When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Empire an "evil empire," the phrase reflected his conviction that while the East-West struggle was indeed a global geostrategic conflict, it had a deep moral dimension.
If Americans did not see the Cold War as he did, a battle between good and evil, Reagan knew that they would indefinitely sacrifice neither the wealth of the nation nor the blood of its sons to sustain it.
That is in the character of Americans.
Jimmy Carter had sought to remove that moral dimension by declaring, "We have gotten over our inordinate fear of communism."
But with his "evil empire" speech, Reagan re-moralized the Cold War in what Natan Sharansky called "a moment of moral clarity."
Here we come to the heart of the matter as to why Americans want to stay out of any Ukrainian conflict. Americans not only see no vital U.S. interest, but also no moral dimension to this quarrel.
If, after all, it was a triumph of self-determination for Ukraine to secede from the Russian Federation, do not Russians in Crimea and Donetsk have the same right -- to secede from Kiev and go home to Russia?
If Georgians had a right to break free of the Russian Federation, do not Abkhazians and South Ossetians have a right to break free of Georgia?
Turnabout is fair play is an old American saying.
Op-ed writers bewail Vladimir Putin's threat to the "rules-based" world we have created. But under what rule did we bomb Serbia for 78 days to tear away Kosovo, the cradle province of the Serb people?
Perhaps some history is in order.
Compare how Putin brought about the secession and annexation of Crimea, without bloodshed but with popular approval, with how Sam Houston and friends brought about the secession of Texas from Mexico, and its annexation by the United States in 1845.
When the Mexicans tried to retrieve a disputed piece of their lost Texas territory, James K. Polk accused them of shedding American blood on American soil, had Congress declare war, sent Gen. Winfield Scott and a U.S. army to Mexico City, and annexed the entire northern half of Mexico, which is now the American Southwest and California.
Compared to the Jacksonian, James Polk, Vladimir Putin is Pierre Trudeau.
Even in Eastern Ukraine, it is hard to see a moral issue. For the Kiev regime is loudly denouncing as "terrorists" the Russians who are taking over city centers by using the exact same tactics the Maidan Square demonstrators used to seize Kiev.
If it was heroic for the Svoboda Party and Pravy Sektor to fight police and torch buildings to oust Viktor Yanukovych, the elected president of Ukraine, upon what ground do the usurpers who inherited his power bewail the same thing being done to them?
Is there not glaring hypocrisy here?
And where do we Americans come off piously damning what the Russians are doing in Ukraine?
A decade ago, the National Endowment for Democracy and its progeny helped to foment the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the Orange Revolution in Kiev, and countless other "color revolutions" to dethrone unresponsive regimes and bring those countries into America's orbit.
In the last decade, Putin has learned how to play the Americans' game. And before winding up in a conflict we managed to avoid over four decades of Cold War, perhaps we should call off this game of thrones, and consign NED to the boneyard.
Today, two courses of action are being hotly pressed upon the Obama White House by the War Party. Both appear likely to lead to disaster.
The first is to arm the Ukrainians. This would likely provoke a war with Russia that Kiev could not win, and lead Ukrainians to believe the Americans will be there beside them, which is not in the cards.
The second option is the sanctions road.
But Europe, dependent on Russian oil and gas, is not going to vote itself a recession. And should the West sanction Russia, Moscow would sanction Ukraine and sink what the Washington Post calls that "black hole of corruption and waste that is the Ukrainian economy."
As for more U.S. warships in the Black and Baltic seas and more F-16s and U.S. troops in Eastern Europe, what is their purpose, when we are not going to go to war with Russia?
In the title of the old song, Johnny Cash got it right, "Don't take your guns to town," unless you're prepared to use them.
Undeniably, President Obama and John Kerry have egg all over their faces today, as they did in the Syrian "red line" episode.
Yet they continue to meddle where we do not belong, issue warnings and threats they have no power to enforce, and bluster and bluff about what they are going to do, when the American people are telling them, "This is not our quarrel."
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of "Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?"