Our Strangelovian National Security Class
This sobering reflection on nuclear warfare on the Policy Tensor Substack has been making the rounds. Strongly urge you to read it. Excerpts:
Whether or not the annexed territories shall be considered Russian territory is not the important question. At this stage in the conflict, the important question is not even whether Russian elites believe that preventing Ukraine from becoming a Western bulwark is a vital Russian interest; although as CIA Director Burns wrote, it is indeed “the reddest of red lines” for Russian elites. Rather, as often happens in military conflict, the stakes have risen dramatically for Russia. Russia’s entire world position is now at stake. For if Russia cannot avoid military humiliation in Ukraine, it will not survive as a great power.
Indeed, as Defense Secretary Austin spelled out, the United States’s war aim now is to “see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.” That is, American officials believe, not altogether implausibly, that Russia can be cut down to size; and for all practical purposes, kicked out of the ranks of the great powers.
If there was some physical law that forbid Russian escalation to the nuclear level, this might be an attractive goal for US Russia policy. But given that Russia’s entire world position is now at stake in the conflict, this is an unwarranted assumption and an extremely dangerous one to entertain. Russia can and may well introduce nuclear weapons into the Ukraine war. It is extremely important at this conjuncture, then, to think carefully about what Russian nuclear use will entail and how the United States should respond in that scenario.
It is insane for us Americans to think that Russia doesn't have a legitimate security concern over Ukraine as a Western ally on its border. The US would not for one second tolerate Mexico becoming a Russian client state, even if this were the free and democratic choice of Mexican voters. And Mexico is only an imperfect comparison, because Ukraine has been part of the Russian sphere for time out of mind, and Kyiv is, for historical reasons, vital to Russia's religious and cultural identity. I'm not at all saying that Ukraine should capitulate to Russian imperialist aggression! It should not. But at the same time, if we want peace, the West is going to have to recognize that Russia cannot tolerate a pro-Western Ukraine.
PT says that if Putin is cornered, he might well explode a nuclear device over Ukraine. More:
Precisely because it is such a dramatic break with precedent, even a demonstration detonation would radically change the character of the Russo-Western conflict over Ukraine. New Yorkers and Berliners etc, are likely to flee the cities. Everywhere, in Europe and America, supermarkets would likely empty within hours. Many local authorities may institute civil defense measures, even as federal governments everywhere urge calm. A widespread breakdown of law and order would be a real possibility; especially in America, where it would be attended by partisan passions and finger-pointing. Under such conditions, keeping the Western alliance together will become extraordinarily difficult. Indeed, it’s possible that even Nato would break under pressure, as anti-war and/or pro-Russian political forces emerge from repression and threaten to break the Western coalition.
This would put America into what PT calls a "nuclear Zugzwang". I encourage you to read the whole thing to understand the term. Basically, it means that a Russian demonstration use of a nuclear weapon would put the US in a terrible position. If NATO opts to enter the Ukraine war directly as a response, we could be in World War III before you know it. PT:
Precisely because Russia is so weak relative to Nato, any Russia-Nato war will eventually escalate into strategic nuclear war, the only level on which the Russia enjoys parity with the United States. So, any counter-escalation by the United States would be fraught with escalation risk and nuclear danger. Bearing this risk could make sense if a vital strategic interest of the United States was at stake — an attack on Western Europe, for instance. But is bearing this escalation risk worth the candle for an extended position all the way out on Russia’s border?
Exactly. Why would we risk incinerating America's cities for the sake of being able to put NATO bases in Ukraine? It makes absolutely no sense. Then again, did you see Dr. Strangelove -- sorry, General Petraeus -- on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday? Check the video out here. Petraeus, a retired top general and former CIA director, said:
I strongly agree with the idea of Ukraine becoming part of NATO.
Crazy, just crazy. Why is this a vital national security interest for the United States? It certainly is for Russia. The arrogance of this man, Petraeus! Here is what Petraeus said when host Jon Karl asked him about a US response to Putin dropping a demonstration nuke in Ukraine:
PETRAEUS: ... I mean, just to give you a hypothetical, we would respond by leading a NATO, a collective effort, that would take out every Russian conventional force that we can see and identify on the battlefield in Ukraine and also in Crimea and every ship in the Black Sea --
KARL: So it would bring America and NATO into the war? I mean --
PETRAEUS: It --
KARL: -- it would be an Article 5 situation basically.
PETRAEUS: Not an Article 5 because they're not part of NATO --
PETRAEUS: -- it would be -- it would be a U.S. and NATO response to something that is absolutely --
KARL: -- the radiation would extend into NATO countries, it effectively would be an attack on NATO.
PETRAEUS: Yes. And perhaps you can make that case. The other case is that this is so horrific that there has to be a response, it cannot go unanswered. But it doesn't expand, it doesn’t -- it’s not nuclear for nuclear. You don't want to, again, get into a nuclear escalation here. But you have to show that this cannot be accepted in any way.
Hold on! As Policy Tensor points out, there is almost no way to prevent a conventional war between NATO and Russia from going nuclear, and doing so very quickly. How in the world could the US wipe out Russian forces in Ukraine, Crimea, and the Black Sea fleet, and expect Russia to take it without escalating? That is madness.
Petraeus is, of course, highly plugged in to the national security elites. He's on the board of the Institute for the Study of War, along with his mentor, Gen. Jack Keane, and neocon hawks Bill Kristol and Kimberly Kagan (wife of Frederick Kagan, and sister-in-law of Robert Kagan and his Ukraine uber-hawk wife, Victoria Nuland). The same neocon intellectuals who led America into the Iraq debacle are now busy trying to lead us to war with Russia. How do these people have any influence at all anymore? But they do. I'm hearing that the US national security class is full of serious people talking seriously about the survivability of nuclear war.
Does David Petraeus and his class give a flying freak about the American people? Or are we all mere abstractions for these elites to play their geopolitical games. I'd say that most Americans sympathize with Ukraine as a victim of Russian aggression, and that few Americans have anything good to say about Putin's Russia. Can it really be the case, though, that most Americans are in favor of putting our entire nation at risk of incineration so the neocons can extend NATO hegemony to Russia's doorstep? Whose interest does that serve? Not the American people's, that's for sure.
Folks need to wake up and understand where the Washington natsec leadership is taking us. This is the same ruling class that despises half the country as ineducable bigots who are probably domestic terrorists. We are all expected to trust these warmongering utopian lunatics to act with our best interests at heart. I am not pro-Russia, but I am pro-America, and against nuclear war. I get the idea that the Petraeus crowd is dying to go to war with Russia -- which is to say, eager to make Americans die on behalf of bringing Ukraine under the umbrella of American hegemony, and at long last queering the Donbas.
The Russian hypernationalist Alexander Dugin is mostly an odious figure, but he makes a point worth pondering in his latest rant:
Russia is a civilisation whose basic code is Tradition. Opposed to it is another civilisation, whose code is anti-Tradition, dehumanisation of man, lies, aggression, exploitation of countries and peoples, neo-colonialism, terror and evil. At the same time, the collective West also claims the universality of its model, leaving no one the right to choose otherwise.
Yeah, Dugin, talk to me about the glory of Russian "tradition" while I'm watching video of Ukrainian bodies being disinterred from mass graves. Dugin's highfalutin' talk about "Tradition" conceals naked Russian aggression and brutality. Nevertheless, Dugin is right about what the post-Christian West has come to stand for. Our talk about "democracy" similarly conceals ideological aggression aimed at wiping out traditional views of nation, of religion, of man, woman, and family. In other words, with their rash war talk, the US national security class is putting at risk the lives of American people whose way of life that same ruling class despises. Washington makes war on others, and simultaneously makes war on its own people -- especially dissident conservatives.
Michael Brendan Dougherty warns that the American people aren't fully aware of how risky their government's actions toward Russia are. He says that if we push Putin into exploding a nuke on Ukraine territory, we would probably be looking at markets cratering, mass evacuations from American cities, and panic. And for what? Do Americans really know the stakes? Excerpt:
American policy-makers have been conducting their proxy war in Ukraine as if it were like other recent wars — say, the toppling of Moammar Qaddafi in Libya, or Syrian Civil War. That is, they’ve been conducting it on the understanding that the American people would not have to make big sacrifices or endure serious risks in the bargain. Ukrainians, like the rebels in Syria and Libya, would make the big sacrifices while the West assisted with money, matériel, and intelligence.
It is possible that in this case they will be right — that Ukraine will be able to inflict a humiliating defeat on Russia, and that Americans won’t feel any serious blowback from it. NATO’s combined economic and military power may ultimately allow the Ukrainians to end Putin’s historic blunder in a simple, clear defeat and retreat for Russia.
For everyone’s sake, we’d better hope so. We have seen how Russians have reacted to Putin’s imposing more sacrifices on them as the Russian war effort falters: Many are fleeing the country, many others have been arrested for protesting, and some have even set fire to draft offices. What would be the reaction of the American people if President Biden informed them that their lives had been directly gambled on the proposition that Russia would respond cautiously or submissively to a direct American attempt at regime change? I don’t want to find out.
David Rothkopf, a hawkish Democrat who is deeply wired into elite foreign policy and national security circles, calls for regime change in Russia. And if you think it's a bad idea to push for the overthrow of the leader of a nuclear-armed superpower? You're a traitor! He writes:
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No doubt Putin’s allies—like the talking heads at Fox News, the leaders of the MAGA caucus on Capitol Hill, and Putinistas across Europe—will warn that to even speak of the need to remove Putin from office will provoke him, perhaps even lead him to unleash nuclear weapons in Ukraine or against the West.
Unpatriotic Conservatives™! By the way, David Frum, the author of that shameful 2003 piece smearing those on the Right who opposed the foolish Iraq War, is standing by that piece to this day. It's bizarre. I supported the war at the time, though I certainly did not think that anyone who did not was "unpatriotic" (they had other problems, I thought). I was wrong. Frum, who was a White House speechwriter at the time, was wrong. The unparalleled disaster of that war, the cost of which we are still paying today, showed that those "unpatriotic conservatives" were right, and David Frum (and I) were wrong. But here we are, two decades later, and Frum is advocating more war -- this time, one with vastly more potential for devastation.