Tuesday, March 29, 2022
Monday, March 28, 2022
Friday, March 25, 2022
I am not one for romanticizing the past because in every alleged golden age you find grumblers looking longingly to some earlier alleged golden age. Nevertheless, our own time has earned its share of criticism. For example, we live in a time when, for many, character assassination is the preferred way to rebut the people they disagree with. Why bother to painstakingly refute positions you dislike when instead you can accuse their advocates of one vice or another?
It's not only easier; it's also a twofer: you (seem to) discredit the position and you perhaps ruin its advocate. So if he speaks again, he'll have less and maybe no credibility.
To be sure, the ad hominem argument has long been recognized as illegitimate. No matter how vicious an advocate might be, merely pointing that out was regarded as a poor substitute for refuting what he had to say. At least most people once thought so. If there was a golden age, it must have been when you couldn't say to your debate opponent, in effect, "Your mother wears army boots." But that age is gone. It probably has something to do with social media because everything somehow does. But how do we get back to a more reasonable form of discourse?
Today the leading form of ad hominem attack is to accuse a person of bigotry. What packs more punch than branding someone as intolerant or prejudiced? No one wants to be thought a bigot -- not even bigots. We all at least intuit the injustice of judging individuals by incidental memberships like race, ethnicity, or sex because individualism is so morally appealing.
Let's remember that being accused of bigotry does not simply mean disliking an entire category of people. For many who level the charge, it also means favoring -- whether the alleged bigot knows it or not -- legal disabilities, prison, or even death for every member of the category. It's as though every alleged bigot is, psychologically, a coiled spring ready to pounce when circumstances permit. It's apparently logically impossible to be a prejudiced pacifist, although I can't think why. You don't have to like a person or his group to see that he has rights and that collective guilt and punishment are wrong.
Examples of ad hominem attacks are familiar to anyone who pays attention. Note the disconnect between what someone says and what he's therefore said with absolute certainty to be. A critic of affirmative action must be a racist or a misogynist. A critic of Israel's atrocious treatment of the Palestinians must be an anti-Semite. Someone who says that men can't really become women and women can't really become men must be "transphobic," a pseudomedical word for bigot. In each case, it simply couldn't be otherwise; no alternative, good-faith explanation for the position is even conceivable. Any explanation proffered is marked down to guilt-ridden defensiveness. In fact, those who hurl such accusations with promiscuous abandon are likely hoping to force their targets into that unflattering pose.
We're all familiar with the possible consequences of the charge when it sticks: withdrawal of invitations, harassment, confrontational protests that sometimes turned violent, dismissal from jobs and loss of livelihood, and boycotts. The threat of severe retaliation has made many people think it's better to remain silent on sensitive issues, which is part of the accusers' intention. Topics have virtually been declared off-limits to discussion. This is intolerable in a society that lays claim to liberalism in the best old sense. The climate of discourse has become so toxic that even the New York Times is worried about it.
It's not only what you say in the present that can get you in trouble. A once-innocuous quip spoken in the distant past can be dug up and used against the speaker in the present. There's no statute of limitations, no forgiveness. This can be especially perilous for comedians, many of whom live on the edge and try to make their audiences uncomfortable. The present is dangerous enough -- Jerry Seinfeld and others find college campuses to be as humorless as quicksand -- now the past has to be worried about.
Bigotry is not the only charge that can tarnish the innocent. Vying for the top position, at least since 2016, is the charge of being a Russophile. Donald Trump only needed to say, "Why can't we get along with Russia?" to find himself accused of being Vladimir Putin's "puppet" by his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, during a presidential debate. Could you have predicted that? (For the record, Trump's log of anti-Russian moves was rather long; unlike Barack Obama's, it included lethal weapons for Ukraine.)
Now, with Russia's deplorable invasion of Ukraine -- however provoked it was by U.S. presidents -- it may be risky to be seen on the subway reading Doctor Zhivago or carrying a Rachmaninoff CD. A Russian orchestra conductor in Germany was fired. The virtue-signaling intended by such culture-canceling is obviously idiotic, just as it was during World War I when school districts stopped teaching German and during Iraq War I when because of France's opposition, French fries became freedom fries. Really.
Another favorite smear is science denier. Question the orthodoxy about climate change or the proper response to Covid-19 and that's what you're bound to hear. Somehow it's been forgotten that real science, including public-health science, thrives on challenge and debate. The actual science deniers are those who seek to stifle debate.
The consequence of the indiscriminate use of these disparaging charges is that they are defined down. If everyone you disagree with is a bigot, Russophile, or science denier, then people who actually qualify for those epithets get a free pass. Remember the boy who cried wolf.
Monday, March 21, 2022
In the jungle, consumers compete, tooth and claw, with each other for scarce food. In the market, producers compete, peacefully, with each other, producing abundance for consumers. In the jungle, the rule is: eat or be eaten. In the market, it is: serve so that you may be served.
Sunday, March 20, 2022
Saturday, March 19, 2022
Friday, March 18, 2022
To judge by what Congress is up to these days, one would think that it wants to reward Israel for its relentless confiscation of Palestinian land and continued ethnic cleansing.
Congress -- which is not only interested in "the Benjamins," that is, Israel Lobby contributions -- is surely operating in what Yakov Hirsch calls "hasbara culture," according to which anyone who objects to any action of the state of Israel, especially where the Palestinians are concerned, is without question an anti-Semite. In this view, the presence of anti-Semitism is a certainty; the only question is how it manifests itself in any given situation. (The resemblance to critical race theory is striking.)
How do hasbara culturalists know that Israel's critics are anti-Semites?
They know because, by unexamined yet indefeasible assumption, no other explanation is conceivable. If you offer an alternative, good-faith explanation for the objection, then you too must be an anti-Semite. After all, again by indefeasible assumption, if Israel is the paragon of virtue, if its military is the most moral military on earth, how could any objection be made in good faith? It certainly can't be that Zionists, whether acting individually or through the Jewish State, could have done anything wrong. That would be blaming the victim, which is (in this case only) is strictly forbidden. (I say Zionist because not all Jews are Zionists -- far from it -- and not all Zionists are Jews, even if most are. And yet even that term is unsatisfactory because some self-identified "liberal Zionists" also condemn Israeli apartheid.)
Of course, the flip side of hasbara culture is the dehumanization of Palestinians, who are always to blame -- even when they appear to be victims. (Readers can sort out that horrifying irony for themselves.) One must never regard the Palestinians as bonafide rights-bearing individuals and members of an ethnic group who could have real century-old grievances against the Zionist movement, the group of European Jews who settler-colonized Arab-majority Palestine and created a Jewish State (in an ethnic, not religious, sense). Rather, the Palestinians are merely the latest rightless embodiments of a permanent and evil, almost nonmaterial, historical force — anti-Semitism — that has taken different physical forms throughout history. By that assumption, Palestinian anger at the self-proclaimed Jewish State can be nothing but anti-Semitism, full stop.
The Viennese social critic Karl Kraus (1874-1936) once said that you can identify a madman by how agitated he becomes when locked up in a madhouse. By the same token, you can identify an anti-Semite by how agitated he becomes when dispossessed by a Zionist settler. Only an anti-Semite would fuss about that rigged game.
Anyway, though the year is still young, members of the House and Senate have been busy finding ways to help Israel. Understanding hasbara culture helps us make sense of it.
Just a few days ago the House and Senate passed the Israel Relations Normalization Act of 2021 (H.R. 2748). Writing at Mondoweiss.net, the invaluable watchdog site for Israel's apartheid oppression of Palestinians, Nadya Tannous and Cat Knarr point out that the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights has dubbed the bill "the Normalizing Israeli Ethnic Cleansing Act."
The bill would accomplish several things. For example, Tannous and Knarr write, it
expands the Abraham Accords, Trump-era weapons and business deals between apartheid Israel and other authoritarian regimes. These deals bribe Arab countries in the region to both ignore Israel’s settler colonialism and constant human rights violations and, indeed, to regionally align with the US and Israeli policy and aspirations for the region in exchange for large weapons packages.
You'll recall that when Donald Trump and his underachiever son-in-law, Jared Kushner, failed to broker the "real estate deal of the century" between the Israelis and Palestinians — because it ignored Palestinians' rights — Team Trump tried something else: so-called peace deals between Israel and (so far) these Arab states: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. These are the Abraham Accords, which entail allegedly breakthrough mutual diplomatic recognition. Saudi Arabia already has a close working relationship with Israel.
How did Trump do it? As Tannous and Knarr note, by offering arms and business deals to the participants. The Trump administration, in other words, bought the cynical Arab regimes, which have always been ready to sell out the Palestinians for the right price. And what did Israel get? Further Arab acquiescence in its intolerable treatment of the Palestinians.
The Abraham Accords just happen to be one Trump accomplishment that most Democrats, including Joe Biden, love. In January the House and Senate both created bipartisan Abraham Accords Caucuses "to build on the success of the historic" agreements. According to the House news release:
For decades, Congress [back pat] has played a key role in promoting peace between Israel and its neighbors. The Caucus will provide an opportunity to strengthen the Abraham Accords by encouraging and [sic] partnerships among the existing Abraham Accords countries and expanding the agreement to include countries that do not currently have diplomatic relations with Israel.
I can hear the cha-ching already. American arms makers must be whooping it up. But hang on: how can one hope to have peace in the region when the Palestinians remain oppressed in what Israeli journalist Gideon Levy calls a "Jewish supremacist" apartheid state? (Human Rights Watch, the Israeli human-rights group B'Tselem, and Amnesty International all agree with that description.) That question, I'm sure means nothing to the American, Israeli, and Arab ruling elites. They plan to just power on through, Trump-style.
It's also worth remembering that Israel's newest best friends, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, are committing genocide against Yemen with indispensable help from the indispensable nation — that's us! — despite Biden's apparent promise to end that assistance.
Tannous and Knarr also note that H.R. 2748 encourages Israel's continued Palestinian land theft, which is now being rationalized in the name of environmentalism and economic development. The "bill expressly outlines Israeli environmentalism and technological developments as two ways to stabilize the region. The term stability in this case is well-selected, to imply peace, meaning silencing of Palestinian voices, protest, and dissent to Israeli campaigns of ethnic cleansing." Moreover, "Democratic leadership dug in their heels ... to guarantee further funding [the $4.8 billion just passed] of the Israeli regime’s brutal violence."
As though all that wasn't enough, House Republican Israel Caucus Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) has introduced the latest effort to quash the BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) movement, which seeks to hold businesses and others accountable for facilitating Israel's de facto annexation and Zionist settlement of the West Bank, which was seized by war in 1967 along with East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights. (Fifty-five years is too long to call those territories occupied.) The Jewish News Syndicate reports:
The Anti-Boycott Act, which has 46 Republican co-sponsors, would amend the Export Administration Act of 1979 to prohibit boycotts or boycott requests imposed [sic] by international governmental organizations against Israel. The act would also hold accountable individuals who attempt to violate the act. It also affirms Congress’s opposition to the BDS movement and considers the U.N. Human Rights Council’s creation of a database of companies doing business in the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Golan Heights to be an act of BDS.
One is tempted to ask where Congress gets the authority to do these things, but that's a silly question. Congress and presidents do pretty much what they want, especially in foreign affairs. Nevertheless, if an international organization wants to compile a database of companies that do business in the West Bank, Congress has no good reason to meddle, unless politics is counted as a good reason. Nor should it do anything to stop anyone from boycotting such companies or Israel on their own initiative.
Note Zeldin's masterful misdirection:
In the past year alone, we have witnessed an alarming rise in anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hate and violence in the United States and around the world. Whether it’s Hamas’s terror attacks on Israel, well-known companies embracing the BDS movement, anti-Semitism in academia, discrimination against Israel at the U.N. or congregants of a Texas synagogue being held hostage, there is no denying that anti-Semitism is a persistent problem in our society that needs to be identified, called out and crushed in all forms....
Too many — even in the halls of Congress — have emboldened anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric by accepting the BDS movement.... This legislation not only reinforces congressional opposition to the BDS movement but protects American companies from being forced to provide information to international organizations that peddle this hate-filled movement and holds those who attempt to violate that protection accountable.
There's hasbara culture in action. For Zeldin, violence against Jewish worshipers and peaceful demonstrations against Israeli apartheid are cut from the same anti-Semitic cloth; critics of Zionism are effectively Nazis no matter what's going on. Israel and its champions have the exclusive license to define anti-Semitism, and if you object to that, then you are anti-Semitic. Fortunately, fewer Americans — including younger Jewish Americans — buy that shameful demagogy these days.
Americans should be free of government penalty or harassment to choose not to associate with Israel or companies that do business with it. Boycotts and divestment are exercises of freedom. I do, however, part ways with BDS over sanctions. Government sanctions are acts of war that are both double-edged because they harm people in the country that imposes them, and a form of collective punishment because they harm innocents in the targeted country and elsewhere. (See Gary Chartier's excellent "The Case for Sanctions Fails at Every Turn.")
Because governments should not impose sanctions on anyone, I propose changing the S in BDS to: Stopping All Government Aid.
In the meantime, let's see hasbara culture for what it is: an attempt to inoculate the people of an ethno-supremacist/apartheid state against all criticism and consequences of its misdeeds.
Thursday, March 17, 2022
Saturday, March 12, 2022
Pundits and politicians who routinely deny that Americans have the natural right to keep and bear arms nevertheless are thrilled by the scenes of Ukrainian civilians bearing arms in order to resist the Russian invaders.
I guess only people threatened by Russians have the right to keep and bear arms.
But don't those same pundits and politicians tell us that we Americans are threatened by Russia? Ergo...
Friday, March 11, 2022
I don't know if the U.S. foreign-policy elite wanted Russia to invade Ukraine -- an argument could be made for the affirmative -- but I'd hate to think it did. Yet given its long record of global mischief (a polite word for its machinations), we certainly cannot rule out the point a priori.
Perhaps the best evidence in favor of the proposition is that President Biden refused to take the few simple steps that might have averted the whole thing. (The attempt would have cost nothing.) But if an invasion might have been averted and was unwanted, why was so much weaponry and other military aid poured into Ukraine in apparent anticipation of a splendid little war?
I acknowledge that none of this constitutes a smoking gun (pun intended), but the question is worth asking. One might say it was a "just in case" move, but the risks were high because, first, U.S. support might have encouraged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to do something foolish, and second, the arms flow itself might have provoked a Russian response, particularly since the Ukrainian National Guard has the pro-Nazi Azov Battalion incorporated into it.
That said, I am far more confident that, from Biden on down -- if I'm not giving him too much credit -- the foreign-policy makers foresaw benefits in the reprehensible Russian invasion.
Benefits? Cui bono? To whom? Well, certainly not the Ukrainians who are dying, hurting, and fleeing their homes in terror. Nor do the beneficiaries include the rest of the world's regular people, including Americans, who now must wonder if the end of the world is at hand, or if not that, then how they'll cope with the inevitable economic hardship that war and sanctions impose: rising prices, food shortages, and so on.
But make no mistake: there are beneficiaries, as there are in all wars. ("There's not much I can tell you about this war. It's like all wars, I guess. The undertakers are winning.") The American foreign-policy elite itself is a beneficiary because the heightened tensions and potential for conflict offer enormous political opportunities for bigger budgets, grander missions, and the prestige that comes from playing Winston Churchill.
Then there are the sheer economic benefits -- the profits, compliments of the taxpayers -- to the military-industrial complex, which has profited handsomely from NATO expansion since 1998 and from the increased military budgets in NATO countries. Crystal City, Va., will not be on hard times, no matter how the rest of us fare. (Remember when Salesman-in-Chief Donald Trump used to chide the NATO countries for spending too little on their militaries? Get it now? Did you really think he had the American taxpayers in mind?)
And let's face it, NATO needed a shot in the arm. The Soviet Union was long gone, and international terrorism has just not lived up to its ominous billing. It hasn't had the staying power to justify the sinecures that the obsolete alliance had provided over the years. Now things have changed -- in Finland and Sweden, historically neutral countries, "public support for joining NATO has surged to record levels," Yasmeen Serhan writes in The Atlantic.
Nor should we underrate the satisfaction that the elite expects to get from the likely prolonged Russian quagmire. As Scott Horton writes,
Weapons to Ukraine had all been supposedly “calibrated” they said, “not to provoke Mr. Putin,” officials told the New York Times. Maybe arming an insurgency truly is Plan B after an invasion they truly meant to deter and these Democrats are just very poor at "calibration." But they sure seem to be thinking ahead to how an invasion could hurt Russia, with the poor Ukrainians serving as merely an instrument against them.
"The level of military support would make our efforts in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union [in the 1980s] look puny by comparison," said former Hillary Clinton adviser retired Adm. James Stavridis. I sense some anticipatory glee.
The failed presidential candidate herself -- the one who did as much as anyone to ratchet up tensions with Russia during and after her witless campaign -- herself weighed in during a Feb. 28 MSNBC interview. She was asked what she thought about Americans going to fight as private individuals (as they did during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s), and also whether other countries, including NATO members, ought to send troops to fight the Russians. Clinton responded:
It may well be that some people will go into Ukraine to help fight the Russians.
I don't think it`s a good idea for that to be a government-sponsored effort. And I think people who go should be made aware that they are going on their own.
It is heartbreaking to see Ukraine standing alone against Russia, although they`re doing so far an amazing job in rallying their citizens. I don`t think you will find any country right now that will do that.
And then she added:
But, remember, the Russians invaded Afghanistan back in 1980. And although no country went in, they certainly had a lot of countries supplying arms and advice and even some advisers to those who were recruited to fight Russia. It didn`t end well for the Russians. There were other unintended consequences, as we know. But the fact is that a very motivated and then funded and armed insurgency basically drove the Russians out of Afghanistan.
Did you catch the carefully buried reference to 9/11 and all the death and destruction that ensued in the "war on terror" and that still plagues the Middle East? It's in these words: "There were other unintended consequences" -- as though what followed was an insignificant detail of the valiant effort to aid the mujahideen -- al Qaeda was there -- against the Russians beginning in 1979.
Scott Horton, the author of Enough Already: Time to End the War on Terrorism, commented:
People really should watch the entire clip to see the way Clinton smirks at the cute little irony of al Qaeda’s attacks against America and the entire 20-year terror war: What are two million dead humans, 10 trillion dollars wasted, the 21st century and new millennium started off soaking in blood just a decade after the peaceful victory for the West after the fall of the USSR? Just a few little-old “unintended consequences,” not even worth mentioning.
Anyone who can talk the way Clinton does is a seriously flawed human being. And she's not the first. Recall that President Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, bragged, no doubt with exaggeration, that he personally lured Russia into Afghanistan so Russia would have its own "Vietnam." Now here's Hillary Clinton essentially saying that, with Western help, Ukraine just might be Russia's 21st-century Afghanistan. Oh, joy!
We shouldn't be surprised by her cynical neglect of the suffering Afghans and Ukrainians. Remember, she was co-president in the 1990s when she and her husband, Bill Clinton the triangulator, helped to pave the way for every virtually manmade disaster of the 21st century.
Wednesday, March 09, 2022
Beneath the widespread stubborn American refusal to understand the Russian government's motives for its condemnable invasion of Ukraine is the equally widespread stubborn refusal to learn from the U.S. government's wrong moves with respect to Russia over the last 30 years. But even deeper is the widespread stubborn refusal to even entertain the possibility that the U.S. government might have made any wrong moves at all.
Saturday, March 05, 2022
If someone has done a full and honest assessment of Bill Clinton's presidency, I would really like to see it. It is stunning how many ills Clinton's two terms in office inflicted, directly or indirectly, on the American people and the world. Some of the worst stuff happened after he left office, but make no mistake: he prepared the way.
Thus it is no exaggeration to say that Clinton helped make the 21st century, in its most horrible respects, what it is.
By my casual accounting, Clinton strengthened the intrusive national-"security" state, specifically regarding "domestic terrorism" (signing the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which included limiting the federal power of habeas corpus); accerlated the mass-imprisonment state and expanded by 50 the list of federal crimes carrying the death penalty (by signing the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994); paved the way for the 2008 Great Recession and costly bank bailouts through his HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo's fevered promotion of subprime mortgages; set the stage for 9/11 and mass surveillance by the NSA with his bombing of Iraq, continued starving of Iraqi kids, support for Israel's persecution of the Palestinians, and bombing raids in Afghanistan and Sudan (destroying a pharmaceutical factory in the latter) after attacks on two U.S. embassies in Africa; and sowed the ground for Vladimir Putin's rise to power in 2000 and the future Russia-Ukraine war by starting the expansion of NATO years after the Soviet Union had disappeared, leading NATO forces in the bombing and occupation of Russia ally Serbia, and promoting by force the secession of Kosovo from Serbia. Clinton also facilitated the looting of Russia on behalf of Western interests and Russian oligarchs.
I'm sure this is not an exhaustive list.
So Bill Clinton, who lives the good life as a prestigious figure worldwide, gave us a fortified carceral and death-penalty state, the housing-market collapse and bank-bailout state, 9/11 and the "war on terror"/mass surveillance state, and the new cold war with Russia. That is quite an achievement for one president. How can we thank him?
Maybe it's a good thing his co-president didn't get elected in 2016.
Friday, March 04, 2022
Contrary to what hypocritical U.S. rulers and their loyal mass media suggest, two propositions can both be -- and indeed are -- true:
- that Russia has grossly, brutally, and criminally mishandled the situation it has faced with respect to Ukraine, and
- that the U.S. government since the late 1990s has been entirely responsible for imposing that situation on Russia.
If you want the fine details, you can do no better than to watch my Libertarian Institute colleague Scott Horton's excellent cataloging of the irresponsible misdeeds of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joseph Biden in this recent lecture. If, after absorbing this shocking record of indisputable facts, you are seething at what the U.S. government has done to squander a historic chance for good relations with Russia, you will be fully justified -- and then some. (See also this 2015 lecture by John Mearsheimer, the respected "realist" foreign policy analyst at the University of Chicago.)
To appreciate what bipartisan U.S. foreign policy has wrought, think about 1989 when the undreamt-of virtually bloodless dismantling of the Soviet empire began. At that point humanity was on the verge of a new chapter in which the world's largest nuclear superpowers would no longer confront each other, holding everyone hostage. Think about that, and then learn how the U.S. government blew it deliberately, despite all the warnings that the consequences would be dire. (Over-optimism about what might have been is always a danger. In 1990, when President George H. W. Bush ordered Iraq's Saddam Hussein to remove his army from Kuwait, Bush declared a "New World Order," admonishing, "What we say goes." The Russians no doubt noticed.)
How so? By kicking the Russian people in the teeth repeatedly in all kinds of ways when they were reeling from seven decades of communism. If the U.S. government's intent had been to destroy the chance for this historic turn, it couldn't have done a better job.
Americans have a funny way of thinking that history began the day of the latest crisis. The politicians and media feed this bad habit. So if Russia invades Ukraine, the only explanation is that he's power-mad, if not just plain mad. The idea that the U.S. might have set the stage isn't allowed to be entertained. With social-media magnates sucking up to the power elite, this is serious stuff.
Do Americans want to know why Russia went to war? They might not like to hear that "their" government must shoulder a good deal of blame, but it's undeniable that since World War II the power that occupies Middle North America has had its heavy hand in virtually every part of the world. The rules of international law that all nations are supposed to observe simply don't apply to the United States. Just look at the invasions and regime changes that have gone on since 2001, not to mention back to the early 1950s. That's what it means to be the exceptional nation. The rules apply to everyone except America's rulers. (See Robert Wright's "In Defense of Whataboutism.")
This history forms the larger context in which the unconscionable Russian war on Ukraine -- with all the terror it's inflicting on innocents -- is taking place. It is unseemly for an American president to piously admonish the Russian government about its breaches of national sovereignty in light of the shameful U.S. record.
Since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, U.S. presidents have taken a series of actions that seemed designed to make the Russians distrust the West in the new era. This is not hindsight. As noted, many respected establishment foreign-policy figures warned against such measures.
The measures included the bombing of Russia's ally Serbia in the late 1990s; the repeated expansion of NATO, the postwar alliance founded to counter the Soviet Union, to include former Soviet allies and republics; the public talk of including the former Soviet republics Ukraine and Georgia in the Western alliance; the trashing of long-standing anti-nuclear-weapons treaties with Russia; the placing of defensive missile launchers (which could be converted to offensive launchers) in Poland and Romania: the attempts to sabotage the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline deal; instigating the 2014 regime change in Ukraine (following earlier regime-changes operations in Ukraine and Georgia); the arming of Ukraine since 2017; the conducting of NATO war exercises, with U.S. personnel, near the Russian border; the years-long evidence-free effort to persuade Americans that Russia manipulated the 2016 presidential election to elect Donald Trump; and much, much, much more. Trump -- recall his goading of NATO members into spending more on their militaries -- was among the offenders: his anti-Russia moves, including NATO expansion like all of his 21st-century predecessors, would fill a list as long as Wilt Chamberlain's arm. If he was a Russian puppet, as the Democrats, intelligence apparatus, and mainstream media want us to believe, then the Russians have a great deal to learn about puppeteering.
Take one of the biggest spurs to war: the eastward expansion of NATO, which the U.S. government and Western Europe promised would not happen after Germany was reunited while the Soviet Union was heading toward termination. It happened anyway, but not because Russia had behaved badly toward the West. It hadn't. In fact, after 9/11 Russian ruler Vladimir Putin was the first to call Bush II to offer his support. Later Putin even suggested that Russia be invited to join NATO, something President George H. W. Bush had once mentioned. One wonders why NATO was even necessary with the Soviet Union gone, but if Russia could join -- really, what was the point?
The expansion of NATO by 1,200 miles toward Russia demonstrates how myopic American rulers can be. American critics repeatedly pointed out that no president would not have tolerated Russia's inviting Mexico and Canada into its now-defunct Warsaw Pact. Yet NATO now includes the Baltic states -- those former Soviet republics on the Russian border, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia --and Eastern European states that were once in the Warsaw Pact.
Indeed, we already know how the U.S. government reacts when its security concerns are flouted. In 1962 President John F. Kennedy was ready to launch a nuclear war against the Soviet Union when it placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. For days the world sat on the edge of its seat wondering if the end was near. (I remember it!) Finally, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev withdrew the missiles, but only when Kennedy secretly agreed to remove American nuclear-tipped missiles from Turkey.
Later American presidents forgot about that crisis. Clinton added Warsaw Pact states late in his second term. Then it was Bush II's turn. At its April 2008 Bucharest summit, NATO declared that it "welcomes Ukraine's and Georgia's Euro Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO." This was a fateful move. As noted, pillars of the foreign policy establishment from George Kennan to Paul Nitze to Robert McNamara had already forcefully spoken out against the first rounds of NATO expansion, which included the Baltic states. No less a figure than Willian Burns, Bush II's ambassador to Russia and now Biden's CIA chief, said in 2008,
Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all red lines for the Russian elite (not just Putin). In more than two and a half years of conversations with key Russian players, from knuckle-draggers in the dark recesses of the Kremlin to Putin’s sharpest liberal critics, I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.
Putin responded to the summit declaration, saying he deemed it a "direct threat" to Russia. A few months later, the emboldened president of Georgia, on Russia's southern border, attacked EU-authorized Russian peacekeepers in the Republic of South Ossetia, which had earlier broken away from Georgia. Russia responded by invading and occupying Georgia. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili thought -- no doubt lead on by the U.S. government -- that the West would back him up, but it did not. Washington, London, Paris, and the rest of NATO were not willing to go to risk a nuclear war with Russia over South Ossetia. (Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky seems to be imitating Shaakashvili.)
This is all too similar to what's going on today, but with something more. After talking about bringing Ukraine into NATO, the U.S. and EU in February 2014 instigated a coup in Kyiv, in which opponents of the government, including neo-Nazis, drove a democratically elected and Russia-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovych, from office. A leaked recording of a phone call between U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland (now a Biden official) and U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt revealed that the coup and the new leadership of the country were orchestrated by the U.S. State Department. This followed billions of dollars in U.S. aid to "pro-democracy," that is, anti-Yanukovych, organizations.
Yanukovych had been willing to deal with the European Union, but when he balked at the terms of the proposed loan, Russia offered Ukraine $15 billion under more favorable terms. This the EU and U.S. government could not tolerate. Yanukovych had to go.
Keep in mind that eastern Ukraine and Crimea, which is filled with Russian-speaking people, had voted heavily for Yanukovych, with the western part going for his opponent. So driving out the elected president was a direct slap at the ethnic Russians. When the new government came to power, it downgraded Russians from official-language status and tried to cut back on the autonomy of the far-eastern provinces, the Donbas region, which borders Russia. Violence erupted and has continued. Meanwhile, Russia annexed Crimea, which has been a Russian security concern and the home of its only year-round warm-water naval base since the 18th century. Russia could not take the risk that Crimea would become a base for NATO forces. The predominantly ethnic Russians in Crimea approved of the annexation. But one thing Russia refused to do was to accept an annexation invitation from the people in the Donbas.
As a result, the U.S. government sent large amounts of aid to Ukraine, but Obama refused to send weapons because he did not want to escalate the conflict or risk direct war with Russia. He noted, properly, that Ukraine was a core security interest of Russia but not of the United States and that in a conflict over nearby Ukraine, Russia would have a large advantage over the United States, despite America's much larger military. Trump, however, reversed Obama's policy and sent massive arms shipments to Ukraine, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.
As Russia increased pressure on Ukraine over the last year, with a buildup of troops near the border, it made clear its demands: no NATO membership for Ukraine and no missile launchers in Eastern Europe. Since taking office, Biden has talked tough, proclaiming that the United States would support Ukrainian sovereignty, while also saying, first, that U.S. troops would not be committed, second, that Ukraine would not be joining NATO anytime soon, and third, that offensive nuclear missiles would not be placed in Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, he scoffed at Russia's demands, insisting that no one but NATO would decide who became a member. This sounded like schoolyard pettiness, with Biden refusing to formalize for Russia his disavowal of things that Biden had already said he would not do.
Would Russia have shelved plans for the invasion had Biden not been so wrongheaded? Who can say? But what was there to lose?
So here we are. The situation is dangerous in a global sense because, in the fog of war, shit happens. (Sorry.) It doesn't help that some prominent Americans, still in the minority, want the U.S. government to do more than impose sanctions, send even more troops to neighboring NATO countries, and further arm Ukraine, all of which Biden is doing -- some, like President Zelensky, are calling for a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone over Ukraine, which would bring America into direct military conflict with Russia. Some are even calling for regime change in Russia. Need we be reminded that, like the U.S. government, Russia has thousands of hydrogen bombs ready to launch. Are these people nuts?
No, history did not begin on February 24, 2022, or even March 18, 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea.
What now? It's ridiculous to think that Russia -- given its $1.5 trillion GDP (smaller than Italy's and Texas's) and $60 billion military budget (6 percent of the total U.S. military budget) -- is out to re-establish the Russian empire of old or the Soviet Union. To put things in perspective, the U.S. government has had recent annual increases in military spending that exceeded Russia's entire military budget.
The goal must be a ceasefire. Biden can facilitate that by doing what he should have done long ago: put in writing that Ukraine and Georgia will not join NATO, that the missile launchers will be removed from Eastern Europe, and that the war exercises on Russia's border will end. Ukraine could help by accepting the status of neutrality with Finland-like assurances that it will not let its territory be used offensively against Russia. Biden should also propose that the arms-control treaties trashed by Bush II and Trump will be reinstated in talks with Russia.
Russia, of course, should pledge to leave Ukraine and offer compensation, while the heavily ethnic Russian areas in the east are given the freedom to join Russia.
We need not be at war -- even if it's a new cold war -- with Russia.