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Realism And The Ukraine War

Top Hungarian official: 'Europe is sleepwalking into a conflict it cannot possibly win'
Screen Shot 2022-11-28 at 11.47.11 AM

[Image above from the 1945 Siege of Budapest]

When I was in Warsaw recently, I got into a couple of intense discussions with Poles about the Ukraine war. I really love and respect the Polish people, and cherish how the Polish and Hungarian governments have stood side by side against the dictatorship of wokeness in Brussels. And I grieve over how the Ukraine war has caused a deep division between them. The Poles are extremely aggressive in their defense of Ukraine, and in their support for the war against Russia. They hate the Russians, for entirely understandable historical reasons. The Hungarians are also no fans of the Russians, for similar historical reasons, but have been pushing from the beginning for some kind of peace agreement, before the war destroys Europe economically, or worse. The Poles see this as weakness in the face of Putin's aggression.

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I told a Polish friend with whom I was arguing about this that the kind of rhetoric I was hearing from him and his side reminded me of the way I and people like me thought and talked after 9/11. We dismissed anything that was not full-throated support for the Iraq War as weakness, as cowardice, as a foolish refusal to understand the reality of the threat from Islamic terrorism. We would not hear people who cautioned against war, because our fear and loathing of the Enemy was so great. And we allowed ourselves to lead our country, and Iraq, to disaster.

"Yes, but Iraq is not Russia," said my friend, sensibly. "There were no weapons of mass destruction. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Russia invaded Ukraine."

That is true, I conceded; the analogy is limited. But I am talking about the mode of discourse, and the rhetoric, I explained. We have to be able to listen to each other, to reason as dispassionately as possible, and not to be led by our passions into the abyss. My friend believes that the war shouldn't end until Russia is driven back completely to the pre-war borders, and Ukraine has retaken Crimea. I told him that was completely unrealistic, that this is a recipe for forever war. He thinks I'm completely deluded about Russian imperialism, and that I am failing morally to support Ukraine. We left it at an impasse.

That conversation came to mind this morning when I read this piece in National Interest by Balazs Orban, the political director of Prime Minister Viktor Orban (no relation), and the most important political thinker in Hungary. He writes, of the war:

Over a hundred years later, the ghosts of 1914 haunt us once again, as Europe is sleepwalking into a conflict it cannot possibly win. Russia started an ideological war with the West, while the West in turn sees itself as the guardian of the liberal world order. Both parties are giving wrong answers to the wrong questions, as they are equally kept hostage to their imperial ideologies and narrow-minded thinking. Over the past few months, it has become obvious that all sides have massively misjudged the situation. Europe, an energy dwarf, is trying to put pressure on Russia, an energy titan, with sanctions. The attempt is clearly in vain, and is visibly ruining the economies of EU Member States. The warring parties also attack each other’s critical infrastructure, with an ever-growing number of civilian casualties along the way. The mobilization of the Russian army implies a deepening of the conflict, and at this dangerous moment, an increasing number of voices call upon the West to become directly involved, even if that means a possible escalation over the nuclear threshold. Western Europeans are perhaps only trigger-happy now because the younger, more recent generations do not remember the reality of war anymore, and the kind of suffering it brings to the everyday citizen.

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Yes, that is the thing that stood out to me the most, talking to ordinary Hungarians this past spring, in the days immediately following the Russian invasion. Every one of them recalled the detailed stories their parents or grandparents told them about the Siege of Budapest near the end of World War II. It was one of the most intense battles of the entire war. I strongly urge you to watch on YouTube this documentary about the Siege -- in Hungarian, with English subtitles -- because it brings home with almost unbearable intensity the horrors of war. In fact, last week I had dinner with a Hungarian friend who is just back from Ukraine, where she helped deliver relief supplies on behalf of her charitable network. She reported that the ordinary Ukrainians she talked to are exhausted, and just want the war to end. Now, to be sure, the Polish people also know a lot about the horrors of war, from their excruciating World War II experience!

More Balazs Orban:

In 1914, we Hungarians were the loudest critics of the war, and we are committed to upholding this position a century later. Count István Tisza, then prime minister of Hungary was the first to point out that the war would have no winners. Today, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is doing the same, becoming the loudest critic of the war by stressing that we need to call for an immediate ceasefire, for otherwise, the war has no end in sight.

That's true. But who in power, other than the Hungarians, wants an end to the war? Yesterday, two powerful Republican Congressmen, both of whom are going to lead committees that will be dealing with US involvement in the Ukraine war, went on ABC's This Week and proclaimed their hyper-hawkish position on Ukraine. The open US checkbook for the war will continue, with no end in sight.

Ron DeSantis gives us possible hope for a realism-based approach. Daniel McCarthy writes:

DeSantis, like Trump, is on the “bold” side. Evidence suggests DeSantis is also against regime-change wars.

In 2013, during DeSantis’s first year in Congress, Obama seriously contemplated a military intervention in Syria against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The Bush pole of the Republican Party, represented in the Senate by John McCain, was in favor of the war. DeSantis wasn’t. He said in a statement on Facebook:

The Obama administration has not articulated a clear objective for using military force in Syria, much less a plan to achieve that objective. This is all the more problematic given the realities of a Syrian civil war in which Assad’s dictatorship (supported by Iran and Hezbollah) is fighting so-called rebels that are populated with Sunni Islamic supremacists and Al Qaeda fighters.

In other words, the United States does not have an interest in assisting either side of the conflict or in refereeing a civil war amongst these warring anti-American factions. Morever, there is a danger that an ill-planned or half-hearted American attack could make it easier for terrorist groups to obtain the very type of chemical weapons that Al Qaeda and other groups have long south [sic] to use against America.

DeSantis is a firm critic of the regimes in Tehran and Havana, but he has shown less inclination toward military interventionism than Obama. He was a voice for restraint at a time when Republicans could just as profitably criticize Obama for not being aggressive enough. While that falls short of proof that DeSantis would avoid regime-change conflicts and wars over suspected weapons of mass destruction if he were president, it is a promising indication. It is also a sharp contrast with certain other would-be 2024 Republican presidential contenders. Mike Pompeo, for example, who was also in Congress in 2013, supported an attack on Syria.

Let us hope.

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JON FRAZIER
JON FRAZIER
Dangle Crimea in front of Russia as their consolation prize. But nothing more. See if Putin goes for it. Nothing more.
schedule 2 months ago
    MPC
    MPC
    Putin doesn't really have an out. He won't accept anything remotely close to what the West and Ukraine will accept.

    He's better off betting on a tie, stabilizing the lines more or less where they are today and grinding Ukraine's infrastructure down, in a war that slows down but doesn't stop, than taking a deal like that which is a loss. Russia will ask why they bled for nothing. At least now he has some land to show for it, even if relatively pitiful.

    Also, war suits him, he can go full authoritarian in Russia, as long as the oil and gas wells are cranking he won't run out of cash, he's chased off all the domestic dissent at this point. And still being at war keeps his right flank subdued, which they probably won't be unless the war concludes on surprisingly good terms for him. I think he is betting on a very long war, and having the dynamics of endurance in his favor, not the West's. He also is playing relatively astutely with other powers, lots of concessions to China and Turkey. Feeding their ambitions at the expense of the West's is a smart game for him.
    schedule 2 months ago
      Zenos Alexandrovitch
      Zenos Alexandrovitch
      A tie? No. Ukraine will go down as a severe loss for the sodomites West.
      schedule 2 months ago
    Zenos Alexandrovitch
    Zenos Alexandrovitch
    Jon thinks that he can think, but he's just brainwashed by transgenderist trans-atlanticism.
    schedule 2 months ago
Ross Heckmann
Ross Heckmann
"During the original debate over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), DeSantis was an early and vocal opponent of an agreement with Iran. He co-authored a July 2015 op-ed in Time with Tom Cotton outlining the usual hawkish objections to the deal. Like most critics of the agreement, they misrepresented [polite word for "lied about"--Ross Heckmann] what it would do and exaggerated the benefits Iran would receive from sanctions relief. The op-ed was long on outrage and short on offering any serious alternative to diplomacy to resolve the nuclear issue." https://responsiblestatecraft.org/2022/11/21/what-might-a-desantis-foreign-policy-look-like/

So DeSantis lied in order to help foment a war against Iran, because taking such a stand helped his political career? Many innocent people in Iran will die as a result of such a war, and that means nothing to him. I expect nothing good from a person who does something this evil.
schedule 2 months ago
Peter Pratt
Peter Pratt
In the last real Ukrainian election, the majority elected a pro Russian leader, with the South and East parts of Ukraine voting overwhelmingly for the pro Russia candidate.

Since Ukraine will not respect its Russian speaking citizens, many of which are ethnically Russian, any end of the war that doesn't recognize Russian conquest (or liberation) of Russian speaking areas isn't going to work.

Now Ukraine is going to be dark and frozen for the winter. More Ukrainians will flee the country. Russia may go on a winter offensive and take large portions of the rest of Ukraine.

If so, what did the billions in aid and thousands of dead get Ukraine? A worse outcome.

Russia was pushing for autonomy for the Donbass prior to the invasion, and permanent neutrality for Ukraine. That was a good solution. However, too many Western leaders had exploited Ukraine for various reasons for so long, that a reasonable solution isn't going to happen until Ukraine and NATO admit defeat.
schedule 2 months ago
    Zenos Alexandrovitch
    Zenos Alexandrovitch
    Ukraine was and is trying to go for an anti-rus apartheid.
    schedule 2 months ago
Breck Henderson
Breck Henderson
Rod, your leftist, anti-war leanings are showing! Looks like you've become a conservative in almost every other respect, so you still have some things to work on, philosophically. Being a pacifist is easy, until someone tries to take your country and your freedom by force of arms. Check with David French on why the Iraq war was NOT a mistake. What kind of WMDs were you expecting to find? An arsenal of nuclear weapons all ready to deploy? Ridiculous. But 500 tons of yellowcake, the precursor material for uranium enrichment, was found. Chemical/biological weapons? We know Saddam had 'em and used 'em in the war with Iran and the Kurds. There were many reports of night-time truck convoys leaving Iraq for Syria just ahead of the U.S. invasion force. But back to your pacifism. All this blathering about a suffering Europe and nuclear war is just that -- nonsensical blathering. Europeans need to suffer a bit for their religious adherence to catastrophic climate change, and they need to realize they still need a military. Can't feel sorry for those folks. Nuclear war is not likely so long as the U.S. makes sure Putin knows he's toast if he uses his nukes. A good conservative, as you are still in the process of becoming, knows that in order to maintain peace you need a strong military AND the willingness to use it. And you need to also understand that we can't fight a kinder, gentler war, as seems to be the goal these days. Civilians get hurt, soldiers are killed, you lose some of your own -- but that's the price we pay for a liberal, and prosperous, democracy. Also, Putin is a paper tiger. His army is poorly led, poorly equipped and poorly trained -- he can be defeated by Ukraine is we keep supporting them. Even the liberal magazine "Foreign Affairs" agrees with all the above.
schedule 2 months ago
    JON FRAZIER
    JON FRAZIER
    Rod is exactly right that we must avoid nuclear war. But I do believe he is overly alarmist, and the consequences so far for Europe have been rather underwhelming: natural gas futures were actually falling last I knew, an indication that people will not be freezing in the dark any more than they did when the Arabs turned off the oil spigot in 1973.
    As for further commentary I will associate myself with the great good sense of Giuseppe Scalas' post below this.
    schedule 2 months ago
    Zenos Alexandrovitch
    Zenos Alexandrovitch
    You mean like Ukraine's admitted plan to go to war with Russia in 2023 (as the Economist has an article about.) Or how about the long range drones with aerosol capabilities Ukraine was developing I'm conjunction with bioweapons labs (incidentally ones Hunter Biden worked with.) How about the 30,000 civilians Ukraine slaughtered just for being too Russian - not to mention the growing Apartheid style repression against Russian speakers (very similar to South Africa's persecution of the Bantu.)

    Ukraine deserves what it's got as a NATO proxy that was being used against Russia.
    schedule 2 months ago
    Zenos Alexandrovitch
    Zenos Alexandrovitch
    Everyone knows everyone is toast if nukes are used. If we act against Russia for use of nukes, we'll be toasted in retaliation. And yes, it is the US which has altered it's nuclear policies to make such more likely, but Russia has only restarted it's policies.
    schedule 2 months ago
      Zenos Alexandrovitch
      Zenos Alexandrovitch
      *restated
      schedule 2 months ago
Giuseppe Scalas
Giuseppe Scalas
Unfortunately there isn't an easy way out.
Russia has to be contained. Ultimately, they thought nothing of invading a neighbouring country in the heart of Europe, and this is unacceptable.
Of course, Ukraine has a tough stance. And there are no signals from Russia as to how an acceptable peace would look like.
Also, one has to be careful with comparisons. This is no 1914 and the Western powers aren't willing to engage in a direct confrontation with Russia. As the polish missile incident demonstrated, they will go out of their way to de-escalate dangerous situations.
schedule 2 months ago