Thinking About the Russia-Ukraine War

W.J. Astore

Shooting for total victory for Ukraine may only lead to total war for the world

Recently, I’ve been discussing the Russia-Ukraine War with a friend.  He sees it as a “war of national liberation” for Ukraine and fully supports extensive U.S. military aid in weaponry, intelligence, and logistics. Supporters of Ukraine, he said, are much like those who supported republican Spain against the fascist forces of Franco in the 1930s.  Vladimir Putin is a dangerous dictator bent on Ukraine’s total subjugation.  He must be stopped, and the best way to ensure that is total military victory for Ukraine.  He also opined that Ukraine is winning the war and that the $100 billion or so that the U.S. government has pledged is money well spent.

Once Ukraine wins the war, he concluded, it should be fully integrated into NATO, still a vitally important alliance against Russian imperial expansion and exploitation.  Ukraine only seeks to protect its own sovereignty and to join European democracies and the EU, a goal the U.S. should actively seek to facilitate.  

I wish I could be as confident and certain as my friend of the nobility of both Ukraine’s cause and U.S. participation in Ukrainian politics and the war.  Why am I more skeptical than my friend?  For several reasons:

  1. The U.S. government has done nothing to facilitate diplomacy and negotiation between Ukraine and Russia.  Indeed, the Biden administration has worked to discourage diplomacy.
  2. Ukraine may see itself as engaged in a “war of national liberation,” but for U.S. officials it’s more of a proxy war to weaken Russia.  Various sanctions and the destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines suggest powerful economic and financial motives that have nothing to do with safeguarding Ukrainian territory or its “democracy.”
  3. Undeniably, U.S. aid to Ukraine, commitments of which have already exceeded $100 billion, are a major boon to the military-industrial complex in America.  When people profit massively from war and death, it’s reasonable to question their motives.
  4. The U.S. military/government exists to safeguard national security and the U.S. Constitution.  In that context, the territorial integrity of Ukraine is not a vital concern.
  5. The danger of military escalation in Europe is real.  A longer war means more dead and wounded soldiers on both sides; more destruction and collateral damage; and more inflammatory rhetoric about nuclear red lines, dirty bombs, and the like. The longer the war lasts, the more inflamed passions will become, and the more likely efforts “to end Russian occupation” of Ukraine will escalate into something far more ambitious — and likely far deadlier.
  6. To me, neither side appears to be clearly winning and neither is on the verge of victory.  If the war lasts another year, or two, or three, any kind of Ukrainian “victory” may be pyrrhic indeed if the country is a blasted husk as a result.
War is ugly. Long wars are uglier still.

As I explained to my friend, I deplore Putin’s decision back in February to invade.  I hope Ukraine prevails.  But I believe Russia, Ukraine, and indeed the world would be better off if the war ends via negotiated settlement, the sooner the better.  History teaches us that wars often spin out of control when estranged sides insist on total victory.

I added that I’d be careful indeed in placing faith in the wisdom of U.S. leaders or in appeals to ideals of the Lincoln Brigade of the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s.  Recent wars (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) should teach us how frequently U.S. leaders lie, and how willing they are to wage long and disastrous wars that compromise U.S. security.

Also, talk of “facilitating Ukraine’s liberation” is both open-ended and ill-defined. For the U.S., is that limited to weaponry and training and the like?  Or does “facilitating” mean much more than that, including combat by U.S. troops and the risk of dying or being grievously wounded in the cause of Ukraine’s liberation?  If the latter, would you send your sons and daughters to fight in such a war?

Talking about Ukrainian national liberation and protecting democracy seems unproblematic, but, as I asked my friend, are you and yours willing to fight and die for it?  When did Ukrainian “liberation” become so vitally important to U.S. national defense?  So much so that $100 billion or more of your money is sent there, so much so that the 101st Airborne Division is deployed to Romania as a form of tripwire or deterrent, so much so that plans to deploy upgraded U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to Europe are being accelerated even as recent exercises featured dry runs of nuclear weapons attacks.

Already the Russia-Ukraine War has lasted far longer than experts predicted.  Already it has cost far more than anyone expected.  Shooting for total victory for Ukraine may only lead to total war for the world.

(Please go to Bracing Views on Substack if you’d like to comment.)

The Russia-Ukraine War as a World War

W.J. Astore

I haven’t written much about the progress of the Russia-Ukraine War. I have no special insight into what’s going on in Ukraine, or in Putin’s head, but I think I know something about the USA and its leadership.

The war itself: Russia and Ukraine are both losing. Russia is losing men and materiel; Ukraine is losing land and suffering all the destruction of a war fought on their turf. Many Americans seem to be cheering Ukraine and its resolute resistance, but at what cost, and for what purpose?

Historical analogies: American commentators like to refer to 1938 and Munich. Putin, naturally, is Hitler, and the world must stand up to him since Ukraine is only the first country on his list of potential conquests. If Putin wins in Ukraine, Poland would be next. Or the Baltic States. Because Putin wants to re-create the Soviet empire. Or the Russia of the Tsars.

But I think it’s much more like 1914. A regional conflict that may spin wildly out of control as more and more countries get swept into its escalatory spiral. Russian threats and nuclear red lines are more than worrisome. After all, wars are inherently chaotic and unpredictable, often creating their own bizarre logic of what’s right and wrong, what’s rational and irrational. Anyone who thinks they know how this war is going to end is overestimating the predictability of war. We’re all engaged in guess-work, and where nuclear threats are involved, guess-work is less than reassuring.

The Russia-Ukraine War could escalate to a world war: Already we’ve seen major economic sanctions involving the US, NATO countries, and Russia. Already we’ve seen Russia working with China and other countries to sell its fuel and other products as it seeks to evade those sanctions. Already we’ve seen inflation and recession in the US economy that can be tied back to those sanctions. Meanwhile, the US and NATO have sent tens of billions in weaponry to Ukraine to wage its war, which, to be blunt, is a form of proxy war for the US and NATO. The US president has called for regime change in Russia, declaring that Putin must go. Both Nord Stream pipelines have been attacked. This is not a simple regional war between Russia and Ukraine. It’s already a war with global implications openly funded by the US with the explicit goal of weakening Russia and removing Putin from power.

Boris Spassky versus Bobby Fischer: the good old days

To use chess terminology, the war still appears to be in its opening stages. Perhaps the middle game has begun; what’s certain is the end game is nowhere in sight. As Matt Taibbi recently noted, the Washington Post observed that “recent events have only added to the sense that the war will be a long slog,” and “all of this adds up to a war that looks increasingly open-ended.” Even worse, the paper noted:

Privately, U.S. officials say neither Russia nor Ukraine is capable of winning the war outright, but they have ruled out the idea of pushing or even nudging Ukraine to the negotiating table. They say they do not know what the end of the war looks like, or how it might end or when, insisting that is up to Kyiv.

Taibbi’s response is telling: “What??? If the White House doesn’t think the war can be won, but also refuses to negotiate itself, or ‘nudge’ others to do it for them, what exactly is its end strategy? Waiting for things to get worse and then reassessing?”

To return to chess: In games involving highly skilled players, often draws are agreed upon early in the middle game, as both players realize they have no prospects for victory and that further play will merely prolong the inevitable. It’s time for the major players in this conflict to agree to some version of a draw, a negotiated settlement, an end to conflict. Chess, after all, is just a game. The players don’t have to worry about dying in a nuclear cataclysm. We do.

Is Ukraine Winning?

The detritus of war, but it’s Ukraine that’s bearing the brunt of war damage

W.J. Astore

At NBC News today, I saw this headline: “Ukraine’s offensive in the east surprised Russia — and it may be a turning point in the war.” Russian forces are retreating, but whether this represents a decisive turning point remains to be seen. Still, Ukraine resistance seems steady, and Russian will unsteady, at this moment in the war.

Surely, this is good news — or is it? With all the fighting taking place in Ukraine, the longer the war lasts, the worst it will likely turn out for Ukrainians. Turning points often are illusory: just ask all those U.S. generals who spoke of turning points in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last two decades. The best case scenario here is for Ukraine to use its military advantage and push for a favorable diplomatic settlement. I would hope Vladimir Putin might also see the wisdom of ending a war that has cost him more than he likely imagined when he started it earlier this year (as Andrew Bacevich explains at TomDispatch).

Too many Americans, it seems to me, are determined to see Russia suffer as much as possible. With Russia, the Pentagon’s argument goes something like this: Putin is a malevolent and irredentist dictator.  Without NATO expansion, the Baltic States would already have been reabsorbed by Russia, with Poland and other (former) eastern bloc nations next on Putin’s target list.  Putin, a “clear and present danger,” is only kept in line by U.S. and NATO military power, because his goal is a new Russian empire with borders much like those that Russia had in 1914 or, if that proves overly ambitious, 1989 before the Soviet collapse.  Only a resolute America (and now Ukraine) stands in his way, but that requires massive military spending in a renewed effort at containment, together with yet more spending on America’s nuclear triad.  “Containment” and “deterrence,” once again, are the neutral-sounding words that enable open-ended U.S. military spending against Russia (and of course Red China as well).

Truly what we don’t need is Cold War 2.0. The world barely survived the first one, and that was before climate change emerged as the serious threat that it is today.

In the 1990s, the U.S. and NATO rejected the idea that Russia maybe, just maybe, could be incorporated into the European Community in a security architecture respectful of Russian history and goals while also securing nascent democracies in former Warsaw Pact countries. Today, that rejection is complete, as Russia and Putin are dismissed as irredeemable deplorables, to borrow a phrase from Hillary Clinton.

Yet I wouldn’t underestimate Russian resilience. Just ask Hitler, Napoleon, or Charles XII about that. They all invaded Russia and got spanked. The time has come not to continue the vilification of Russia but to reach accords that Russians, Ukrainians, and other Europeans can all live with.

You wage war long, you wage it wrong, especially when it’s being waged on your turf. Short of total capitulation by either side, which is unlikely, let’s hope Zelensky and Putin can find a way to resolve their differences Let’s hope as well that the U.S. sees the wisdom of facilitating a diplomatic settlement that ends the killing.

Though President Biden previously has suggested Putin must go, I’d be very careful what he wishes for. Russia under new leaders may prove even more volatile and vengeful than U.S. leaders think it’s been under Putin.

How Are We to Understand the Russia-Ukraine War?

Biden, Putin, and Zelensky.

W.J. Astore and M. Davout

My esteemed colleague Davout and I have different ways of looking at the Russia-Ukraine War.  We thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to share our differing perspectives here, allowing our readers to think over the merits of our approaches and the validity of our conclusions.  Davout has framed the questions and made the initial response; I get the last word, so to speak, for each question.  Our mutual intent is not to “win” a pseudo-debate but to pose questions and provide answers that inform and stimulate.  To that end, here we go.

What caused the Russian invasion of Ukraine?

Davout: Putin’s desire to reestablish Russian hegemony over Eastern Europe and ensure the stability of his autocratic regime has been the main driver of the invasion. In 2005, Putin declared that the collapse of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” What was catastrophic about it for Putin? The eastern flank of the former Soviet Union, including Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Moldova, and Ukraine shifted from being an appendage of an authoritarian Soviet regime to being a collection of independent democracies or democracies-in-process. Membership in the European Union and in NATO has either been achieved (the Baltic states) or been pursued (Ukraine pursuing both, Moldova pursuing European Union membership only). None of these countries (not to mention the formerly occupied countries of Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia) singly or together have the capacity or will to invade Russia or otherwise project military power across Russian borders. The real threat to which Putin is responding is the example set by the people of former Soviet territories opting for more democratic, less corrupt regimes and societies. That example endangers his own hold on power and pushes his own society toward historical irrelevance.

Astore: Putin was obviously the prime mover of the invasion.  He chose the military option, and he surely believed it would strengthen his authority over a former Soviet republic that was tracking toward joining NATO.

When we speak of causes, however, it’s often wise to take a broad view over a breadth of time.  When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, NATO’s reason for being ended with it.  Nevertheless, NATO persisted, expanding to the very borders of Russia despite assurances to Russian leaders that the alliance would not expand eastwards beyond a newly unified Germany.  Russian leaders, including Putin, had issued clear warnings that NATO expansion into Ukraine would constitute a “red line,” the crossing of which would likely lead to a military response.  Putin’s decision to invade, therefore, was eminently predictable, thus it was also potentially preventable. The United States, which leads NATO, could have sent a clear signal to Russia that Ukraine should and would remain a neutral buffer state.  The US chose not to do so.

One may question the premise of Ukraine as a “more democratic, less corrupt regime.”  In Ukraine, corruption is endemic, exacerbated by extensive U.S. meddling, as in the notorious coup of 2014 orchestrated in part by Victoria Nuland, citing the support of then-Vice President Joe Biden.  And while it’s important to recognize Russian regional hegemonic ambitions, one should never forget the global hegemonic ambitions of the U.S. empire.  In sum, the US has not been an innocent bystander here.  

US proxy war or Ukrainian war of independence?

Davout: A proxy war is a conflict instigated by a state in which it does not directly engage in hostilities. This war was a war of choice on the part of Putin. It has had the unintended result of inspiring patriotic resistance (even amongst Russian-speaking Ukrainians who were formerly pro-Russian like the mayor of Odessa). In the lead up to the invasion, the US and its NATO allies attempted to dissuade Putin from invading. In the invasion’s aftermath, they have provided critical arms and support to Ukraine and have sought economically to undermine Russia’s war-making capacities. While current official US policy may be the crippling of Russia’s capacity to engage in another such invasion in the near future, the US did not instigate this war in pursuit of this aim. While US and NATO armaments are a necessary factor in Ukraine’s continued defense against the Russian invasion, it is Ukrainian solidarity and resolve and Russian refusal to end its invasion that keep this war going.

Astore: Clearly, most Ukrainians believe they are fighting for their independence.  Ukraine has no desire to become a Putin puppet state.  Nor, however, do they wish to become a puppet state to the USA.

Lloyd Austin, the US Secretary of Defense, spoke clearly that weakening Russia was a key goal of this conflict.  To that end, the US government, in a rare show of bipartisan unity, provided $54 billion in largely military aid to a Ukrainian military with a yearly budget of $6 billion.  Such profligacy is not an example of generosity driven by disinterested ideals.  Clearly, the US sees this war as the latest front in a new cold war, a way to stress Russia to the breaking point.  As President Biden openly stated, that man (Putin) must go.

So, it’s worse than a proxy war: it’s yet another US regime-change war.  The stated goal is to topple Putin and turn Russia into a divided and dysfunctional state, much like it was in the 1990s when Western corporations and financial institutions invaded Russia and exploited it in the name of capitalism and reform.   

Are there any legitimate parallels to draw between Putin and Hitler?

Davout: Yes, though the parallels with Hitler are not the same parallels so often drawn to delegitimize non-interventionists as appeasers. Historian John Lukacs’s various histories of Hitler’s strategizing in that crucial period after the invasion of France to the start of the Battle of Britain paint a picture of Hitler less as the hubristic dictator irrationally striving for world conquest than as a canny but flawed geopolitical strategist, driven by geopolitical grievance and with a large capacity to hate those who opposed him. Lukacs argues that Hitler was prepared to cut a deal with Great Britain on terms that would allow Germany to exercise hegemonic powers on the continent. It was Churchill’s longstanding aversion to Hitler and Hitlerism and his ability to maintain British popular support for the war that blocked Hitler’s strategy to cut a deal. Once his overture was blocked by Churchill, Hitler underestimated British morale in the Battle of Britain. Then, in an effort to circumvent Britain’s resistance, Hitler gambled that he could cripple Stalin’s war making capacity and knock him out of the war and thereby present England with a fait accompli of German hegemony on the continent. The picture of Hitler Lukacs draws can plausibly be applied to Putin—a grievance-driven leader attempting to restore a lost geopolitical sphere of influence, who has miscalculated the resolve of democratic leaders and peoples and has doubled down on violence.

Astore:  In a word, no.  

Whenever American leaders want to justify military action and high spending on weaponry, they turn to Hitler and World War II.  The claim is made that we must stop the “new” Hitler.  We must not be appeasers.  Saddam Hussein was allegedly the new Hitler in 2003; his WMD was supposed to be a mushroom cloud on our horizon.  But there was no WMD and eliminating Saddam by invasion tipped Iraq into a disastrous civil war from which that country has yet to recover. 

Putin isn’t the new Hitler, and his invasion of Ukraine doesn’t represent the kind of existential threat the Third Reich presented to democracies in 1938-39.

Hitler had the finest military machine of his day backed by the economic powerhouse that was Germany in the late 1930s. Putin’s military machine is mediocre at best, and Russia’s economy is smaller than that of California.  Putin doesn’t appear to be seeking a huge empire or world domination, as Hitler was.  And while Hitler may have temporarily played nice with Britain, that didn’t prevent the Nazis from hatching plans to invade and loot Britain and to massacre its Jews as well.

Of course, Putin was wrong to have invaded Ukraine, but George W. Bush was wrong to have invaded Iraq in 2003.  Both these leaders have essentially nothing in common with Hitler, who was sui generis–a tyrannical dictator driven by genocidal fantasies of world dominance by a “master race.”

To what extent is US democracy hurt or helped by the Biden Administration’s policy of military support for Ukrainian resistance?    

Davout: Seeing his country in hostile competition with western democracies, Putin has deployed various forms of soft power and hard power to undermine confidence in, and injure the working of, democratic regimes. Hackers and internet influencers employed by the Russian state have intervened in the elections of established democracies either to foster social distrust or to promote candidates (e.g., Trump) and policies (e.g., Brexit) that weaken adversary countries. Military interventions are carried out on Russia’s border to maintain regimes favorable to Putin (as was the case when a popular uprising against fraudulent elections in Belarus was put down with the help of Russian soldiers). Meanwhile, as was documented by the Panama and Pandora Papers, the huge amounts of money pilfered from the Russian people by oligarchs moves through the banking, legal, and commercial institutions of democratic countries (including South Dakota!) with corrupting effect on people and officials alike. To be sure, the US has corruption problems of its own. And US military support of Ukraine will have the unfortunate result of strengthening the position of defense contractors and their lobbyists, Pentagon brass, and congressional hawks. However, it would be worst for US democracy if Russian ambitions to occupy or dismember Ukraine succeed. This would undermine European democracies whose continued survival and flourishing provide democratic reformers in the US with critically important role models and partners.

Astore: US democracy hasn’t been hurt or helped by this war because the US is a democracy in name only.

In reality, the US is an oligarchy in which the rich and powerful rule at the expense of the many.  The unofficial fourth branch of government is the US National Security State, a leviathan of enormous power. Its biggest component is what President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1961 termed the military-industrial complex (to which he added Congress as well).  This MICC is profiting greatly from this war, not only in the $54 billion in aid provided to Ukraine, but also in the ever-rising Pentagon budget for FY 2023, which will exceed $813 billion, a gargantuan sum justified in part by the Russia-Ukraine War.

The new cold war with Russia, and increasingly with China as well, is strengthening the state of permanent war in America.  As James Madison warned, permanent warfare serves autocracy while insidiously destroying democracy. As militarism becomes more deeply entrenched in the US government, and as that same government continues to send more destructive weaponry to Ukraine such as artillery and missile systems, options for de-escalation narrow even as chances for a nightmarish escalation to nuclear war, whether by design or accident, increase.

What would truly strengthen democracy in America, assuming it could somehow be reanimated, is if the USA pressed ahead with all its strength to broker a peace treaty between Russia and Ukraine. Ukraine is getting wrecked by this war, and our aggressive actions, mainly in providing more and more lethal weaponry together with onerous sanctions, are guaranteed to shred more bodies and aggravate economic dislocation both here and in Europe.

Readers, what are your thoughts here?

Coda by M. Davout (6/6/22)

W. J. Astore has asked me to compose a “coda” of sorts, in which I might add some concluding reflections about the commentary provoked by our different views on the war in Ukraine. 

Yes, there is a relevant pre-2022 history to the current conflict—decades old promises from US officials to Russian officials about not expanding NATO east of the Oder, a popular pro-West Ukrainian uprising (supported by Western intelligence agencies, some have plausibly argued) against a Ukrainian administration’s decision to reject closer ties with the European Union (as was the will of the Ukrainian parliament) in favor of the Ukrainian president’s decision to push the country toward closer ties with Russia, a counter-uprising in the Donbas that drew Russian political and military support, etc. But there is also the fact of a full-scale military invasion against a country that posed little if any military threat to Russian borders, a military invasion that has led to the needless deaths of tens of thousands of civilians and combatants and the uprooting of millions of Ukrainians. 

It is undeniable that the invasion has promoted patriotic solidarity among different language speakers within Ukraine against the invasion, including Russian speaking Ukrainians whose rights Putin’s invasion was presumably intended to defend. It is also undeniable that voter support for Ukraine’s resistance to the invasion is very high in Eastern European countries. More noteworthy is the fact that in Western European countries, governments have been forced to respond to the pro-Ukrainian sentiments of their voters by sending arms to Ukraine and destroying longstanding economic relationships with Russia to the financial detriment of both European businesses and consumers.   

So the situation is nowhere near as neat or clear as either my contributions or Astore’s contributions or the contributions of the majority of the commentators would have it be. In this regard, the comments of Denise Donaldson strike me as the most interesting. You can tell that she can see the issue from both sides and is struggling with that ambiguity. 

That is the place to be on the Ukraine war, I think: struggling with ambiguity. There is no clearly right answer: the war is not solely a product of American empire, nor is it solely a product of Russian empire. And there are no good outcomes, only bad or worse outcomes. 

But, in politics, one has to make choices and, for now, I choose align myself with current US and NATO policy. Not because I am a dupe of the mainstream media or a supporter of the Establishment or the MIC (my earlier posts on this website should put those notions to rest) but because I believe the expulsion of the Russian military from the Ukrainian lands it currently occupies (maybe including Crimea, maybe not) is both possible and more likely to lead to a lasting peace in eastern Europe. And my taking that position does not mean that I do not also see some merit in the points my esteemed colleague WJ Astore (and his many followers) make.

Response by Astore (6/6/22)

I would like to thank M. Davout for his reasoned response and for continuing this important discussion. One thing I can say with certainty: you won’t hear such a nuanced and broad debate in the mainstream media, which basically just sells U.S. weaponry while waving Ukrainian flags in our faces.

Davout suggests that Ukraine posed no threat to Russia. Alone, that is true. But Ukraine was planning to join NATO, a powerful alliance led by the world’s most hegemonic country. Surely, that combination was something for Russia to be wary of, and even to fear.

When Americans think of Russia, many negative images come to mind. The evils of communism. A charging and rampaging Russian bear. But Russia has had its share of devastation. Davout certainly knows the rampage of Napoleon’s empire in 1812. Russia and the Soviet Union were almost destroyed by World Wars I and II. Russian leaders have been reassured by Western leaders before that “we come in peace,” but surely 1812, 1914, and 1941 taught Russia much about trusting Western assurances.

Look at a map. From a Russian perspective, NATO surrounds them. Look at military budgets. The U.S. and NATO combined spend more than 20 times what Russia spends. If the roles were reversed and we were the Russians, might we see this differently?

My point is not to excuse Russia’s invasion but to offer a partial explanation.

I agree with Davout that by this point “there are no good outcomes, only bad or worse outcomes.” Therefore, I choose not to align myself with current US and NATO policy, since I see this as recklessly escalatory and focused primarily on providing more and more weaponry to kill more and more Russians (and Ukrainians too). I propose an immediate cease fire, the end of arms shipments to Ukraine, and negotiation that would end with some territory being ceded to Russia, a promise from NATO and Ukraine that the latter will remain neutral, and a promise from Russia that Ukraine will not be attacked again, and that its territorial integrity will be respected. I would also insist on Russia paying reparations dedicated to rebuilding Ukraine. Finally, the U.S. should end all sanctions on Russia and redirect its aid entirely to rebuilding Ukraine rather than to more weaponry.

I think this approach would save lives and restore equilibrium to Europe while avoiding dangerous escalation that could conceivably end in nuclear war. It’s time for statesmanship and compromise, rather than militaristic grandstanding and mendacious obstinacy.

Sadly, I see no one in the US government with the sagacity and cojones to join Putin and Zelensky in working to stop this war reasonably and quickly.

As Russia Weakens, Why Is Pentagon Spending Set to Soar?

W.J. Astore

Overall, the Russian invasion of Ukraine isn’t going well for Russia. If reports are correct, the Russian military hasn’t distinguished itself. Poor logistics, bad intelligence, lack of effective air support, and an increasing reliance on brute strength appear to be features of this campaign. Meanwhile, Russia is suffering from debilitating economic sanctions imposed by the West. In sum, Russia is weaker today than it was three weeks ago before the invasion. So why is Pentagon spending set to soar in the coming fiscal years?

A friend sent an article along from the New York Times that sums up this insane moment in Washington. He suggested that I re-post it here and make some comments on it. Here goes (my comments in italics):

War in Ukraine rallies support in Congress for more military spending

Catie Edmondson

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — From his perch as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., has long lamented what he sees as a Pentagon budget bloated by inefficient spending. When hawkish lawmakers led a successful charge last year to pour nearly $24 billion more into the military’s coffers, he opposed the move.

But last week, as Russian forces continued their assault on Ukraine and he pondered the size of the coming year’s military budget, Mr. Smith sounded a different tone.

“I haven’t picked a number yet,” he said, “but without question, it’s going to have to be bigger than we thought.”

Yes, the Pentagon budget is “bloated” and “inefficient.” You don’t solve that by giving the Pentagon yet more billions!

He added: “The Russian invasion of Ukraine fundamentally altered what our national security posture and what our defense posture needs to be. It made it more complicated, and it made it more expensive.”

No, the invasion hasn’t “fundamentally altered” America’s “defense posture.” If anything, a weakening Russia means we can spend less money on defense, not more.

His shift signals a stark new reality facing President Joe Biden on Capitol Hill, where Democrats had already shown they had little appetite for controlling the defense budget, even as Mr. Biden declared an end to the era of ground wars and indicated he wanted to reimagine the use of American power abroad.

How interesting. I thought “American power” was about “defense.” Why does this have to be “reimagined”?

Now, facing a military onslaught by President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine, and rising fears of a protracted war in Europe and an emboldened China, lawmakers in both parties — including some who had resisted in the past — are pressing for vast increases in military spending to address a changed security landscape.

Why are more weapons and more wars always the answer to a “changed security landscape”? What is the sense of “vast increases”?

As images pour out of Ukrainian cities devastated by a relentless and indiscriminate volley of Russian missiles, Democrats and Republicans who have struggled to coalesce behind meaningful legislation to aid the Ukrainian cause are rallying around one of the few substantive tools available to them: sending money and weapons.

The House this week is poised to approve $10 billion in emergency funds to Ukraine, including $4.8 billion to cover the costs of weapons already sent to Ukraine and eastern flank allies, as well as the deployment of U.S. troops. But already on Monday, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate majority leader, suggested lawmakers could approve a $12 billion package, in a sign of how eager lawmakers were to send more aid to Kyiv. The United States alone has deployed more than 15,000 troops to Europe, while committing an additional 12,000 to NATO’s response force if necessary.

$10 billion in “emergency funds” is now more than $13 billion for Ukraine. How come America’s poor and neediest can’t get that level of aid, and that quickly?

Beyond funding immediate needs, the consensus around more generous Pentagon spending previews a dynamic that is likely to drive negotiations around next year’s defense budget, potentially locking in the kind of large increases that Mr. Biden and many Democrats had hoped to end.

This is false. Biden ran for president promising increases in Pentagon spending over and above what Trump had proposed.

“I think people are sort of waking up out of this haze that we were living somehow in a secure world,” said Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., who sits on the Armed Services Committee.

WTF? We live in an insecure world because of wanton spending by the military-industrial-congressional complex.

Ms. Luria added: “I was not satisfied with the budget that came over last year from the White House, especially in regards to China, especially in regards to the Navy or shipbuilding, and I’ll be very disappointed, in light of the new world situation, if they come up with a budget like that again.”

The rapid shift in thinking is a setback for progressives who had hoped that unified Democratic control of the House, the Senate and the White House would translate into a smaller Pentagon budget and a reduced footprint of American troops around the world.

Democrats, as a party, never wanted a smaller Pentagon budget.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said in a brief interview that she believed it was crucial that the United States provide Ukrainians with some defensive weapons, but added: “Do I think that there is a point where it becomes too much? Yes.”

Ms. Omar said she was particularly worried about the prospect of arming an insurgency, especially as civilians from around the world have flocked to Ukraine to help push back against the Russian army.

“We’ve seen what the result of that was in Afghanistan, when we armed so many people to fight against the Russians,” said Ms. Omar, who was born in Somalia. “Many of those people went back to their own countries and caused a lot of havoc, including the one I come from.”

A little bit of sense by Rep. Omar, but she has no support here.

Mr. Biden last weekend authorized a $350 million package of weapons that included Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles as well as small arms and munitions, a shipment that represented the largest single authorized transfer of arms from U.S. military warehouses to another country.

Weapons bought for U.S. troops are being sent for free to Ukraine to be used (in some cases) by neo-Nazi forces. I’m sure nothing bad will come from this.

Many lawmakers want to go further. Several Republican senators have endorsed setting up a separate fund to support the Ukrainian resistance, signaling an appetite to continue arming those in Ukraine willing to fight for an extended period of time, even in the event their government falls.

“I want to see more Javelins,” said Sen. Jim Risch, of Idaho, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee. “I want to see more Stingers.”

Missiles are the answer! More Russian and Ukrainian dead! Hooah!

An emotional virtual meeting on Saturday in which President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, of Ukraine, who has been defiant in the face of continuing Russian attacks, pleaded with senators for additional weapons rallied more support for his cause.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called for Congress to pass an additional military aid emergency spending bill. And Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., suggested that Congress quickly approve funding to reimburse Eastern European allies if they provide Ukraine with planes or surface-to-air missiles.

“We should be signaling to the Poles and Romanians and others that this is something we would want to help them do,” Mr. Malinowski said.

Lawmakers are eyeing long-term solutions, too, in Europe and beyond. At an Armed Services Committee hearing last week, both Republicans and Democrats endorsed increasing the U.S. military presence in the Baltics.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., who is a former Pentagon official, called Mr. Putin’s invasion “a sea change” for “how both the Defense Department and the State Department should think about our presence in Europe.”

“I couldn’t agree more with my colleagues who have talked about putting more force in right now,” Ms. Slotkin said, adding later, “We have to completely re-evaluate deterrence and how we re-establish it.”

What we’re witnessing is the U.S. Congress foaming at the mouth to send more weapons to Ukraine to kill more Russians (and doubtless Ukrainians too), while boosting Pentagon spending against a Russian threat that will be considerably lower, assuming this war doesn’t spiral out of control because of ill-judged and incendiary responses by the U.S.

Readers, what do you think of all this?

The Keyboard Commandos

W.J. Astore

As war in Ukraine drags on, the possibility for dangerous escalation increases. The goal should be the quickest possible ceasefire and a diplomatic solution that puts an end to hostilities. Or, to cite Vera Brittain in “Testament of Youth” again: “No to killing. No to war.”

An obstacle to this are all the keyboard commandos in the West who are recklessly calling for dangerous escalations against Russia. These include a “no-fly” zone above the city of Kyiv enforced in part by the U.S. Air Force, and direct attacks by European air forces against Russian armored columns on their way to Kyiv. Such calls for military action are indeed reckless since Vladimir Putin has issued a none-too-veiled threat of a nuclear response to them. Is he bluffing? I for one do not want to find out.

The West is already providing advanced weaponry to Ukraine such as Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and Javelin anti-tank missiles. EU countries even talked of sending fighter aircraft to Ukraine, but that deal seems to be falling apart. Such weaponry may increase the costs of war to Russia, but weapons alone are not likely to prove decisive in any way.

For all those keyboard commandos out there, safely tweeting about attacks on Russian forces in the cause of “helping” Ukraine, I have a challenge for you. Come out from behind your keyboards, book a flight to Ukraine, grab a Kalashnikov or perhaps even a Stinger, and show how determined you really are to defend Ukraine. Barring that, and assuming you’re of military age and that you’re American, why not take this opportunity to enlist in the U.S. military, as NFL star Pat Tillman famously did in the aftermath of 9/11. Show us how tough you really are; show us how much you truly care.

Because, if you’re not willing to put up, it really is better (and also much more honest) if you shut up.

Let’s (Not) Go To War!

W.J. Astore

Remember the days when America had to be attacked before it went to war? And when it did, it made formal Congressional declarations of the same?

In December 1941, the Japanese attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor as well as elsewhere in the Pacific. In response to those attacks, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress for a formal declaration of war. Nazi Germany then declared war on the U.S., after which the U.S. responded in kind. Compared to the future wars of U.S. empire, Americans were generally united and had some understanding of what the war (World War II, of course) was about.

We haven’t had that kind of unity and clarity since 1945, which is certainly the biggest reason America has suffered so many setbacks and defeats in unpromising places like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In all three of those places, there really wasn’t a clear and compelling cause for war, hence there was no Congressional declaration of the same. Hmm … maybe that should have told us something?

In Vietnam, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution by Congress followed on the heels of an “attack” that had never happened. In Iraq, the “evil dictator” didn’t have the weapons of mass destruction we accused him of having, nor had he played any role in the 9/11 attacks. In Afghanistan, the Taliban had played a secondary role in providing a safe haven to Osama bin Laden prior to 9/11, but it was Al Qaeda, not the Taliban, that was behind the 9/11 attacks.

Indeed, since 15 of the 19 Al Qaeda terrorists were Saudi, as well as their leader, Osama bin Laden, it would have made much more sense to have declared war on Saudi Arabia and invade that country than to have invaded Afghanistan. Of course, it made no sense at all to have declared a general “war on terror,” and rather unsurprisingly, that 20-year-war has only succeeded in spreading terror further.

Now we turn to today’s situation between Russia and Ukraine. Frankly, I don’t see a border dispute between these two countries as constituting a major threat to U.S. national security. It’s certainly no reason for America to go to war. Yet the Biden Administration is taking a hard line with its economic sanctions, its weapons shipments, and its troop deployments to the region.

Somehow, America’s leaders seem to think that such actions will deter, or at least punish, Russia and its leader. But there’s another possibility, one equally as likely, that sanctions and weapons and troops will lead to escalation and a wider war, and for what reason? A Russian-Ukrainian border dispute? This dispute might resolve itself if the U.S. and NATO just had the sense and patience to mind its own business.

A rush to war made sense in 1941, when the U.S. faced powerful and implacable enemies that were focused on its destruction. It hasn’t made sense since then, nor does it make sense today.

In short, let’s not go to war.