Laurels for Sanity on Ukraine
Darts for the war mad and the war mongers.
The world is fast approaching the one-year anniversary of Russia’s—awful, no-good—invasion of Ukraine. The tragedy was soon compounded by Western leaders and media warmongers taking a highly simplistic ideological approach to a complex conflict. Sobriety and restraint went out the window, as foreign policy establishments soon forgot the wreckage of Afghanistan and Iraq, and set out on a new proxy war—this time against the country with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and most valuable energy reserves.
Readers of this column, and this magazine, have already been treated to plenty able critiques of this approach. So it is worth taking a different tack now: by handing out laurels to the few dissident voices who, resisting enormous pressure to the contrary, have spoken out for realism and restraint and against mindless escalation over the past year.
First up, a laurel to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, for recently hitting the breaks on deliveries of advanced artillery—specifically, the Leopard 2 tank—to Ukraine. Yes, it is true that Berlin won’t get in the way of others, such as Poland, dispatching the same hardware to the battle zone. But even this minor, and mostly symbolic, dilatory gesture on Scholz’s part suggests that there is some limit to how far the most important country on the Continent will go in fueling a Russo-European war.
And let us hand one to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, for pursuing a nimble strategy when his neighbors have given in to hysteria. Orbán and his nation are as wary as anyone else in Central and Eastern Europe of Russian imperialism. But Orbán doesn’t believe that the West can or should transform an intra-Slavic conflict into an all-out, ideological war. He has also warned that Europe can’t win an energy war against Russia—not without devastating her own industrial base and working class. As he told me in an interview in September, “If someone believes you can beat Russia, and change things in Moscow, it is a pure mistake.”
Closer to home, a laurel to Senator Josh Hawley, for questioning the seemingly limitless amounts of U.S. taxpayer dollars his fellow lawmakers are prepared to spend on a proxy war against Moscow. In May, the Missouri populist voted no on a $40 billion package (since then the total aid has added up to some $100 billion). “This package,” he explained, “treats Ukraine as a client state of America, a fraught relationship that will put us on the hook for financing the war and then the reconstruction. If this isn’t a classic case of misplaced priorities, I don’t know what is.”
Ditto for Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, who raised the ire of the military-industrial complex and its spokesmen during his campaign by stating forthrightly that “I don't really care what happens in Ukraine.” But in saying so, he was surely reflecting the views of the working class Americans whose votes he sought, and from whose ranks he hails—people racked by job, wage, and health precarity, opioids, and various other miseries brought about by the very elites now agitating for total war against Russia. Since taking office, Vance has called for an audit of the $100 billion in aid to Ukraine. Kudos to him, and to Kentucky's Senator Rand Paul, who has made the case for realism in these pages multiple times, in the same category.
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I wish I could highlight progressive lawmakers, but for now, the antiwar left appears politically moribund. But there are plenty of left-of-center writers and thinkers who have kept that tradition alive, sometimes at the price of social ostracism. An honor roll of such figures would include (but is by no means limited to) Glenn Greenwald, Michael Tracey, Noam Chomsky, New Left Review’s Susan Watkins, Jacobin’s Ben Burgis, Catalyst’s Vivek Chibber, and the independent writers Thomas Fazi, Angela Nagle, Shant Mesrobian, and George Hoare, and former British Member of Parliament George Galloway, to name but a few. I’d be remiss if I failed to highlight the excellent Quincy Institute, and the Stand Together network more broadly. And among institutions on the right, the Claremont Institute has held the line, along with others. These various figures and institutions don’t agree on everything—far from it. But that makes their cross-partisan alliance on foreign-policy restraint shine all the more brightly.
Every laurel ceremony should also be accompanied by the “awarding” of at least one “dart.” Who has acted most dangerously over the past year or so? Candidates are legion, but if I had to pick one, I would go with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who at the height of the invasion mused about assassinating Vladimir Putin—the kind of insane rhetoric seemingly designed to plunge the world into apocalypse. Mercifully, President Joe Biden declined to go along.
Let us hope another award ceremony of this kind won’t be necessary this time next year. I’m not holding my breath.