George Kent's Myth of Ukraine's Modern-Day 'Minutemen'
The commencement of public impeachment hearings this week may have been excruciatingly dull, but for the attentive observer one moment stood out. George Kent, the very first witness whose testimony Democrats elected to showcase, dutifully outlined his sterling diplomatic credentials as well as his undying commitment to lifelong public service. He then proceeded to sketch out a short synopsis of the Cold War, providing what one might describe as a slightly oversimplified historical narrative to bolster his subsequent claims about Ukraine, and the matter of President Trump purportedly withholding military aid to that country for corrupt purposes.
Having summarized approximately seven decades of capacious geopolitical conflict in the span of several minutes, Kent reached the present-day and opined on Ukraine’s situation since 2014. After Russia encroached upon Ukrainian territory that year, Kent pronounced, Ukrainian civil society gallantly “answered the challenge.” The struggle to counteract “Russian aggression,” he declared, was waged by the "Ukrainian equivalent of our own Minutemen of 1776.”
If Kent had been sitting in an undergraduate seminar room rather than a congressional hearing, he might have been pressed to further elucidate the alleged parallels between the American Revolutionary War and the conflict in Ukraine’s eastern provinces, as there would seem to be a few notable differences. However, Kent’s goal was not to formulate any coherent historical theory; it was to interweave American historical mythology with that of Ukraine, and therefore make Trump’s supposed betrayal of Ukraine -- in the form of temporarily withholding military aid -- that much more damning.
One potential problem with Kent’s analogy is that the militia forces he praised as carrying forth the best traditions of American heroism happen to be comprised of a large share of outright, unvarnished neo-Nazis. The Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian militia that Kent evidently views as a virtuous successors to the Minutemen of American lore, proudly brandish the symbols of the German Nazi Party, and its commanders have espoused such flattering statements as "the historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the white races of the world in a final crusade for their survival."
Kent never clarified how that squares with his glorious invocation of the Minutemen, but then again few in Congress (or the media) have ever been especially interested in critically analyzing the U.S. relationship with Ukraine since the 2014 coup -- except of course as it relates to the current impeachment flare-up. After four years of ignoring the fact that the U.S. government had firmly sided with a fascist paramilitary fighting force, the House of Representatives finally prohibited the sending of “military assistance” to Azov Battalion in 2018. (“Fascist” is a drastically overused term per the standards of U.S. political discourse, but in this case it’s apt, making the fact that this was ignored all the more curious.)
Those now touting the everlasting virtue of the “military assistance,” and denouncing Trump for temporarily withholding it, conveniently seem to omit any mention of how the “assistance” was actually used in the recent past. Instead, the provision of lethal arms to Ukraine has entered into the realm of magnificent bipartisan consensus, whereby members of both parties solemnly avow the necessity of plying Ukrainian forces with an endless supply of lethal weapons. The issue is no longer up for debate. That would come as a shock to Barack Obama, for instance, who staunchly opposed providing such arms to Ukraine on the legitimate ground that it would needlessly inflame conflict and commit the U.S. to a dangerous proxy war on Russia’s border. Evidently, Obama’s position is now a fringe one per the confines of Democratic messaging circa 2019.
Also ignored is how under Trump, the flow of lethal arms to Ukraine has essentially gone uninterrupted -- notwithstanding the brief interlude this summer. Both Kent and his co-witness, William Taylor, affirmed that because of the delay in how these arms get dispersed -- there is a lag time of approximately one year -- Ukraine never missed a delivery. In fact, Kent told Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd that two U.S.-made patrol boats “just arrived” to the Port of Odessa.
Trump campaigned on decreasing tensions with Russia, but nonetheless has fueled a proxy war with Russia that his predecessor disavowed. In a more sane political climate, the opposition party might seek to call attention to this discrepancy. Instead, they have adopted all manner of hawkish, interventionist foreign policy premises as their own: exalting figures like Kent and Taylor to make the case again Trump, from the standpoint that Trump is insufficiently committed to the objectives of the national security bureaucracy. (The irony of course being that Trump nevertheless capitulates to that bureaucracy, over and over again, with “military assistance” to Ukraine being just one example.)
If, as we are constantly told, impeachment is a “political process” -- then the political significance of this perverse dynamic ought to be considered as the hearings drag on, and more witnesses of a similar ideological disposition to Taylor and Kent are trotted out before the public as savior-like figures who can finally deal a decisive blow to Trump. Oversight and accountability are needed, especially with a president as erratic as the current occupant of that office. But in the process, Democrats are valorizing national security officials whose presuppositions about U.S. foreign policy are highly perilous in their own right.