not making a "counterargument" to Mearsheimer, but a separate point altogether which is only tangentially related to Mearsheimer's argument. Further, his point is dishonest in the first place because the west, despite their rhetoric, was not acting liberally toward the Ukrainian people by helping them to remove Putin's puppet government from power, but did so because it was in their own interest to have their own puppet government installed in Ukraine to help further marginalize Putin in the region and possibly open the door for Ukraine to join NATO and/or the E.U. This is made clear by the fact that the west backed neo-Nazi militias to help in overthrowing Putin's puppet government.
Gershman's point is further shown to be dishonest in that he does not apply his supposed liberal values to the Crimeans who democratically voted to join the Russian federation rather than be ruled by the newly installed western-backed Ukrainian government.
I know these arguments are from quite a few years ago at this point, but I only just became aware of Gershman's reply to Mearsheimer, whose article I hold in a high regard, so I thought that it would be interesting to point out what a joke Gershman's attempt at a response was. He even laughably claimed that the National Endowment for Democracy is independent of the United States government despite receiving funding from that government, so his credibility on any subject is functionally nonexistent.
I removed a passing reference to the Resources page that existed on my previous blog where this post was originally published which does not exist on this Substack.