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Declining Empire At War

Another $3 billion to Ukraine, to a support a war we can't win and shouldn't be fighting
Screen Shot 2022-08-24 at 3.43.48 PM

News today that Washington is sending yet another massive chunk ($3 billion) of military aid to Ukraine, on top of the $10.6 billion we have already sent. There are unconfirmed reports that the US military is now taking some weapons away from American soldiers to send to Ukraine. Do we have any domestic arms production underway? Do our leaders really think we are going to be able to sustain this indefinitely? And for what?

Every single American needs to read Christopher Caldwell's powerful piece asking what on earth the US is doing in Ukraine. Excerpts:

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Never has an official non-belligerent been more implicated in a war. Russia and its sympathizers assert that the U.S. attempt to turn Ukraine into an armed anti-Russian camp is what the war is about in the first place. Even those who dismiss this view will agree that the United States has made itself a central player in the conflict. It is pursuing a three-pronged strategy to defeat Russia through every means short of entering the war—which, of course, raises the risk that the United States will enter the war. One prong is the state-of-the-art weaponry it is supplying to Ukraine. Since June, thousands of computer-guided artillery rockets have been wreaking havoc behind Russian lines. A second prong is sanctions. With western European help, Washington has used its control of the choke points of the global marketplace to impoverish Russians, in hopes of punishing Russia. Finally, the U.S. seeks to rally the world’s peoples to a culture war against an enemy whose traditionalism, even if it does not constitute the whole of his evil, is at least a symbol of it.

It would be foolish to bet against the United States, a mighty global hegemon with a military budget 12 times Russia’s. Yet something is going badly off track. Russia’s military tenacity was to be expected—bloodying and defeating more technologically advanced armies has been a hallmark of Russian civilization for 600 years. But the economic sanctions, far from bringing about the collapse Blinken gloated over, have driven up the price of the energy Russia sells, strengthened the ruble, and threatened America’s western European allies with frostbite, shortages, and recession. The culture war has found few proponents outside of the West’s richest latte neighborhoods. Indeed, cultural self-defense may be part of the reason India, China, and other rising countries have conspicuously declined to cut economic ties with the Russians.

Caldwell recalls how the United States has been messing with Ukraine for a long time, making moves that Russia cannot have helped but see as aggressive. It's insane how provocatively we behaved, across both the Obama and Trump administrations. As Caldwell puts it, channeling his inner John Mearsheimer: "What did you think Russia was going to do?"

Caldwell explores ways that the US has put itself in an extremely risky position by the radical actions it has taken against Russia to kick it out of the global financial system. It has not really worked, and now Washington has shown China, India, and any other country what could happen to it if it gets on the wrong side of the United States. It is extraordinarily foolish. Here's Caldwell:

The attempt to isolate Russia from the American world system has had a striking unintended consequence—the possible founding of an alternative world system that would draw power away from the existing one. Twenty years ago, under George W. Bush, the United States removed the Iraqi deterrent from Iran’s neighborhood, transforming Iran overnight into a regional power. This year, under Joe Biden, the United States has made China a gift of Russia’s exportable food and mineral resources. We are displaying an outright genius for identifying our most dangerous military adversary and solving its most pressing strategic challenge. The attention of China is now engaged. Joe Biden argues that any wavering in the cause of obliterating Russia will be understood by China as a green light on Taiwan. He may have a point, but the U.S. management of the Ukraine situation over the past decade has constituted encouragement enough.

Administration officials often describe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a war of choice. Although this may have been true at the outset, it is not now. Vladimir Putin and the Russia he rules cannot stop fighting. As long as the United States is involved in arming Russia’s enemies and bankrupting its citizens, they are quite right to believe themselves in a war for their country’s survival. The United States, thus far in a less bloody way, is also involved in a war it chose but cannot exit—in this case, for fear of undermining the international system from which it has drawn its power and prosperity for the past three quarters of a century.

Read it all. Caldwell is raising issues and asking questions that I haven't seen asked or raised elsewhere. And they are absolutely critical for the future of the US. None of this is to justify Russia's attack on Ukraine, but damn, remember how the unnamed Bush administration official, in 2004, told a reporter that in Iraq, "We create our own reality"? The hubris of that! I get the sense that America still has that false idea about our power. It feels like we are the Ottoman Empire, a sick man stumbling towards senescence. This morning I was in a taxi, and the driver, a Hungarian immigrant, said, "I don't want to criticize your country, but look what you have done these past twenty or thirty years. You went all over the world trying to spread democracy, but you just spread destruction."

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Yes, and wasted $2 trillion to create Iran as a regional hegemon, and to see the Taliban back in control in Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden's successor die in his Kabul mansion, under the Taliban's protection. And now our European allies, which followed Washington's lead on Ukraine, are going to watch their economies totter this winter, while their people freeze in the dark. God only knows if the European Union is going to survive this test. Russia is exhausting NATO's weapons stocks. And if we really are starting now to send our own weaponry to the Ukrainians, what are we going to use to defend ourselves if we find ourselves in a real war?

On the other hand, we have to admit that America is winning the culture war against America's classical liberal ideals, adolescent girls' breasts, pubescent children's genitals, and the rights of parents to know what the hell is going on in their children's schools. That's one war our decadent leaders are damn sure they're going to win.

The US Navy is now offering up to $115,000 as a signing bonus, or to get vets to come back. Do you really want to go fight to shove Western ideals right up to Russia's backside, citizen? I thought I had seen the end of foolish American imperial wars of choice with the failures of Iraq and Afghanistan. Twenty-one years of war without a sustained victory, and no consequences to anyone for losing. Except the culture war. That the Cathedral/Regime is winning going away.

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JON FRAZIER
JON FRAZIER
I don't see that the US has any other viable (major) choices here. The alternative of letting Russia do whatsoever it pleases with its neighbors also leads to disasters. To avoid this mess we'd need a time machine to go back thirty years and change policy toward the collapsed USSR region.
And registering again my objection to the use of "Cathedral" here as unnecessarily derogatory toward a Christian thing which should be respected as (often) a thing of beauty even by unbelievers.
schedule 3 months ago
Chris Karr
Chris Karr
You're not shy of posting predictions about how the world will unfold as things happen that affect your pet issues.

Mind penning a prediction charting the next month to decade of what happens if the West capitulates to Russia and lets Putin have his way with that nation? As Jon points out below, Russia hasn't left the world with a lot of good choices. How do you see things unfolding if we followed your lead to stop supporting Ukraine? That may bridge the gap between us who think that we're making the most out of a bad situation and you (and other TAC contributors) who believe that we're making things worse by helping Kyiv defend itself.
schedule 3 months ago
    John Phillips
    John Phillips
    We are rotting from within, economically speaking and otherwise. And yet we think we can still dominate and control the world. That's how all empires collapse.
    schedule 3 months ago
      JON FRAZIER
      JON FRAZIER
      The sun does not rise in the Atlantic and set in the Pacific. Is any other part of the world doing better than we are? I can't see a candidate for that position.
      schedule 3 months ago
        Rob G
        Rob G
        "Is any other part of the world doing better than we are?"

        By what standard? Also, famous last words. Britain and Austria/Germany could have said the same thing around 1914 or so.
        schedule 3 months ago
          JON FRAZIER
          JON FRAZIER
          This is a very different world: we are far more interconnected than the world was a century ago. More significantly the major threats are not human threats at all, though exacerbated by good old human folly. Most of these merely cultural matters will be seen as teapot tempests. Later in this century humankind in all its diversity will be going over the edge of a waterfall together and only Omniscience can foresee how the future shapes up afterward.
          schedule 3 months ago
Peter Pratt
Peter Pratt
So what happens if the US stops fighting the Ukraine proxy war?

1. Defense contractors will still make a lot of money selling replacement weapons, but there will be a limit without endless war.

2. End of sanctions means improvements to Westen economies.

3. End of the American hegemony and the birth of the multipolar world order that should have happened 30 years ago.

4. US might cut its worldwide bases from 800+ to 300 or so.

5. NATO might actually be done, as it has long outserved its purposes.

6. America treats other countries like independent entities.

7. We spend some of the billions wasted on helping Americans.

8. Ukraine, what is left of it, remains a corrupt state and the money laundering center it has been.

All good things.
schedule 3 months ago
Matthew Hollands
Matthew Hollands
You haven't seen these questions asked anywhere because no-one who understands Russia or Ukraine would ever ask them. Caldwell is dangerously wrong on numerous points and outright factually incorrect on others.

First of all, anyone historically ignorant enough to state that “[n]ever has an official non-belligerent been more implicated in a war” doesn't belong in a national publication. Does he think the North Vietnamese were building their own AK-47's, SA-7's and MiG-21's? I suppose he's also unaware that Soviet troops were manning many of those SAM's, or that whole squadrons of the Soviet-provided MiG-15's fighting us over Korea were also being flown by Soviet Air Force pilots. Perhaps he's never heard the name “Lafayette” either.

Secondly, his repeating of the oft-made claim that the West somehow instigated this invasion demonstrates he simply doesn't understand Russia. This invasion was actually virtually inevitable decades ago, regardless of Western interference. Russia has always viewed Ukraine as its rightful property going well back into the Imperial period, and with the rise of Neo-Eurasianism it began officially denying the existence of the Ukrainians as a legitimate people. It's also worth noting that Russia has always been fundamentally expansionist – Catherine the Great once said that “if Russia is not expanding she is contracting”. This is largely due to geography. Russia has a surprisingly small percentage of really usable land, and that land is geographically very easy to invade. The only natural defenses Russia has are shear size and “General Winter”. This is discussed very thoroughly in a couple of lectures by Peter Zeihan that are available on Youtube. Westerners are largely unaware of this, but it's something Russian leaders have always been very concerned by. Taking Ukraine would give Russia very important geographical boundaries along with a huge amount of productive land.

Beyond that, those who site Western instigation never mention Russia's own actions in Ukraine over the years. Russia has been meddling in Ukraine ever since they stabilized their own country. I personally remember hearing about the whole “Novorossiya” plans from my then father-in-law more than 10 years ago. Both the West and Russia have constantly tried to gain influence and control in Ukraine – something the Ukrainian people don't want. They are quite independent minded and do not want to be a vassal state to anyone. Ukrainians still very much remember the Holodomor as well as the repression of their language and culture under the late Imperial period.

Caldwell's notion that energy prices are going up because of sanctions is demonstrably not true. Prices started skyrocketing in early 2020 and have stayed high ever since due to the Biden Administration's war on American energy production. That's precisely what made it possible for Putin to invade. Also, Russia is currently being forced to sell its oil to China for an approximately $20 per barrel discount last I heard, because of the sanctions. Throw in the fact that Russia has only a couple of pipelines to China and shipping it there by sea is a 70-day round trip, and no, Russia is certainly not making increased oil profits. They are in fact at or near full storage capacity and will likely have to start capping wells soon. A good thing to look into would be the recent Yale report on the Russian economy. It paints an incredibly bleak picture for Russia, backed up by actual numbers. They predict Russia will soon enter a huge recession. While other sources I've read have also indicated that the Ruble is being artificially propped up and the means to do so are ultimately unsustainable. Sanctions – combined with the perpetually anemic Russian tech sector – also very importantly mean Russia will have major difficulties in replacing the huge amounts of high-tech weapons they're losing in Ukraine.

Another face-palm inducing part of the article is when Caldwell states that “[t]he attempt to isolate Russia from the American world system has had a striking unintended consequence—the possible founding of an alternative world system that would draw power away from the existing one”. He acts as if that wasn't happening for years prior to this or that we don't already know what that would look like. Is he under 30? Where was he before 1991? Caldwell's great worry here is just a “been there, done that” for anyone in their 40's or older.

I have been increasingly appalled as this war goes on at the number of supposed conservatives in America who either want us to leave Ukraine to its' fate or actually support Putin. Many are just politically and philosophically ignorant – which shows that our movement is far weaker than it appears – but many also seem to actually believe Russia represents conservative, traditional values. This is a very dangerous error. In the past few years, Russia has reached the point of being a fascist police state. There is no real freedom, and certainly no room for any political dissent. There is no free speech either, and no true religious freedom. The Russian Church is also becoming dangerously entangled with the Putin regime and being used for his political purposes. The Gospel message of the Church is being corrupted by Putinism. It's reached the point that I think one can accurately refer to Pat. Kiril as a Neo-Sergianist. I have a feeling that many American conservatives currently opposing aiding Ukraine will end up seriously discredited as the atrocities Russia is inflicting on the Ukrainians become more widely understood. Being the guy who indirectly – or directly, in some cases – supported a mass genocide simply because CNN was against it is going to be a really bad look.

As for Russia's supposed traditional moral and family values, they are 3rd in the world in divorce rates (the US is tied for 10th) and have by far the highest abortion rate in the world – more than double that of the US. Russia is also pretty well known to be a huge producer/distributor of pornography. I don't have statistics on that, but it's probably second to the US.

The biggest irony is that Russia also has a huge Neo-Nazi presence which the Putin regime actively supported for a decade. His regime even allowed and assisted the largest and most public Neo-Nazi group – Russkii Obraz – to hold a massive outdoor concert featuring an openly Neo-Nazi metal band within site of the Kremlin. The regime only distanced itself from Neo-Nazism fairly recently as a result of multiple high-profile murders by Neo-Nazis. Another of the Prominent Neo-Nazi groups – Russian Imperial Movement – trains extremists in violence and recently trained two Swedish Neo-Nazis who went on to commit multiple murders in Sweden.

Russian media (which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Kremlin) has been shouting for months now that they are at war with NATO. Putin has always seen this as the case. His ambitions have always been too much not to provoke a Western response. It should be remembered that years ago Putin publicly called the fall of the USSR “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th Century”. His goal right from the time he first gained power has been to reconstitute the Soviet Union. That includes the Baltics, who we are treaty obligated to defend. If he had been able to take Ukraine quickly as planned, a direct war between NATO and Russia would have become inevitable, and we would very likely already be fighting Russia with our own troops.

The idea that we would give Ukraine enough of our weapons to negatively effect our own military is a concern, but not a huge one. Firstly, a lot of the weaponry you're worried about is actually equipment that was due to be retired anyway. The worry is the missiles, but that isn't really a huge worry either. If we are eventually drawn into this war, then those weapons will have been used to destroy Russian equipment either way and it doesn't really make a difference. If we end up at war with China over Taiwan, that will be primarily an air and sea war, and we haven't given much of those assets to Ukraine since their war is also totally a land war.
schedule 3 months ago
    JON FRAZIER
    JON FRAZIER
    Re: Prices started skyrocketing in early 2020 and have stayed high ever since due to the Biden Administration's war on American energy production.

    Again: the sun does not rise in the Atlantic and set in the Pacific, and Biden's "green" policy (which has been far more rhetoric than action) does not set world prices. Far more at fault is our good friend Saudi Arabia and its lackeys, which kept oil prices rock bottom low long enough to bankrupt the fracking industry (which requires prices to be above $80/b bbl-- ideally more) and then, abetted by the disruptions of the Pandemic, started cutting production to reap windfall profits. Which brought the US and others kowtowing obsequiously to the throne in Riyadh. Oh, and add in some financial industry skullduggery: the futures markets in commodities is one huge casino where the house is favored to win.
    schedule 3 months ago