The war between Ukraine, Russia and Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine's Donbass region has reached its sixth year. So far, it has claimed some thirteen thousand lives and displaced millions of people. It threatens to create an unstable line of long-term confrontation between Russia and the West dividing the heart of central Europe, or even spiral into a broader conflict. With so much at stake, are American government experts on Ukraine vigorously debating how to handle this daunting challenge more effectively? Not a chance.
The lack of any significant contention about Ukraine is reflected in the term groupthink, which first entered our political lexicon in the 1970s, when American policymakers and academics struggled to understand why the national security elite's conventional wisdom about the war in Vietnam turned out to have been so wrongheaded. The term's popularity enjoyed a fresh vogue in the wake of the Iraq WMD debacle, when numerous postmortems determined that analysts had been so convinced that Saddam Hussein was hiding stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons that they "simply disregarded evidence that did not support their hypotheses." The few policy advisors who attempted to warn the White House that the destruction of Baathist Iraq would also destroy the balance of power in the Persian Gulf--vital to containing Iran--were shown the door. But seldom has contemporary evidence of groupthink been on such stark public display as during the House impeachment hearings regarding Ukraine.
The star witnesses testifying in the hearings may have differed over the central question of whether the U.S. president delayed American military assistance in order to press for inappropriate political favors, but they all sang from the same sheet of music about the challenge that the United States is facing in Ukraine. Ukraine, they agreed, is "on the frontlines of a strategic competition between the West and Vladimir Putin's revanchist Russia" and therefore must have robust U.S. backing. They described this competition as in part a military struggle that requires continuing flows of American military assistance for Kyiv: "We are fighting Russia in Ukraine so that we do not have to fight Russia in the United States." But they also see it as ideological. A "free and democratic Ukraine" is a natural ally for "the United States and Western-style Liberalism," according to these experts. Ambassador Kurt Volker, the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, best articulated this consensus view:
[The U.S. national interest in Ukraine] meant pushing back on Russian aggression and supporting the development of a strong, resilient, democratic and prosperous Ukraine--one that overcomes a legacy of corruption and becomes integrated into a wider trans-Atlantic community. This is critically important for U.S. national security. If Ukraine, the...