When the House of Representatives’ public impeachment hearings open this week, one of the star witnesses for the prosecution – and perhaps the star witness – is expected to be William B. Taylor, former chief U.S. envoy to Ukraine. His appeal to President Trump’s opponents is easy to understand, since he was both deeply involved with Ukraine policy when the alleged actions that ostensibly triggered Mr. Trump’s latest round of troubles took place, and since he’s compiled such an impressive record of service to America, especially as a decorated military veteran.
I haven’t yet made up my mind as to whether Taylor’s remarks at his October 22 closed door appearance before House investigators will seal or significantly strengthen the case for impeachment. (So far I’m leaning “No,” for reasons I’ll detail soon.) What is clear to me is that Taylor’s opening statement, and answers to questions from the Democrats and Republicans involved, put on full display a syndrome long common among America’s diplomatic corps (and broader foreign policy establishment) whose pervasiveness should disturb anyone who believes that the nation’s approach to world affairs should prioritize American interests.
The syndrome is called “Client-itis”. As the name suggests, it’s applied to foreign policy officials who fall in love with the countries they’re focused on, and who act as if their chief responsibility is championing that country’s interests in U.S. corridors of power, not vice versa. And last month, Taylor both came off as a prime example, and strongly suggested that his real beef with the President (and the real beef of the foreign policy Blob in general) concerns Mr. Trump’s doubts about Ukraine as a vital U.S. interest worth antagonizing Russia over, not about any supposed Trump improprieties.
Taylor’s Ukraine-philia emerged right off the bat in his prepared statement before the investigators: “While I have served in many places and in different capacities, I have a particular interest in and respect for the importance of our country’s relationship with Ukraine. Our national security demands that this relationship remain strong.”
But Taylor also eventually made clear that far more than cold strategic calculations underlay this view. As he explained, also at work was an “emotional piece,” that “is based on my time in Ukraine in 2006, 2009, when traveling around the country, I got to know Ukrainians and their frustrations and difficulties and those kind of things. And then coming back and seeing it now where they have the opportunity, they’ve got a young President, a young Prime Minister, a young Parliament, the Prime Minister is 35 years old. This new government has appealed to young people who are so idealistic, pro-West, pro-United States, pro-Europe, that I feel an emotional attachment, bond, connection to this country and these people.”
Is it possible that Taylor nonetheless was able to distinguish American from Ukrainian interests anyway, despite these strong feelings? Sure – but the closing passage of his statement justifies such strong doubts that it’s worth quoting in full:
“There are two Ukraine stories today, Mr. Chairman. The first is the one we are discussing this morning and that you have been hearing for the past 2 weeks. It’s a rancorous story about whistleblowers, Mr. Gjuliani, side channels, quid pro quos, corruption, interference in elections. In this story Ukraine is an object.
“But there’s another Ukraine story, a positive, bipartisan one. In this second story, Ukraine is the subject. This one is about young people in a young nation struggling to break free of its past, hopeful their new government will finally usher in a new Ukraine, proud of its independence from Russia, eager to join Western institutions and enjoy a more secure and prosperous life.
“This story describes a Nation developing an inclusive, democratic nationalism, not unlike what we in America, in our best moments, feel about our diverse country – less concerned about what language we speak; what religion, if any, we practice; where our parents and grandparents came from – more concerned about building a new country.”
Taylor returned to the strategic argument, but not for long, concluding his statement with “This second story, Mr. Chairman, is the one I would like to leave you with today.”
The problem is, however moving this description of the new Ukraine, none of these considerations mitigating for viewing that, or any, country as a “subject” – i.e., worth helping because of its alleged virtues – should be standing at the forefront of U.S. policymakers’ worldview. If such support can contribute to America’s freedom, security, and prosperity at costs and risks deemed acceptable by the American political system (meaning, ultimately, by voters), then their pursuit becomes entirely legitimate. But their intrinsic nature is secondary. That is, an “object” of U.S. interests is precisely what must remain first and foremost for the U.S. government and its officials when dealing with foreign countries and regions.
Taylor is absolutely correct in noting that aiding Ukraine has been a strongly supported bipartisan American policy goal. But as he and his Democratic questioners also made clear, Donald Trump wasn’t sure about Ukraine’s relation to America’s well-being at all. And Mr. Trump is not only the current Constitutionally elected President of the United States. He also ran – and won – on a platform that emphatically opposed a foreign policy made on Taylor-like bases.
That is, an “object” of U.S. interests is precisely how the President views Ukraine. And it’s a decision whose legitimacy Taylor has unquestionably overlooked. Let’s hope that in their impeachment proceedings, the House and Senate don’t.
In my next post: Taylor’s testimony and the case for clearing Mr. Trump.