Let’s Not Have a War
The American foreign policy establishment, chasing decades of failures, appears to be seriously considering the unthinkable in Ukraine
Joe Biden last week said the American response in Ukraine would be proportional to Vladimir Putin’s actions. “It depends,” the president posited, thoughts drifting like blobs in a lava lamp. “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion…”
Alarms sounded all over Washington. The rip in the national political illusion was so severe, Republicans and Democrats were forced to come out agreeing, leaping into each other’s arms in panic. Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who increasingly looks like a man about to miss a historically important free throw, said of a potential Russian invasion, “We can make crystal clear the stark consequences of that choice.” Republican Senator Ted Cruz said Biden “shocked the world by giving Putin a green light to invade Ukraine.” The National Security Council issued a statement through Jen Psaki that any Russian move into Ukraine would be “met with a swift, severe, and united response.”
In a later press conference, Biden explained he had to cut things short because, “You guys will ask me all about Russia.” He appears days from pulling his pants down to show reporters the electrodes White House chief of staff Ron Klain has probably attached to his testicles by now.
This is a rerun of an old story, only with a weaker lead actor. Six years ago, Barack Obama gave an interview to The Atlantic quashing Beltway militarists’ dreams of war in Ukraine:
The fact is that Ukraine, which is a non-Nato country, is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do… This is an example of where we have to be very clear about what our core interests are and what we are willing to go to war for.
Then as now, both blue and red propaganda outlets howled. The “core interest” of the Washington consensus is war. It isn’t just big business, but our biggest business, one of the last things we still make and export on a grand scale. The bulk of the people elected to congress and a lion’s share of the lobbyists, lawyers, and journalists who snuggle in a giant fornicating mass in the capital are dedicated to the upkeep of the war bureaucracy.
Their main purpose is growing the defense budget and militarizing the missions of other government agencies (from State to the Department of Energy to the CIA). Washington think-tanks exist to factory-generate intellectual justifications for foreign interventions, while attacking with ferocity — as if they were emergencies like pandemics or deadly hurricanes — the appearance of ideas like the “peace dividend” that threaten to move any of their rice bowls to some other constituency.
Both Biden’s comments and the “Obama doctrine” were fundamental betrayals, presidents saying out loud that there existed such a thing as “our” interests separate from Washington’s war pig clique. The latter group somehow believes itself impervious to error, and takes extraordinary offense to challenges to its judgment, amazing given the spectacular failures in every arena from Iraq to Afghanistan to Syria.
These people consistently lose popularity contests to cannibals and fingernail-pullers, and their playbook — one play they run over and over, never deviating despite decades of disaster — is designed to reduce every foreign policy situation to contests of force. Their wag-the-dog thinking always argues the right move is the one that allows them to empty their boxes of expensive toys, from weapons systems to Langley-generated schemes for overthrows, which a compliant press happily calls regime change.
Obama looked at the big, muddy stretch of land atop the Black Sea called Ukraine and asked if its strategic importance was worth war. Meaning, real war, with an enemy that can fight back, not third-world pushovers in Iraq or Libya who offer as much resistance as the British colonial enemies Blackadder’s officers once described as being “two feet tall and armed with dried grass.” His answer was an obvious no. Ukraine has less strategic importance to the United States than Iraq, Afghanistan, even Kuwait for that matter.
No one will say it out loud, but the greatest argument against U.S. support for military action of any kind in Ukraine is the inerrant incompetence of our missions and the consistent record of destabilizing areas of strategic interest through our involvement, including in these two specific countries. At the moment the Berlin Wall fell the United States had almost limitless political capital with these soon-to-be ex-Soviet territories. We blew it all within a few years. Now that we’re really in trouble in Ukraine, why would we keep to the same playbook that got us here?
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