Let the Weapons Flow and the Body Count Grow

W.J. Astore

Say “no” to killing, “no” to war

Two articles I read yesterday are typical of polarized, indeed antithetical, views on the Russia-Ukraine War.

At the British Guardian, Simon Tisdall says this is Europe’s moment to step up and support Ukraine in a righteous war against Putin. He concludes, with passion:

Zelenskiy is right. Risk-averse Nato has been too slow and too cautious from the start. To outpace tyranny, Europe must fight – and fight to win. Our common future depends on it.

Putin, the tyrant, must be stopped in Ukraine, or Poland and Germany could be next. Fighting to win means that Ukraine must be given not only hundreds of Leopard 2 tanks but also combat jets. The combination of tanks, jets, and related ancillary equipment will enable Ukraine to drive Russian forces out of the country in a quasi-Blitzkrieg operation. Victory to the West!

Why not talks instead of tanks?

At Antiwar.com, Edward Curtin predicts Russia will win this war even as he suggests it’s mainly the West’s fault for inciting it via NATO expansion and U.S. involvement in the 2014 coup in Ukraine:

we are being subjected to a vast tapestry of lies told by the corporate media for their bosses, as the US continues its doomed efforts to control the world. It is not Russia that is desperate now, but propagandists such as the writers of this strident and stupid editorial [by the New York Times]. It is not the Russian people who need to wake up, as they claim, but the American people and those who still cling to the myth that The New York Times Corporation is an organ of truth. It is the Ministry of Truth with its newspeak, doublespeak, and its efforts to change the past.

Which is it? Is this a war that the U.S. and NATO must win, along with Ukraine, to stop an evil and expansionist dictator, or is this a war that the U.S. and NATO provoked, and surely will lose, given Russia’s military superiority empowered in part by the justice of its cause?

To me, the disturbing part of such polarized, us versus them, views is that they really guarantee only one thing: more fighting and more death. Let the weapons flow and the body count grow: that is the result of these debates.

War, as almost any military historian will tell you, is inherently unpredictable. I have no idea who’s going to “win” this war. I do know the Ukrainians are losing. I say this only because the war is being fought on their soil, and the longer it lasts, the more Ukraine will suffer.

That doesn’t mean I want Ukraine to surrender, nor do I want it to lose. But I don’t think it will win with more Western tanks and planes. Just about any escalation by the West can be matched by Russia. I see further stalemate, not Blitzkrieg-like victories, and stalemate means more and more suffering.

It’s said the pen can prove mightier than the sword. Why not try talking in place of tanks? Put those mighty pens to work by signing an armistice or even an enduring peace treaty. Ukraine and Russia are neighbors; unless they want perpetual war, they must find a way to live together.

More weaponry to Ukraine is unlikely to produce decisive victory, but it is likely to produce far more death and destruction in that country. It’s high time both sides said “no” to killing, “no” to yet more war.

What’s the best way to end a war?

W.J. Astore

Sending more weapons to Ukraine isn’t the answer

U.S. foreign policy is a place where logic goes to die.

Antony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, said yesterday that the quickest way to end the Russia-Ukraine War is “to give Ukraine a strong hand on the battlefield,” by which he meant more and more weaponry, including Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles and Patriot missile systems together with Challenger II tanks from Great Britain. Not surprisingly, then, the White House also hinted at yet another aid package for Ukraine, which may be announced “as soon as the end of this week.”

A “strong hand” for Ukraine?

Logic suggests the quickest way to end a war is to stop fighting. Announce a cease fire, negotiate, and find acceptable terms for an armistice or peace treaty. Stop the killing—stop the war.

Of course, the U.S. State Department is really a tiny branch of the Pentagon. It’s been that way for decades. The Pentagon budget, $858 billion for this year, is 14 times greater than the State Department’s at $60 billion. It often seems that a primary mission of the State Department is to market and sell U.S. weaponry overseas. Small wonder that Blinken sees more deadly weaponry in Ukraine as the answer to ending a catastrophic war.

In a way, Blinken’s blinkered thinking is typically American. What’s the quickest way to end a war on crime? A drug war? Or almost any other problem in America? Obviously, more guns, more security cameras, more metal detectors, more body armor, and so on. Think about our “solutions” to gun violence in schools, which include armored backpacks for eight-year-olds and semi-automatic pistols for teachers. Too many Americans look to guns as a “solution” to life’s problems; count Blinken among the gun-lovers, at least when it’s in the form of U.S. arms exports.

While it’s true U.S. arms exports and aid may keep Ukraine from losing quickly, it’s highly unlikely these same weapons will help Ukraine to win quickly and decisively. Russia can and likely will match any escalation to this war, and at a cheaper price than the U.S. taxpayer is currently paying (now over $100 billion and rising).

Blinken’s bloodless language about war is also revealing. It’s all about giving Ukraine “a strong hand on the battlefield,” as if Ukraine and Russia are playing a polite game of poker. More weapons to Ukraine means more bloody death and destruction; attrition or even escalation is far more likely than a quick end in Ukraine’s favor.

Blinken probably knows this, but a large part of his intellectual training was spent at Harvard and Columbia Law, just as Jake Sullivan, his younger counterpart at the National Security Council, trained at Yale and Yale Law. These men aren’t stupid, they’re just narrowly trained and partisan functionaries willing to spout whatever the empire needs them to say in the cause of imperial hegemony.

And so U.S. lawyers continue to send guns and money to Ukraine, especially guns, while saying this is the best and quickest way for Ukraine to beat Putin and end the war with Russia. Logic, however, suggests more fighting and dying and a lack of decision for either side.

Best not confuse a “strong hand” with a dead man’s one.

He’s a “wartime” president!

W.J. Astore

How about words of praise for “peacetime” presidents?

I caught only a couple of minutes of mainstream media coverage of the Zelensky visit, and I suppose that makes me lucky. In that brief period, I heard Zelensky described twice in positive terms as a “wartime” president. As if it’s a great thing to be the leader of Ukraine during a devastating war.

Remember when George W. Bush took a fancy to being described as a “wartime” president in the aftermath of 9/11? The mainstream media seems to fancy the term as well. What a wonderful, praiseworthy thing it is to be a wartime president! Look at how Zelensky dresses so simply, in olive drab, as if he just stepped out of a command post. What a guy.

War shouldn’t be a spectacle. Battle flags are far less impressive than flags of peace

When I caught that media coverage yesterday of Zelensky’s visit, which included a quick meet and greet with Joe and Jill Biden with Marine Corps guards saluting in the background, I was with my brother. My brother Stevie is mentally ill. But as I watched the coverage on TV, in my brother’s room, I reflected that he’s far saner than those media types gushing about war, and a far wiser and more honest soul than the so-called leaders I was watching at the White House.

There’s nothing like being a “wartime” leader that makes certain people gush. Obviously, many leaders love it too, since wartime grants them far more authority in the cause of waging and “winning” the war. And all this is treated as the height of sobriety and sanity within our war-crazed society.

When is the mainstream media going to praise our leaders for being peacetime presidents? Jesus Christ, after all, was the Prince of Peace. We need some princes of peace today. Then again, look what they did to Jesus.

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.)

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.

Border Insecurity and Worthy Refugees

W.J. Astore

Today as I was checking out at Job Lots, the cashier asked me if I wanted to donate money for Ukrainian refugee relief.  I thought quickly of the $33 billion Biden already wants from us for Ukraine and politely said “no thanks.”

Then I read Todd Miller’s new article at TomDispatch.com on the security-industrial complex along the U.S. border with Mexico and reflected on all those people risking their lives to cross the border into America, most of them refugees from wars and climate change and violence and the like.  I’ve never been asked by a company or a cashier for that matter to contribute to their relief.  Indeed, when the issue of refugees comes up along the Southern border, it’s always about more money for Homeland Security and more border control agents and surveillance technology (including drones and robotic dogs, as Miller notes), all to keep the “bad” people out of America, all those “illegals” who allegedly want to take American jobs while doing violence to vulnerable Americans.

Remarkably, Miller notes in his article how the Biden administration is following basically the same approach to border security as the Trump administration. The only real difference is that Biden is relying less on physical walls and more on “virtual” ones (towers, sensors, cameras, drones, etc.). This is hardly surprising when you consider Kamala Harris went south of the border to deliver a singular message to would-be asylum seekers. Her message to them: Do not come.

Land of the free, home of the brave?

As Miller notes in his article, you can count on one thing: America’s border with Mexico will never be secure, no matter how much we spend, because insecurity and overhyped “threats” sell very well indeed.

Is America really the home of the brave, given our fears of invasions, whether from “dangerous” brown- and black-skinned people coming up from the south or all those gangster Russians and sneaky Chinese allegedly scheming against us?

If we want to help refugees facing violence and starvation, we don’t have to look as far as Ukraine. Depending on where you live in America, you might only have to look just beyond the wall or fence or surveillance tower in front of you. As you do, you might ponder why we’re not sending $33 billion to help them survive. Is it because they’re not killing Russians with American-made weaponry?

Can’t I Just Watch Baseball?

W.J. Astore

Yesterday was opening day for the Boston Red Sox, my hometown team, with lots of hoopla, a gigantic American flag, the National Anthem and God Bless America, all the trappings of feel-good patriotism. Nothing unusual here. Except there were two ceremonies in honor of the brave defenders of Ukraine, with cameras cutting to Ukrainian flags in the crowd. Two months ago, most Americans couldn’t have cared less about Ukraine, if they’d even heard of it or could place it on a map. Now we’re all on the same team, rooting for them to win, as if they’re all-Americans in war.

The first ceremony was a moment of silence for those suffering from the Ukraine war. Ukrainians were mentioned; Russians weren’t. (I guess Russians aren’t suffering from the war.) The second ceremony marked a long trip to America for a Ukrainian refugee, a celebration, I suppose, of America’s willingness to let in a few refugees from that war. There’s nothing wrong with this, but what does it have to do with baseball? Why is it being celebrated on opening day at Fenway Park?

There is no place for such brazenly political ceremonies at a baseball game. It’s all emotional manipulation and state propaganda. We are all supposed to love plucky Ukraine now and hate perfidious Russia. Even Russians who run longstanding restaurants in Boston have had to explain that they don’t support Putin and his war. If they stay silent, they run the risk of being boycotted because they obviously must be Putin puppets.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government continues to send more and more weaponry to Ukraine, even as we’re encouraged to say silent prayers for that war-torn country. Weapons as peacemakers: it’s a uniquely American sport, the winners being companies like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, providers of missiles to the world.

You know that old song, “Take me out to the ball game”? When did Ukraine become the home team, and why am I being so manipulated to root for them? Can’t I just forget about war for a few hours and root for the Red Sox?

Even on Jackie Robinson Day in Boston, the war in Ukraine intruded on the Opening Day ceremonies (Jackie wore #42, which is why all players are wearing that number)