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.

U.S. Propaganda Gets Even Heavier

W.J. Astore

You’d think watching the U.S. Open finals in tennis would constitute a break from incessant propaganda about war, but you’d be wrong to do so.

I’m a tennis fan so I watched this weekend’s finals with interest. A Pole defeated a Tunisian in the women’s final and a Spaniard defeated a Norwegian in the men’s final, which is a fair representation of the international flavor of the field. At both trophy ceremonies, what did the U.S. Tennis Association choose to highlight? The USTA boasted of raising $2 million for Ukraine war relief while describing the Russian invasion of Ukraine as “unprovoked.”

First of all, why is Russia’s war with Ukraine being mentioned at both trophy ceremonies? What has this got to do with tennis?

Second, why is the USTA raising money for Ukraine war relief? Shouldn’t it be raising money for, well, tennis? Perhaps for scholarships for underprivileged kids around the world to play tennis? After all, the U.S. taxpayer is already on the hook for nearly $70 billion in aid to Ukraine, roughly half of it in the form of arms and armaments. Compared to this sum, $2 million is a drop in the bucket.

Third, why is Russia’s invasion always described as “unprovoked,” as if Putin and Russia simply woke up one day and decided to invade a former Soviet republic?

Let’s think back to America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. Was that also “unprovoked”? (After all, Saddam Hussein had no WMD and nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.) Did the USTA raise money to help Iraqi civilians recover from U.S. war damage and crimes? Not that I recall.

Earlier this year, at Wimbledon, players from Russia and Belarus were banned from the tournament. (I guess because they were waging war with their tennis rackets for Putin?) At the U.S. Open, they were allowed to play but not under the flags of their countries. Do you recall U.S. tennis players being banned because of the “unprovoked” Iraq War? Neither do I.

The U.S. mainstream managers — even tennis officials! — are so concerned to describe the Russian attack as “unprovoked” that you know that they know it was provoked — and they’re at pains to deny it, even during tennis tournaments.

The heavy hand of U.S. propaganda only gets heavier when it intrudes on what should have been an apolitical and celebratory trophy ceremony for international athletes.

Note: I am, of course, against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. What I would like to see is the U.S. supporting diplomatic efforts to end the war as quickly as possible. Currently, we hear much of Ukrainian victories, but it’s possible the war will only grow longer and more deadly as a result of these “victories.”

A classic “Tom Tomorrow” cartoon from 2002. Now, of course, “real Americans” must believe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was completely unprovoked, that Ukraine deserves a blank check in U.S. taxpayer funds, and that Russian athletes should be ashamed of their own flag

The Ukrainian Boondoggle as a Black Hole

W.J. Astore

Back on June 1st, I noted that Ukraine couldn’t possibly absorb more than $54 billion in U.S. aid, most of it related to weaponry and munitions, given the country’s lack of infrastructure as well as the chaos inherent to a shooting war.

As I wrote back then:

The entire defense budget of Ukraine before the war was just under $6 billion. How can Ukraine possibly absorb (mostly) military “aid” that represents NINE TIMES their annual defense budget? It simply can’t be done…

From a military perspective, the gusher of money and equipment being sent to Ukraine makes little sense because there’s no way Ukraine has the infrastructure to absorb it and use it effectively. The U.S. approach seems to be to flood the zone with weaponry and assorted equipment of all sorts, irrespective of how it might be used or where it might ultimately end up. I can’t see how all this lethal “aid” will stay in the hands of troops and out of the hands of various criminal networks and black markets.

And so it goes. Recent reports suggest that only 30-40% of U.S. military aid is actually reaching Ukrainian troops. The rest is being siphoned off, lost, stolen, what-have-you. The response in U.S. media is to suppress this truth, per dictates from Ukraine!

Caitlin Johnstone does an excellent job of summarizing the case, and since she generously encourages her readers to share her posts, I thought I’d avail myself of her generosity. Without further ado:

Caitlin Johnstone, CBS Tries Critical Journalism; Stops After Ukraine Objects

Following objections from the Ukrainian government, CBS News has removed a short documentary which had reported concerns from numerous sources that a large amount of the supplies being sent to Ukraine aren’t making it to the front lines.

The Ukrainian government has listed its objections to the report on a government website, naming Ukrainian officials who objected to it and explaining why each of the CBS news sources it dislikes should be discounted. After the report was taken down and the Twitter post about it removed, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said this was a good start but still not enough.

“Welcome first step, but it is not enough,” Kuleba tweeted. “You have misled a huge audience by sharing unsubstantiated claims and damaging trust in supplies of vital military aid to a nation resisting aggression and genocide. There should be an internal investigation into who enabled this and why.”

The CBS News article about the documentary was renamed, from “Why military aid to Ukraine doesn’t always get to the front lines: ‘Like 30% of it reaches its final destination’” to the far milder “Why military aid in Ukraine may not always get to the front lines.” An editor’s note on the new version of the article explicitly admits to taking advisement on its changes from the Ukrainian government, reading as follows:

This article has been updated to reflect changes since the CBS Reports documentary ‘Arming Ukraine’ was filmed, and the documentary is also being updated. Jonas Ohman says the delivery has significantly improved since filming with CBS in late April. The government of Ukraine notes that U.S. defense attaché Brigadier General Garrick M. Harmon arrived in Kyiv in August 2022 for arms control and monitoring.”

CBS News does not say why it has taken so long for this report to come out, why it didn’t check to see if anything had changed in the last few months during a rapidly unfolding war before releasing its report, or why it felt its claims were good enough to air before Kyiv raised its objections but not after.

Someone uploaded the old version of the documentary on YouTube here, or you can watch it on Bitchute here if that one gets taken down. It was supportive of Ukraine and very oppositional to Russia, and simply featured a number of sources saying they had reason to believe a lot of the military supplies being sent to Ukraine aren’t getting where they’re supposed to go.

The original article quotes the aforementioned Jonas Ohman as follows:

“All of this stuff goes across the border, and then something happens, kind of like 30% of it reaches its final destination,” said Jonas Ohman, founder and CEO of Blue-Yellow, a Lithuania-based organization that has been meeting with and supplying frontline units with military aid in Ukraine since the start of the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in 2014.

 

“30-40%, that’s my estimation,” he said in April of this year.

“The US has sent tens of thousands of anti-aircraft and anti-armor systems, artillery rounds, hundreds of artillery systems, Switchblade armored drones, and tens of millions of rounds of small arms ammunition,” CBS’s Adam Yamaguchi tells us at 14:15 of the documentary. “But in a conflict where frontlines are scattered and conditions change without warning, not all of those supplies reach their destination. Some also reported weapons are being hoarded, or worse fear that they are disappearing into the black market, an industry that has thrived under corruption in post-Soviet Ukraine.”

“I can tell you unarguably that on the frontline units these things are not getting there,” the Mozart Group‘s Andy Milburn tells Yamaguchi at 17:40. “Drones, Switchblades, IFAKs. They’re not, alright. Body armor, helmets, you name it.”

“Is it safe to characterize this as a little bit of a black hole?” Yamaguchi asked him, perhaps in reference to an April report from CNN whose source said the equipment that’s being sent “drops into a big black hole, and you have almost no sense of it at all after a short period of time.”

“I suppose if you don’t have visibility of where this stuff is going, and if you’re asking that question, then it would appear that it’s a black hole, yeah,” Milburn replied.

“We don’t know,” Amnesty International’s Donatella Rovera tells Yamaguchi at 18:45 when asked if it’s known where the weapons being sent to Ukraine are going.

“There is really no information as to where they’re going at all,” Rovera says. “What is more worrying is that at least some of the countries that are sending weapons do not seem to think that it is their responsibility to put in place a very robust oversight mechanism to ensure that they know how they’re being used today, but also how they might and will be used tomorrow.”

A news outlet pulling a report because their own government didn’t like it would be a scandalous breach of journalistic ethics. A news outlet pulling a report because a foreign government didn’t like it is even more so.

We’ve already seen that the western media will uncritically report literally any claim made by the government of Ukraine in bizarre instances like the recent report that Russia was firing rockets at a nuclear power plant it had already captured, or its regurgitation of claims that Russians are raping babies to death from a Ukrainian official who ended up getting fired for promoting unevidenced claims about rape. Now not only will western media outlets uncritically report any claim the Ukrainian government makes, they will also retract claims of their own when the Ukrainian government tells them to.

It’s not just commentators like me who see the western press as propagandists: that’s how they see themselves. If you think it’s your job to always report information that helps one side of a war and always omit any information which might hinder it, then you have given yourself the role of propagandist. You might not call yourself that, but that’s what you are by any reasonable definition of that word.

And a great many western Zelenskyites honestly see this as the media’s role as well. They’ll angrily condemn anyone who inserts skepticism of the US empire’s narratives about Ukraine into mainstream consciousness, but then they’ll also yell at you if you say we’re not being told the truth about Ukraine. They demand to be lied to, and call you a liar if you say that means we’re being lied to.

You can’t have it both ways. Either you want the mass media to serve as war propagandists or you want them to tell the truth. You cannot hold both of those positions simultaneously. They are mutually exclusive. And many actually want the former.

This can’t lead anywhere good.

Follow this link to read all of Caitlin’s article: https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2022/08/10/cbs-wanted-to-do-critical-reporting-on-ukraines-government-but-ukraines-government-said-no/

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.

American “Aid” to Ukraine May Hurt More than Help

Wars Not Make One Safe

W.J. Astore

“Follow the money” is sage advice in an America that prides itself on unfettered capitalism where everything is a commodity. A huge chunk of money, namely $54 billion, has already been dedicated to Ukraine in its fight against a Russian invasion, with more to follow if Congress has its way. Roughly half this money is going directly to U.S. weapons makers, hence the haste of Congress to vote for its approval. Only a small number of Republicans have objected to this boondoggle; all Democrats in the House and Senate voted in favor of it.

Here’s the thing. The entire defense budget of Ukraine before the war was just under $6 billion. How can Ukraine possibly absorb (mostly) military “aid” that represents NINE TIMES their annual defense budget? It simply can’t be done.

Russia’s military budget for an entire year, roughly $66 billion, only slightly exceeds the U.S. “aid” for Ukraine after three months of war. If the pace of U.S. spending on Ukraine remains the same, the amount of “aid,” assuming the war continues, could touch $200 billion by this time next year. Again, this is for a country that spent $6 billion on its military forces prior to being invaded.

From a military perspective, the gusher of money and equipment being sent to Ukraine makes little sense because there’s no way Ukraine has the infrastructure to absorb it and use it effectively. The U.S. approach seems to be to flood the zone with weaponry and assorted equipment of all sorts, irrespective of how it might be used or where it might ultimately end up. I can’t see how all this lethal “aid” will stay in the hands of troops and out of the hands of various criminal networks and black markets.

In America’s recent wars, such as Iraq and Afghanistan but also as far back as Vietnam, the U.S. military has been remarkably proficient at providing weaponry to enemies. When U.S. forces retreat in defeat, or “evacuate to success,” they usually leave behind mountains of military equipment, as they did in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Weaponry left behind or provided to Afghan and Iraqi security forces helped to arm ISIS, the Taliban, and similar elements the U.S. government says are terroristic. Interestingly, few seem to question the wisdom of all the billions in weaponry provided as “aid” that often ends up fueling more violence and more war.

If guns saved lives and brought safety, America would have the lowest number of people killed by guns and the safest country. We obviously don’t. Flooding countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Ukraine with scores of billions in weaponry and related equipment is not the smartest way toward success. Unless you’re the CEO of a weapons contractor, in which case it’s the very definition of success.

But something must be done! cry those who want to help Ukraine in its war with Russia. Ukraine has already demonstrated its resolve while suffering the evils of war; does it make sense to keep the war going when Ukraine ultimately can’t win it? Just look at a map and the vast resources Russia has available to it; there is no shame, and indeed much sense, in Ukraine, having fought a good fight, negotiating a peace treaty now before the war spreads even further and the country is even more devastated.

In sum, I don’t see $54 billion in U.S. “aid” to Ukraine as being in the best interest of the Ukrainian people. If it serves to prolong a murderous war that ultimately Ukraine can’t win, it may prove more hurtful than helpful.

Weapons as “Gamechangers”

W.J. Astore

Americans have a remarkable faith in weapons as “gamechangers,” as simple panaceas to complex problems.

Yesterday, Donald Trump addressed the NRA convention in Houston, offering guns as a panacea to mass shootings. Once again, Trump said that “highly trained” teachers should be allowed to carry concealed guns in the classroom. Apparently, teachers should now be the equivalent of Special Forces warriors, ready to confront shooters with assault weapons at a moment’s notice. When he was president, Trump suggested these warrior-teachers might even see a small bump in pay for their willingness to carry guns and to serve as quasi-SWAT team members at schools. What generosity!

Just as many Americans see more guns as the answer to domestic violence like mass shootings, yet bigger guns and missiles are seen as “game changers” for complex foreign issues like the Russia-Ukraine War. According to CNN, the U.S. government is considering sending the MLRS (multiple launch rocket system) to Ukraine, which has a range of up to 300 miles, to counter Russian troops. One Congressman in particular thinks it’s a dandy idea:

Democratic Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado, who was part of a congressional delegation trip to Kyiv earlier this month, told CNN he believes the systems could help Ukraine gain significant momentum against Russia. 

“I think it could be a gamechanger, to be honest with you,” Crow said, not only for offensive attacks but also for defense. He explained that Russian conventional artillery, which has a range of about 50km, “would not get close” to Ukrainian urban centers if MLRS systems were positioned there. “So it would take away their siege tactics,” he said of the Russians.

Where to begin? Are Ukrainian troops trained on such a system? How do you get the system into Ukraine to begin with? What if the system is used to strike targets inside of Russian territory? What about Russian warnings that such a system could lead to reprisals against European or American assets? What if less-than-well-trained Ukrainian troops fire a bunch of missiles that end up killing dozens, even hundreds, of innocent people?

No matter. The “answer” is always more guns, more howitzers, more missiles. They’re “gamechangers”!

Indeed, they just may be. Just not in the way that Trump imagines, or Congressman Crow.

Finally, that word: “gamechanger.” It’s a common practice in America to talk about war as if it’s a sport, a game. Call it the triumph of dumbass thinking. War is neither sport nor game, and you’re not going to “game-change” the Russia-Ukraine War, as in turning the tide so Ukraine wins, just by sending the MLRS, just as you’re not going to decrease mass shootings in schools by arming teachers with guns.

The Death of the Democratic Party

W.J. Astore

How quickly the abnormal becomes normal.

If you had told me three months ago that Russia would invade Ukraine and that the U.S. response would be $54 billion in “aid,” much of it consisting of missiles, artillery, bullets, and other forms of weaponry, and that this huge amount of “aid” would be supported by every Democrat in the House and Senate, without exception, I don’t think I would have believed you.

Not a single Democrat is against spending more than $50 billion that will serve to feed a war rather than putting a stop to it?

$54 billion represents roughly 80% of what Russia spends on its military for an entire year. How much is the U.S. government prepared to spend if the war drags on for the next few months? Another $54 billion? More?

The Democratic Party can’t get all its members to vote for a $15 federal minimum wage, or for student debt relief, or more affordable health care and lower prescription drug prices, and similar promises made by Joe Biden as he ran for president in 2020. But weapons for Ukraine brings instant and total accord and rapid action.

Feeding the military-industrial complex and perpetuating war is more than a sad spectacle. It’s more than the death of the Democratic Party. It heightens the risk of nuclear war with Russia, because the longer the Russia-Ukraine War drags on, and the more the U.S. gets involved in it, the riskier the situation in Europe becomes. What’s needed is deescalation through negotiation, not escalation through more rhetoric about Putin being a genocidal war criminal who must go.

I’ve already witnessed the death of the Republican Party with its open embrace of Trump and Trumpism. And now I’ve witnessed the death of the Democratic Party with its open embrace of peace through war.

We are increasingly “a nation unmade by war,” to cite a book written by Tom Engelhardt. We refuse to sufficiently help the poor and homeless here in America even as we airlift megatons of weaponry for Ukraine to wage a war that will likely be that country’s curse rather than its salvation. Meanwhile, politicians in both parties use the war to justify even higher military spending in the next Pentagon budget. And if that war isn’t enough of a driver, the mainstream media broadcasts war games on TV that posit a major war between the USA and China over Taiwan.

People dismiss me when I say I’m voting Green or Libertarian, that I want to vote for someone who’s not a tool for more and more military spending and more and more war. The “smart set” tells me to vote for someone like Joe Biden because he’s not quite as bad as Trump. But if we keep doing this, voting for Joe or the like because Trump and his followers are “worse,” how will we ever free ourselves from incessant warfare and restore our democracy?

Isn’t it high time for that “political revolution” that Bernie Sanders spoke about?

Coda: I know: the Democratic Party probably died in the aftermath of George McGovern’s loss in 1972, after which party officials vowed never to nominate a peace candidate like McGovern again. It certainly died with the election of Bill and Hillary Clinton (two for the price of one!) in 1992. And it died a thousand deaths when Barack Obama won in 2008 and abandoned the political revolution he had briefly set in motion. Much like a Hollywood vampire, however, it keeps coming back from the grave, no matter how many stakes it drives through what’s left of its own heart.

Update (5/21): Happened to see this on “the Twitter” this AM:

Wednesday Worries

W.J. Astore

I’ve been meaning to post more about President Biden’s decision to throw $33 billion in weapons and money at Ukraine, followed by the decision in the House to boost that to $40 billion, and the vote that took place in which all Democrats, including the so-called Squad, voted for it, with a few dozen Republicans voting against. The implications of this are staggering. The U.S. has already committed more than $50 billion to the proxy war against Russia as Americans stagger under rising costs for everything.

We need Russia to attack the American working class — only then might workers in America get some financial relief from “their” government.

Democrats are “all-in” on being pro-war and pro-military (and pro-police, since Biden has called for even more police to be hired), leaving anti-war positions to a smattering of Republicans with various motivations. All credit to Senator Rand Paul for holding up the $40 billion Ukraine “aid” package. He wants an Inspector General to monitor and control how this immense sum of money will be spent for Ukraine. A smidgen of accountability — imagine that! I actually wrote a note to Senator Paul to salute him for this and for his opposition to the DHS Disinformation Governance Board.

More unaccountable billions for Ukraine and the military-industrial complex, more government censorship for Americans: a couple of worries for our Wednesday.

Anyhow, here are a few good articles I’ve been meaning to cite on this:

Caitlin Johnstone, “The Squad” doesn’t exist outside of social media https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2022/05/13/the-squad-doesnt-exist-outside-of-social-media/

The US House of Representatives has voted 368-57 to spend $40 billion on a world-threatening proxy war while ordinary Americans struggle to feed themselves and their children. All 57 “no” votes were Republicans. Every member of the small faction of progressive House Democrats popularly known as “The Squad” voted yes.

The massive proxy war bill then went to the Senate, where it was stalled with scrutiny not from progressive superstar Bernie Sanders, but from Republican Rand Paul.

This is because the left-wing Democrat is a myth, like the good billionaire or the happy open marriage. It’s not a real thing; it’s just a pleasant fairy tale people tell themselves so they don’t have to go through the psychological turmoil of acknowledging that their entire worldview is built on lies.

Glenn Greenwald:

The Bizarre, Unanimous Dem Support for the $40b War Package to Raytheon and CIA: “For Ukraine”

Video Transcript: “The US Anti-War Left is Dead. The Squad’s $40b War Vote Just Killed It.” Many Dems voting YES have long denounced exactly these sorts of bills. What happened?

What happened, indeed? Not a single Democrat has a principled stance against weapons and war.

Another article by Caitlin Johnstone details a war game on NBC News that addresses a war with China over Taiwan: https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2022/05/16/pentagon-funded-think-tank-simulates-war-with-china-on-nbc/

Funded by the American taxpayer!

And then there’s this article by Dan Froomkin: “CBS helps world’s biggest arms dealer hone his pitch”

CBS helps world’s biggest arms dealer hone his pitch

Here’s the beginning of Froomkin’s article:

You could see something new playing out on the Sunday shows this past weekend: Some TV news networks are starting to raise questions about whether the U.S. involvement in the Ukraine might have some downsides.

But not on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

After hearing from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who called for “more weapons, more sanctions” — and Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova — who asked for “more military support, more sanctions” — “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan warmly welcomed Jim Taiclet, the chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, tossing him questions that weren’t even softballs, they were bouquets.

One can imagine how that might have come about. Earlier in the week, President Biden visited a Lockheed Martin factory in Alabama that makes Javelin anti-tank missiles, pitching his requests for $33 billion in aid to Ukraine and subsidies for American microchip production. So Ukraine and supply-chain issues were in the news, and Taiclet could address both.

But still, what it came down to was a major television network inviting onto its marquee news show the head of the largest weapons manufacturer in the world — the company that profits more from war than any other company worldwide — and not asking a single pointed question.

Watch the entire six-minute segment and ask yourself if state television in a totalitarian country would have done it any differently.

In the 1970s and into the 1980s, the mainstream media occasionally did challenge the military-industrial complex. Those days are gone. I no longer see articles that criticize waste, fraud, abuse, threat inflation, and so on. The mainstream media, like the Democrats, have become pro-war and pro-weapons and pro-Pentagon. Rare indeed do you hear any sustained criticism or meaningful opposition. (You do get posturing from the Squad, but only when their posturing has no effect on legislation and money.)

What good is freedom of the press when the press muzzles itself on issues that could very well lead to a wider war, even a nuclear one? Why is America shoveling scores of billions of dollars to sustain a bloodletting in Ukraine? What is our strategy to end this war, rather than simply prolonging it and profiting from it?

So I worry.

Militarism Run Mad

W.J. Astore

Remember President Biden’s request for $33 billion in “aid” to Ukraine? That $33 billion package has become $40 billion and has already been approved by the House. More than half of this “aid” is in the form of weapons or in support of deploying more U.S. troops and equipment to Europe. And even that $40 billion isn’t high enough for some members of the Senate, who are calling for even more “aid,” i.e. more spending at the expense of the American taxpayer that will likely serve to prolong the Russia-Ukraine War.

More and more money for war recalls a famous quip by Winston Churchill in the age of navalism, when industrial interests in the UK pushed for more and more battleships to be built so that Britain could continue to rule the waves and not be slaves.

As Churchill famously said: The Admiralty had demanded six ships; the economists offered four; and we finally compromised on eight.

America has embraced a militarized Keynesianism that is very good indeed for weapons makers like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. It’s also very good for the Pentagon, whose budget projections keep rising when they should be falling.

Think about it. Overall, the Russian military hasn’t yet distinguished itself in Ukraine, and the longer the war lasts, the weaker that military becomes. If the U.S. military budget was actually based on an honest assessment of threats, the budget should be decreasing as Russia becomes less of a threat.

Another interesting aspect of this is that it’s mainly been Republicans voting against the $40 billion package in “aid.” Democrats, no matter how “progressive,” are eagerly voting for it, even as inflation soars in America and people struggle to make ends meet.

Perhaps it’s time to build more battleships to help the poor and struggling? We can house the unhoused in ships!

Housing for the unhoused! The HMS Dreadnought battleship

Dominating the World Stage

W.J. Astore

“Make love, not war!” on the helmet of Marine Corporal Billy Winn, Vietnam, 1967 (Photo by William Eggleston)

In the 1960s, in response to the Vietnam War, young Americans vowed to “make love, not war.” Ever since 9/11, if not before, America has a new vow: Make War, Not Love.

The American empire believes it must dominate the world stage. Partly this is due to hubris unleashed by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. As Colin Powell put it that year:

“We no longer have the luxury of having a threat to plan for. What we plan for is that we’re a superpower. We are the major player on the world stage with responsibilities around the world, with interests around the world.”

When you define the world as your “stage” and define yourself as a military and economic “superpower,” as the major player, a hubristic and militaristic foreign policy almost naturally follows. And so it has.

In my latest article for TomDispatch.com, I detail five reasons why America remains addicted to hubristic war; what follows is an excerpt that focuses on America’s vision of itself as the best and purest actor on the world stage. Please read the entire article at TomDispatch.com.

***

About 15 years ago, I got involved in a heartfelt argument with a conservative friend about whether it was wise for this country to shrink its global presence, especially militarily. He saw us as a benevolent actor on the world stage.  I saw us as overly ambitious, though not necessarily malevolent, as well as often misguided and in denial when it came to our flaws. I think of his rejoinder to me as the “empty stage” argument.  Basically, he suggested that all the world’s a stage and, should this country become too timid and abandon it, other far more dangerous actors could take our place, with everyone suffering. My response was that we should, at least, try to leave that stage in some fashion and see if we were missed.  Wasn’t our own American stage ever big enough for us?  And if this country were truly missed, it could always return, perhaps even triumphantly. 

Of course, officials in Washington and the Pentagon do like to imagine themselves as leading “the indispensable nation” and are generally unwilling to test any other possibilities.  Instead, like so many ham actors, all they want is to eternally mug and try to dominate every stage in sight. 

In truth, the U.S. doesn’t really have to be involved in every war around and undoubtedly wouldn’t be if certain actors (corporate as well as individual) didn’t feel it was just so profitable. If my five answers above were ever taken seriously here, there might indeed be a wiser and more peaceful path forward for this country. But that can’t happen if the forces that profit from the status quo — where bellum (war) is never ante- or post- but simply ongoing — remain so powerful. The question is, of course, how to take the profits of every sort out of war and radically downsize our military (especially its overseas “footprint”), so that it truly becomes a force for “national security,” rather than national insecurity. 

Most of all, Americans need to resist the seductiveness of war, because endless war and preparations for more of the same have been a leading cause of national decline.  One thing I know: Waving blue-and-yellow flags in solidarity with Ukraine and supporting “our” troops may feel good but it won’t make us good.  In fact, it will only contribute to ever more gruesome versions of war. 

A striking feature of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is that, after so many increasingly dim years, it’s finally allowed America’s war party to pose as the “good guys” again. After two decades of a calamitous “war on terror” and unmitigated disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and so many other places, Americans find themselves on the side of the underdog Ukrainians against that “genocidal” “war criminal” Vladimir Putin.  That such a reading of the present situation might be uncritical and reductively one-sided should (but doesn’t) go without saying. That it’s seductive because it feeds both American nationalism and narcissism, while furthering a mythology of redemptive violence, should be scary indeed.

Yes, it’s high time to call a halt to the Pentagon’s unending ham-fisted version of a world tour.  If only it were also time to try dreaming a different dream, a more pacific one of being perhaps a first among equals. In the America of this moment, even that is undoubtedly asking too much. An Air Force buddy of mine once said to me that when you wage war long, you wage it wrong. Unfortunately, when you choose the dark path of global dominance, you also choose a path of constant warfare and troubled times marked by the cruel risk of violent blowback (a phenomenon of which historian and critic Chalmers Johnson so presciently warned us in the years before 9/11).

Washington certainly feels it’s on the right side of history in this Ukraine moment. However, persistent warfare should never be confused with strength and certainly not with righteousness, especially on a planet haunted by a growing sense of impending doom.