Shhh! Nobody Talk About World War III
That's a shelf in my bathroom here in Budapest. Got my potassium iodide pills (antidote to radiation poisoning of the thyroid) right next to a vial of holy water. Such is life these days in my part of the world.
Yesterday I wrote about how Hungarian PM Viktor Orban said the West's sending tanks to Ukraine is another sign that we are in a real war with Russia. To be clear, Orban thinks this is an extremely bad idea! His point is that led by the United States, NATO countries are bumbling into an honest-to-God war with nuclear-armed Russia, over Ukraine.
I can't get this out of my mind ... because it's true. There is no other way to understand America and Germany (under intense US pressure) sending advanced tanks to Ukraine, other than the West inserting itself into a war, on behalf of one party. (A party who, by the way, seems to be run by people who steal our money.) Whatever the morality of the Ukrainians cause, the fact remains that Russia has nuclear weapons. Get it? Russia has nuclear weapons. We used to live in a world where that horrible fact meant something. It meant that our policymakers had to be extremely careful, as did theirs, so the entire world didn't go up in a quick series of flashes and mushroom clouds.
Apparently all of that has been pushed aside. We provoked this stupid war with Russia -- which, let there be no doubt, needs to turn around and go home. And now we're in it to win it, though what "win" looks like in a conflict with a nuclear-armed country is madness. Why aren't we talking about that? Why aren't we talking about that a lot, given the stakes? Here in Europe, Viktor Orban is the only European leader willing to raise the question, but he's a pariah. I don't follow the networks in the US from afar, but I do read the newspapers and the print press online, and as far as I can tell, this is a forbidden topic. If anything, the Democratic Party is more hawkish than the Republicans. For someone who remembers the way the disastrous Iraq War was sold to the American people, this is infuriating and depressing -- and even back then, there was more critical discussion of that war in advance than this one, despite the stakes here being infinitely higher.
Do the American and European peoples understand what their ruling class is doing here? Why is the news media not informing them, or at least facilitating discussion and debate? Why are the media in the tank for the war parties? Does this not strike you as strange?
The obvious answer is that to examine the situation might lead ordinary Americans (and Europeans) to conclude that as awful as Russia has been, and as brave as the Ukrainians have been in defending their country, it is in nobody's interest for this conflict to escalate, because it would be fatally easy for it to go nuclear. And if people start thinking about what's going on, and what might well happen, they will cease to support the war policy being carried out in their name.
What's it going to take? American soldiers being deployed in Ukraine? Don't think it can't happen. Ukraine is running out of soldiers. And don't think it would be any kind of "coalition of the willing"; it would be Americans. European armies are small, and the results of a 2015 Gallup poll show many western Europeans wouldn't even be willing to fight for their own countries. You're going to convince them to fight for Ukraine? Do you honest to God think that any western European government could stay in office if a formally declared war broke out between NATO and Russia?
How many Americans are aware that at the end of the Cold War, the US led the Russians to believe that NATO would not expand to the East? You can't blame the US for reneging on that stance to bring in the former Warsaw Pact countries, which are clearly part of Europe. The Russians didn't like it when NATO brought in the Baltic countries, but that wasn't a red line for Moscow. Ukraine was that red line. Russia could not accept NATO in Ukraine, and for overwhelmingly good reasons. It is strategically important to Russia in ways it is not and never can be for the US. And yet, in 2008, President George W. Bush declared that NATO would consider membership for Georgia -- a Caucasus nation! -- and, yes, Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is not a saint, but he's not a fool, either.
In 2014, the United States helped engineer the color revolution in Ukraine that ousted the pro-Russian elected president. Do you remember the intercepted 2014 conversation between then-US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the US Ambassador to Ukraine, in which they discussed US manipulation of the Ukrainian government to get Washington's men in power? The one in which Nuland infamously said, "F**k the EU"? In this 2013 DC press conference, she talked about how she's "still jet-lagged" from her "third trip in five weeks" to Kiev. Washington was meddling in Ukrainian affairs for some time. President Obama denied it, but it was obviously true. It is important to note that Nuland, a neoconservative married to Robert Kagan, of the influential neocon Kagan family, has served as a top US diplomat in both Republican and Democratic administrations. You want the face of the Deep State? There it is.
It is easy to understand why Americans and Europeans resent Russia for its brutal Ukraine invasion. What's harder to understand is why we aren't trying to find a negotiated diplomatic settlement to the war's end, especially as neither side looks like it can achieve a fast victory, and Ukraine itself is being chewed to bits. The Russians will never let Crimea go, nor the Donbass region. It's insane for Kiev to think it can recover them -- but that's Kiev's policy, and the US is backing it. Are you aware, reader, that there is a major Russian naval base in Crimea? Russia's not going anywhere. Would you, if you were them?
I recently read a private analysis from a European investment house, concluding that "We are on the brink of World War III." The firm is advising its investors about the risk to their money from geopolitical events it deems possible or likely in the coming year. The report faults European governments for being the "vassals" of Washington, and following the US into a war that is deeply against broad European interests, economic and otherwise. It makes a credible case that Russia knows that it's in an "existential" war with the West (though Western publics seem utterly unaware of how deadly serious things have gotten), and that an invasion of Europe's eastern borders cannot be ruled out if NATO continues to escalate amid the expected spring 2023 Russian offensive. The hedge fund managers are preparing their investors for the real possibility of nuclear war, at least on European battlefields. This, they say, is how far the US is willing to go to maintain a world in which America is the top dog.
It's a frightening scenario, but not remotely far-fetched. And it's infuriating to consider that we are only twenty years beyond the Washington establishment having led the US and its NATO allies into the disastrous Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, for whom nobody was punished. Andy Bacevich reflected in 2021, in a TAC essay, on the role that Robert Kagan -- Mr. Victoria Nuland -- played in orchestrating the Iraq debacle. Excerpt:
Urging his countrymen to support the then-forthcoming U.S. invasion of Iraq, Robert Kagan insisted in 2002 that “No step would contribute more toward shaping a world order in which our people and our liberal civilization can survive and flourish.” Please note: not could possibly or might, but would. Kagan was certain.
In March 2003, George W. Bush took that step. Opinions may differ, but as far as I can tell, neither our people nor our liberal civilization have flourished in the nearly two decades since. Now, however, Kagan is back. And he’s not giving an inch.
The latest issue of Foreign Affairs features a new rendering of what we have come to expect from Kagan. The title, “A Superpower, Like It or Not,” is less important than the straightforwardly didactic subtitle: “Why Americans Must Accept Their Global Role.” Not should or ought to, mind you, but must. “The only hope for preserving liberalism at home and abroad,” he insists, “is the maintenance of a world order conducive to liberalism, and the only power capable of upholding such an order is the United States.” There is no alternative. Of that, Kagan remains certain.
The piece consists primarily of a tendentious reading of history since the turn of the 20th century, designed to show that the American people are always on the verge of abandoning “their proper place and role in the world” and thereby allowing the forces of darkness to run wild.
Perhaps the most telling aspect of Kagan’s narrative relates to the Iraq war that he once promoted as essential to preserving liberal civilization. As it turns out, according to Kagan, the war in Iraq and its counterpart in Afghanistan rank as minor episodes of minimal relevance to his overall thesis. Indeed, he chides those who refer to “the relatively low-cost military involvements in Afghanistan and Iraq as ‘forever wars’.” In both instances, he writes, “Americans had one foot out the door the moment they entered, which hampered their ability to gain control of difficult situations.”
Kagan offers no figures on dollars expended, ordnance dropped, or casualties inflicted or absorbed to illustrate what he means by “relatively low cost.” Nor does he explain how having one foot out the door meshes with the fact that Afghanistan and Iraq rank as the two longest wars in U.S. history. Instead, he cites popular unhappiness with these two wars as “just the latest example of [the American people’s] intolerance for the messy and unending business of preserving a general peace and acting to forestall threats.”
In other words, the problem was not the Bush administration’s rashness in framing its response to 9/11 as an open-ended global war. Nor was it the non-existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction cited to justify the Iraq war, the incompetence of senior U.S. military leaders who flubbed the occupation of countries the United States invaded, or subsequent horrors such as Abu Ghraib that made a mockery of Bush’s Freedom Agenda. Rather, the problem was that the American people lacked Robert Kagan’s commitment to preserving peace and forestalling threats.
Kagan and his wife are key members of the bipartisan US national security class that are leading the United States into the Third World War. Where is the protest? Where are the lawmakers who have learned anything from Iraq? Where are the American people? And where, for pity's sake, are the newspapers and TV networks? Why are they content to allow Washington to do its thing, to trust American institutional leadership so soon after it proved itself to be incompetent?
Look, America is in a time now in which so many of our institutions have proven themselves to be untrustworthy. You know this. We all do. And yet -- and yet! -- the American people are sleepily accepting, without even a murmur of dissent, this same leadership class taking us all into what could very easily end up as a nuclear conflict. These are the same kind of people who censored the Covid story. And now they want us to trust them on war? Why do we do it? Is it because our mainstream media has framed the narrative such that ordinary people don't fully realize what's at stake? That Armageddon is closer than it has been since the Cuban missile crisis, because the US and its NATO lackeys insist on using Ukrainian proxies to fight a war against Russia on its own border -- and have ruled out diplomacy to stop the fighting before it spirals out of control?
Maybe it's because it is highly unlikely that actual bombing would happen on American soil. That is very much not the case here in Europe. And still, European publics still seem to be largely in the tank for the war. I was visiting a European capital late last year, listening to conservative friends talking about how they have been shut down in public debate, and abandoned privately by friends, simply for questioning the West's war strategy. Not for siding with Russia, mind you, but simply for saying that the West should reconsider before it's too late.
If you read historical accounts of the jingoistic atmosphere leading up to the hostilities of World War I, it feels terribly familiar. Nobody thought it would go on long. Nobody imagined four years of grinding slaughter, ending in the near-destruction of Western civilization. This was before nuclear weapons. Human nature has not changed, but the technology of warfare has. The stakes could not be higher. Our ruling class are fools, both in government and in the media. We have to stop this thing with Russia before it's too late.
UPDATE: "We have to fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here!" -- Republicans, 2002.
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